You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. [1 Peter 1:8 (NLT)]
Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything. [2 Corinthians 6:10 (NLT)]
While both are joy and happiness are pleasurable, there seems to be a fine line between the two. Happiness is more like satisfaction. Dependent on external circumstances, it needs everything to go right or as close to right as possible. On the other hand, because joy doesn’t depend on what is happening to us or to the people we love, it is possible even when everything has gone terribly wrong. Happiness is an emotion which, like anger, sadness, fear, and jealousy, is short-lived but joy can be a permanent state of mind. Because happiness takes the short view, it’s hard to be happy in suffering. Because joy takes the long view, it can endure through suffering.
After writing yesterday’s message, I wondered what God thinks of our pursuit of happiness. He certainly isn’t against happiness but, since happiness is circumstantial and temporal, God doesn’t promise that we’ll always be happy. Since God’s concern is the permanent and eternal, however, He does promise us joy and that joy is built on His presence in our lives! Unlike happiness that needs pursuing, we don’t have to pursue joy. Instead, when we pursue God, joy will find us! Joy is possible in all things because we know who is with us now and what awaits us in the future; we know we’re just in the prelude to our real and eternal life.
Rather than coming from people, things or circumstances, joy is a one of the fruits the Holy Spirit plants in our hearts but, like any fruit, it needs cultivating and tending. Rather than peach scab and brown rot, unrealistic expectations and discontent can hamper our receptiveness to God’s joy and ruin a harvest. Like weeds, envy and greed compete with the fruit for nutrients while anger, adversity, and resentment are like the destructive aphids and fruit worms that destroy new growth and keep fruit from developing. Instead of birds, racoons, deer, and groundhogs, things like guilt, unforgiveness, worry, and fear can destroy or steal the fruit from right under our noses!
So, how do we nurture this fruit and bring it to harvest? We apply weed killer with gratitude and acceptance, fertilize with forgiveness and humility, water with compassion and generosity, eradicate bugs and worms with a heavy dose of perspective and humor, and protect our joy from pests with a strong fence made of God’s word, worship, and prayer. The fruit of the Spirit exists because of God’s presence in our lives. While joy, like love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control is produced by the Spirit, whether we harvest His fruit is entirely up to us.
Remember, O my soul, it is thy duty and privilege to rejoice in God; He requires it of thee for all his favors of grace. Rejoice then in the giver and his goodness, Be happy in him, O my heart, and in nothing but God, for whatever a man trusts in, from that he expects happiness. … Let God be all to thee, and joy in the fountain that is always full. [The Valley of Vision – A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions (Arthur Bennett, editor)]