Happiness and Joy

When I set out to write this sermon, it was going to be something completely different than what I actually wrote. In fact, as I write this, I still don't quite know how it's going to turn out.

Everyone wants to be happy. The pursuit of happiness is considered a basic human right. You'll find it right up there with life and liberty. Everyone pursues happiness in some way, though opinions differ widely on what brings happiness and how to pursue it.

Happiness makes you feel good. It's the definition of feeling good. It is the reward of achieving our goals and the enticement to seek out things which benefit us. Happiness is also a wonderful social tool. Folks like happy people. Happy people make friends easily and tend to get what they want, which makes them even happier. They also tend to be nice people, because they lack incentive to be mean.

Happiness helps one to grow. It builds an atmosphere of optimism which encourages one to grow, to achieve bigger and better things. It makes us want to be good to others and in so doing, we give them happiness as well. That happiness feeds back for even greater happiness.

Happiness is good for worship. It creates gratitude and allows affection to bloom.

So logically, I should be telling all of you to be happy all the time, right? But we all know that this is easier said than done. Happiness is not a choice. It is a reaction. When circumstances are bad, we become unhappy. That's simply the way it works. When you're lonely, or your car blows up, or your computer gets infected, or your pet is sick, or your business folds, or your organs fail, or you can't afford to buy ramen, happiness becomes difficult to maintain.

Who here has ever felt guilty over not being happy? Christians are supposed to be happy, right? We want the world to see that we have something wonderful that they should want. If we aren't happy, that means something is wrong in our fellowship with God, right? Isn't there a song that goes "Since Jesus Christ came in and saved my life from sin, I'm in-right outright upright downright happy all the time"?

The truth is that no one can be happy all the time. Not in this world. Not in this life. It is not a sin to be sad, and it is very possible to be sad without ever doig anything wrong. The bible is full of such examples. How about Jeremiah and Job? Both of these men were innocent, both of them loved God with their whole hearts, and yet both of them are famous for their terrible and well-justified lamentations. Sadness is a natural result of trouble, and the bible tells us very plainly that while we live in this world, and especially if we are serving God, we will have trouble.

Happiness is energizing. Sadness drains. Excessive sorrow is like a disease. It makes one physically, emotionally and spiritually tired. It makes one just want to throw up his hands and say "I quit! Time out! Stop the world and let me get off." Those are the words of Mr. John Schlitt, lead singer for the band Petra. Very nice fellow, by the way. His words sound almost comical, but they exactly mirror the sentiments which many of us have felt at times. Even the super-saints have felt like this. Jeremiah, if I remember correctly, even did quit at one point. He would have stayed quit if not for his passion for the Lord. Paul frequently wished to be taken home to Heaven, and it's understandable, considering all that he suffered. Paul, however, continued to serve because he knew that Christ needed him to spread the gospel.

Happiness can only give you so much energy. But there is a greater fuel reserve that we can tap into. Some of you who have been here for a while will remember what I have said about the difference between happiness and joy. Joy is not happiness. Joy is much deeper. It is not always visible, but it has the power to provide that energy we need when happiness runs out. It also allows us to refill our happiness when happiness is gone. Think of it this way: Happiness is like a gas station. It contains so much fuel, and when that is gone, it's gone. Joy is like a vast underground oil reserve. You can't see it, but it's there. It's a supply of unseen power from which fuel can be drawn when the gas station has gone dry. And though oil reserves last for decades, joy will never run out.

Herein lies the witness for the world. It's pointless to just look happy all the time. Lots of nonchristians are happy. What is going to impress them is when happiness is used up and yet you keep going. That's when they look at you and wonder what it is you have that they don't.

So how does one tap into this endless supply of joy? That's the big question. We're all expected to, but very few of us know how.

To answer that question, I think we first need to understand what joy is. It is not, as some dictionaries define it, extreme happiness. That's one definition of the word, but it's not what we're talking about. Happiness is a reaction to good. Joy is the knowledge of good. I am happy because I just ate a really good meal. I have joy because there is food in my larder and I know that I will be able to eat again tomorrow. That's a weak example, but it illustrates my point. Because I know that this specific good will come tomorrow, the sorrow that comes from hunger will not bother me. What, then, is the greatest joy? It would have to be the knowledge of the greatest good, right? What's the greatest good? That would be God. "Good" is "God" with zero added. "God" is "Good" with zero taken away. But all Christians know about God. Why, then, are so many of us unable to access that wellspring of joy?

Joy is the knowledge of good, but that knowledge must be much more than simply head knowledge. Consider one of the first uses of the word "knew" in the bible. Adam knew his wife, and as a result, their sons were conceived. He didn't simply acknowledge that she was there and smile at her. He was intimately involved with her, and she with him. Of course, our knowledge of God isn't something sexual. It needs to be much more intimate than that. The church is the bride of Christ. To have the full joy of life in Christ, we need to be living as though we are married to Christ. One of the most important parts of that is to become havily involved in Christ's life instead of sitting back and expecting Him to be involved in our lives with no reciprocation. Imagine a couple wherein the husband is the pastor of a church and the wife attends elsewhere, content to let him do his thing while she does hers. I can't imagine a great deal of joy in that marriage. A truly loving couple with a joyful marriage will be involved in whatever each other does. A pastor's wife is expected to be heavily involved in his church. It goes without saying. If we want the joy that comes from Jesus, we must be involved in His work. we must spread the gospel, encourage His saints and do good to others in His name.

A very imortant point that I cannot stress enough is not to focus on oneself. A closed system is subject to entropy. If you are focussed on yourself, you will run out of energy and burn out. If you focus on others, the joy of the Lord will flow through you and you will find yourself filled even as you fill others. Even then, one must be mindful that the point is not to fill oneself. The idea is to live FOR others, not THROUGH them. There's a contemporary proverb that fits perfectly here. Joy = Jesus, Others, You. Jesus must be first, followed by other people, and oneself last of all.

I have much more to say on the subject of happiness and joy, but this sermon is getting very long already, so I shall cut this sermon off here and continue next week.

My challenge to you this week is to open up that wellspring of joy by allowing it to flow through you. Find some way to spread the joy of the Lord to others. If anyone here has not accepted Jesus as their savior, then my challenge to you is to do so and thus open yourself up to this reservoir of joy in the first place.

Today's reading: John 13:13-17
13Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.
14If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet.
15For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.
16Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.
17If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.