Have you ever pondered how Jesus could walk towards the cross and still find joy? I can’t even imagine everything that must have been going through his head as he walked out those final days. Christ was begging the Father to forgive those who were persecuting him, in real time, as it was unfolding. Could you maintain that mindset while people spit on you? Throw rocks at you? Nail you to a cross? He could have easily pled with the Father to not fulfill the Great Commission, but he wanted each of us so badly, he found joy in what was to come!
Hebrews 12:1-2 says “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (NIV). We all face challenges, but I wonder what mindset would be required to find the joy set before me in every circumstance? Life is full of so many different trails and many situations that aren’t in our favor—we experience lost opportunity, sickness, and so on…. The intentionality required to always find joy in those circumstances seems unrealistic!
As I battled—mentally and physically—my third pregnancy loss, I wondered how could I possibly find joy as I mourned? For years, I had seen myself as a victim; finally, as an adult, I decided to no longer be defined as “victim” to childhood sexual abuse. While I walked out that healing, how could I possibly find joy? You see, I really misunderstood what joy even meant.
According to Webster’s Dictionary, by definition, joy is the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires : delight; the expression or exhibition of such emotion; a state of happiness or felicity; a source or cause of delight. This would imply quite the opposite of what multiple verses in Scripture would tell us joy actually means. In James 1:2-3, we are told to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (NIV). Wait! Wait… wait! So…you mean we are to consider it pure joy when we face trials?!?!
While the dictionary seems to use joy and happiness interchangeably, the Bible tells it differently. Happiness is simply our emotional response to circumstances; joy, on the other hand, seems to be based on something other than the environment around us. The word joy is used 150 times in Scripture, so something tells me that probably means God intended for us to understand it!
You see, happiness is based on happenings. Joy is not! We find this joy Christ speaks of when we connect and foster relationship with God! Before Christ went to the cross, he spoke to us through John 15:11 (ASV), “These things I have spoken unto you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full,” and he reminds us in John 16:22 (ESV) that we will have “sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” We can stand firm on God’s promise that he will make our joy full, and it will be complete! Even better, he reminds us that no one can take away that joy that he has given us!
Ultimately, what sets joy and happiness apart is the amount of time we can experience them. Happiness is fleeting—it’s based on that which can be taken away from us and that which is circumstantial. Joy is eternal—it’s based on our relationship with Christ.
So, how can we apply practical tips to daily life to create the mindset that Christ had as he walked to pay the ransom for all of us? Firstly, we need to stay in relationship with God through prayer and worship. This includes inviting and pursuing the Holy Spirit. Secondly, we must consciously choose joy. Choices lead; feelings follow! We must choose joy! We are commanded to “Be joyful always” in 1 Thessalonians 5:16 GNB. Lastly, remember that Christ is the source of our joy! Cling to the promise that he will keep your joy full!
How might you be confusing happiness with joy? When faced with an unfavorable circumstance, are you allowing the joy set before you to be your focus, or are you focused on the fleeting happiness? “Because he has focused his love on me, I will deliver him.” Psalm 91:14 ISV