One of the greatest complexities of life is that it’s all up to you. Your faith is up to you. Your joy is up to you. Your perspective is up to you. Which sounds simple. Yet, the complexity of this life is found in the fact that there are forces – people, situations, cultural customs, values and norms – that will rage against your machine. Forces that will try to stop you, hurt you, change you and break you. Forces that will convince you that it isn’t up to you. That you are doomed to a life far less than your wildest dreams.
In response to this complexity of life, very well-intentioned people, push you toward the pursuit of happiness. “Don’t worry. Be happy!” is the mantra. Not that there is anything wrong with being happy. But know that happiness is merely a symptom of life. Just like a cough is a symptom of a cold. You can spend your entire life pursuing happiness and still feel empty. Like there is a hole in your life that you can’t fill on your own.
Happiness is dependent on your circumstances. If everything is going right. If you feel good. If you win. If you make the deal, win the race, get the promotion, sit in the sun or fall in love, you will be happy. Again, these are all good things. Being happy is a good thing. Yet, never forget that being satisfied with good things just might be keeping you from experiencing the great things God has in store for your life.
Since one of the greatest complexities of life is that it’s all up to you. And since the pursuit of happiness is good, but not the great that God intends for your life. What is one to do? Decide for yourself to determine joy.
Joy isn’t defined by outside influences. Joy is defined by your inside influences. You can be joy-full in who you are, while not being happy in the circumstances of your outward life. In fact, this joy-full existence is God’s desire for you and your life.
Near the end of Jesus’ life, here on earth, John records his words to his disciples: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11) In essence, Jesus’ life and ministry had, as it’s desired outcome, the complete joy of those who follow him.
You don’t need any more proof regarding the difference between happiness and joy, then the life of Jesus. His outside influences didn’t produce overwhelming times of happiness in his life. Yet Jesus was so joy-full, that he desired that very same joy for all of his followers.
Jesus was born to an unwed teenage mother. He was raised on the wrong side of the tracks, on the outskirts of nowhere, in the town of Nazareth. He was homeless for three years, as he traveled the countryside with a rag-tag group of disciples. He was betrayed by one of those disciples. He was wrongfully accused, arrested, tried and convicted as a criminal. And, last but not least, he was crucified. Yet, in the midst of all of this, Jesus didn’t talk to his disciples about his happiness being complete and how he wanted their happiness to be complete. Jesus told them that he wanted their joy to be like his, complete.
He still experienced complete joy, in the midst of all of those outside influences that assuredly didn’t make Jesus happy. That is the life that God wants for you. In fact, this is why God came as Jesus. So that you would have a living, breathing, walking, talking example of a joy-full life. A life that shows you that you don’t have to settle for moments of happiness, within the complexity of your life. A life that shows you what it looks like to be joy-full, in the midst of the complexity of your life.