Finding Joy in the Journey
It is no coincidence that we begin Philippians, a book written by a man who truly found joy, during a season of the year when joy permeates songs and greetings. For all its hopefulness and good feeling, the Christmas season sometimes draws into sharp relief how little joy we seem to experience. We sing, “Joy to the World,” but there is so much misery. As Christians, we are to be a people marked by joy, but so many of us struggle to find it. Even when we resolve to fight for joy, as we often need to do, we wonder how to grab hold of it when our lives are so far from perfect. We’ll explore those topics in this series, but the answer lies in the very person we’re celebrating during Advent, Jesus Christ.
At the outset of this series, I want to dispense with some really bad theology that joy and happiness are entirely different from each other. In Christian circles, you will sometimes hear things like, “While happiness is based on circumstances, joy is based on our relationship with Jesus Christ.” In fact, I found that very quotation word for word in a book published a few years ago. However, the words “happiness” and “joy” are used throughout Scripture and often interchangeably. The most common Hebrew word for happiness is translated “blessed,” as in “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked…” in Psalm 1, which means the guy who avoids evil people and their plots is happy.
Theologians from Jonathan Edwards to C. S. Lewis (and others) have noted that the pursuit of happiness is part of the Christian life.
“It is a Christian duty, as you know, for everyone to be as happy as he can.”
- C. S. Lewis to Sheldon Vanauken, 6 April 1955 (in The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, p. 593)
“Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration [my whole life]…”
- Jonathan Edwards (d. 1758), Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards
Never let it be said that Scripture forbids our pursuing joy (or happiness or blessing or whatever synonym we use). It doesn’t even hinder us from doing so in the name of making us holy. The Bible tells us where and how to find true joy and holds it out as worthy of our pursuit. In the same breath that Jesus calls his followers to take up the cross, he reminds them that in doing so, they will find life (Mk 8:34-35). Yes, there are times when the Christian life requires us to say no to ourselves, but we are always doing so in order to say yes to true life and true joy.