One of mankind’s more common goals, whether a person is a Christian or not, is striving to feel happy. So ingrained is this goal, our nation’s founding fathers included it in the Declaration of Independence. Line two of this great historical document reads “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” (emphasis mine). As a member of the human race, we all want to be happy.
But what do the scriptures teach about this? The word “happy” is found 21 times in the bible in the New King James Version, and there is an interesting thread running through all of these verses. When someone is proclaimed to be happy, it involves their physical or spiritual state. What I mean is the situation around them either causes them to be happy or to not be happy. For example, “Then Leah said, “I am happy, for the daughters will call me blessed.” So she called his name Asher” (Gen 30:13). Leah was happy because of the status she would achieve with the other women after bearing a child. Also “Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; They shall not be ashamed, But shall speak with their enemies in the gate” (Psa 127:5). A man who has many children can be happy because he has others to help defend his family and city. But all of these references are circumstantial.
In contrast to that, the Bible is clear about a different goal which we should strive towards: joy. Again “happy” is mentioned 21 times, but “joy” is said 158 times in the Bible and the verb “rejoice” is said 187 times. What we notice about the use of this word instead of happy is that joy is a deeper feeling which supersedes the circumstance. That is why it was possible for Paul to write “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice” (Phil 4:4), “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe” (Phil 3:1), and “Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. For the same reason you also be glad and rejoice with me” (Phil 2:17-18); all written while Paul was imprisoned in Rome. See, we sometimes over-emphasize the need to “feel happy” when the Christian is taught to “experience joy”.
What a blessing it is to know that in Christ we can all experience true joy which can stand up even when we may not feel too happy in some circumstances. Truly Isaiah wrote the truth when he foretold of the Christian age, “For you shall go out with joy, And be led out with peace; The mountains and the hills Shall break forth into singing before you, And all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress tree, And instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree; And it shall be to the Lord for a name, For an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off” (Isaiah 55:12-13).
-Allan Hornbuckle May 2015