“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel.” – Philippians 1:3-5
We have more entertainment at our fingertips than any prior generation, but—by all appearances—unhappiness and depression are at an all-time high. A recent study released late last year revealed this sobering statistic: 12% of Americans—that’s almost 1 out of every 8 adults—have taken antidepressants during the past year. We are spending over ¼ billion dollars on antidepressants every year. Yet suicide claims more American lives than car accidents. Let’s face it: for millions of us happiness and joy are nowhere in sight.
We desperately need a joy remedy, and the Book of Philippians is just what the doctor ordered. The elusive secret to joy is spelled out for all to see in Paul’s little four-chapter “Thank You” letter to the Christians in the town of Philippi. God preserved it in His Word for all of us who wrestle daily with discouragement and unhappiness. Within this letter, Paul reveals the secret to having joy, peace and contentment in every circumstance—even when the doctor says, “It’s cancer”; even when our marriage is falling apart; even when we get laid off or fired. Yes, it is possible to experience joy, peace and contentment in the midst of suffering, and Philippians teaches us how.
In order to understand how to experience lasting joy, we must first understand the difference between happiness and joy. Let’s start with happiness, which can be defined this way: “Happiness is a temporary pleasant feeling that is usually grounded in pleasant happenings.” When you think of the word “happiness,” it’s helpful to remember the word “happenings.” You see, happiness usually works this way: If the happenings in and around my life are positive, I’ll likely be happy. But if the happenings in and around my life are negative, I’ll likely be unhappy. Our happiness comes and goes because the annoyances, problems and hurdles in this life come and go. So, when it comes to happiness, keep these two things in mind: #1: Happiness is temporary. #2: Happiness is highly dependent upon our happenings.
But that’s not the case with joy. “Joy is the settled conviction that God is sovereign. Therefore, He controls the events of life for His followers’ good and His glory. Joy is grounded in our unchanging God and never in our changing circumstances.” Take a moment to allow this definition of joy to sink in. Joy is a settled conviction grounded in our unchanging, great and awesome God. Joy is a settled conviction grounded in the absolute confidence that—despite how bad our circumstances appear to be, no matter how ugly they look, no matter how dire they seem, no matter how painful they feel—God is at work for my good, and God will somehow be glorified. Therefore, I will choose joy.
When it comes to happiness, circumstances are everything. But when it comes to joy, circumstances are irrelevant. Joy is never grounded in changing situations but in the unchanging truth of God’s character and His promises. Therefore, joy need not be temporary. And joy need not be handicapped by life’s fleeting troubles. It boils down to this: Happiness is grounded in momentary stuff, but joy is grounded in our eternal, unchanging God.
Once we come to grips with the reality that true, lasting joy is grounded in God and not in our circumstances, Paul is able to open our eyes to certain joy killers that battle against our joy, peace and contentment. For example, in verse 5 of chapter 1 he reveals that his dynamic ministry partnership with other Christians brings him great joy. In other words, had Paul chosen to isolate himself from other Christians, he would have been stripped of the joy that came through Christian fellowship. The same holds true for you and me. Is it any wonder that Christians who say, “I follow Jesus, but church isn’t for me” tend to have very little joy in their Christianity? God created us for dynamic fellowship with each other, so when we isolate ourselves from other Christians, our joy tanks tend to run dry. Isolation is a joy-killer.
And in verses 9-11 of chapter 1, Paul reveals yet another joy-killer: stagnancy. In these verses, Paul speaks of our love growing in knowledge and depth of insight. He speaks of us growing in discernment and righteousness. And all of this growth is contingent upon our studying God’s Word. Long story short: If our Bibles are gathering dust, our Christian walks will stagnate and our joy will dwindle. You see, like isolation, stagnancy is a joy killer. We must be daily reading God’s Word and growing in our understanding of God’s Word. The living and active Word of God inoculates us against the joy-killer of stagnancy, but it’s an inoculation that must be received daily.
Paul has much more to teach us about the road to abiding joy, but I’ll save those insights for other articles to follow. In the meantime, let’s all begin walking the path of joy by embracing the settled conviction that God is at work for our good and His glory. And with that in mind, let’s prioritize fellowship and reading His Word. If we’re serious about choosing joy, we will do just that.
Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information,
visit www.fccvv.com and join us for worship Sundays at 10 am.