“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, JOY, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things… If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.”Galatians 5:22–23, 25 (Bearing Fruit Series)
Joy is a word that we use a lot in Christianity. It is in our hymns, like “Joy to the World,” and “Joyful! Joyful! We adore thee.” The entire bible is laced with joy. For the most part, however, I think we miss the point on what joy is. We confuse it with happiness, and that can get us into trouble, especially if we start to think that “feeling happy” is the same thing as bearing joy, a fruit of the Spirit.
Happiness is conditional; it is contingent upon outside factors to be triggered in you. Happiness is what you feel when someone gives you a gift, a friend walks into the room, you get to eat your favorite snack, or a goal is achieved. This doesn’t make happiness a bad thing. It’s important though to distinguish happiness from joy. If happiness comes from what happens outside of you, then joy comes from what is happening inside of you.
Joy is a much more consistent state, and it comes from cultivating who you are on the inside. Joy comes as a deep peace inside of you, because you are working to better understand who you are and why you are. These are some very difficult questions that we all struggle with. We tend too often to define ourselves by our external circumstances — but you are not your job, you are not your role, you are not any of the labels applied to you. But then, who are you? Why it is that you exist? Is there a greater calling on your life? Is there something that you were put here to do? What is it? Am I on the path to that place?
Identity and purpose are two of the great internal puzzles of life. I think it is best to think of those questions as a puzzle, because you cannot simply ask the questions and find a solitary answer; we are far more complex than that. But as we walk with Jesus we find where the pieces begin to fit, the picture gets clearer, and our joy increases.
Happiness fades with time, because time moves you away from the circumstance that brought the happiness. Think of a child receiving a toy for Christmas and then nearly forgetting that toy exists by New Years. Happiness fades. Joy, on the other hand, comes because you have begun to make peace with who you are and the reality that your life matters. Joy comes from the guiding and abiding presence of God’s Spirit. Joy comes from knowing that, no matter your lot, it is well with your soul.