“But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
We used to sing a little chorus when we were kids: “If you’re happy and you know it, say amen.” Remember that one? We can all remember times when we were happy and we knew it. It might be on vacation at the beach, or the mountains, or at a favorite theme park, or….
But what does happiness have to do with joy? As it turns out, maybe not a lot. Happiness depends on circumstances: you are in your “happy place,” everything is going your way, you’re making enough to pay your bills and a little extra to play with. The problem with that kind of happiness is that it doesn’t last. As soon as your circumstances change, bang! There goes happiness!
But joy, in the words of The Bible Knowledge Commentary, is “a deep and abiding inner rejoicing which is promised to those who abide in Christ (cf. John 15:11).” This is an inward feeling, a contentment that comes in spite of our circumstances. This is the inward contentment, happiness, that stands firm when your world falls apart.
Joy is what the apostle Paul was talking about in Philippians 4. Remember, when he wrote this he was in prison, and had been for some time. Nevertheless, he writes:
“I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:10-13, emphasis added)
Joy is the feeling of contentment we feel even in the middle of trials—a serious illness, loss of a job, soaring cost of living—because we understand the truth of Paul’s words here—we do it “through him who gives me strength.” This kind of contentment is unattainable in our own strength. It comes only as the Holy Spirit dwells within us.
It is in the strength of the indwelling Holy Spirit that we can say, and mean, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Now, we’re not so naïve as to imagine that no harm will come to us, or that we will suddenly, miraculously get a financial windfall, or be spontaneously healed from whatever afflicts us. That’s not what that verse means at all! No, we can simply trust that God knows what He’s doing. Even if we have to undergo some pretty horrific circumstances, we can know that “when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold” (Job 23:10). If anyone knew the truth of that, it was Job!
This is the kind of joy the prophet Habakkuk was talking about when he said:
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19, emphasis added)
This is what James was talking about when he wrote:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4, emphasis added)
Because we know this joy comes to us through the Holy Spirit, we can sing wholeheartedly “Trust in the Lord, O troubled soul. Rest in the arms of His care. Whatever your lot, it mattereth not, for nothing can trouble you there.”
Nothing. If you have any doubt, listen to what Paul says:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39)
Secure in His love. I’d call that the ultimate happy place—in His presence, where we find “fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11).