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Online Articles

Choose Joy

My oldest daughter recently said to me in a passing comment, “Joy is a choice”. At the time, she stated it so casually, so matter-of-factly, that I nearly missed the weight of it. And while I don’t believe it was necessarily her intent to be profound, she most certainly was. Joy is, in fact, a choice.

Most of the world around us often confuses joy with happiness, even using the words interchangeably. Although it’s typically true that joyful people are also happy people, they’re not inextricably intertwined concepts. The idea that most people have of joy and happiness is that they’re products of situation or circumstances. This may be generally true for happiness, but not necessarily joy. For most, happiness is the outcome of cause and effect. We’re happy when the weather is nice. We’re happy when one of our children does something without having to be asked. We’re happy when there’s a parking spot near the front of the store. We’re happy when our team wins the big game. We’ve all experienced this form of happiness in various ways. Hopefully often.

When it comes to joy, the Bible points us to a different concept, a different source. The idea of joy is more nuanced, and the difference can be subtly observed in how we speak to happiness vs. joy. We might say, “I feel happy”



or “I’m happy today,” but we don’t say “I am joy.” More typically, we will say something like, “I have joy” or “I am joyful.” That’s because we intuitively recognize that joy is not something that happens to us. Rather, it’s something we possess and to be “full” of it, an intentional mindset is required. Joy is so much more than a feeling and unlike happiness, true joy is never accidental. Joy is purposeful, deliberate. Joy is a choice.

It's easy to understand why choosing joy might be challenging for so many in the world today. One doesn’t have to look far to be discouraged by what we see unfolding around us. “Doomscrolling” has become somewhat of a national pastime in the information age, and we’re relentlessly bombarded by news that might threaten to strip of us joy - geo-political unrest, global pandemics, climate change, inflation, debt-ceilings, political corruption, moral decay, etc. Those around us who place their hope in the financial markets, or in the advances of modern medicine, or in the virtue of political leaders are destined to be disappointed. The anchor of their hope, the source of their joy is set on the things or the people of the world. Disappointment is inevitable.

As Christians we recognize the importance of hope as a key ingredient in our joy. Our hope is not in this life, and we readily acknowledge that this world is not our home. When the world disappoints, our hope is not shattered, and our joy remains intact. Furthermore, we’re reminded through scripture that not only is joy tightly coupled to hope, but that joy is something, unlike happiness, that is refined and galvanized through trials. Consider the following passages:

Acts 5:40-41 - When they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.

Romans 5:3-5 - Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.




James 1:2-4 - Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Hebrews 12:1-2 - Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

These texts clearly tell us that trials, including our own deeply personal trials, should actually lead us, with the proper perspective, to a kind of joy that is genuine, sustaining and Biblically centered. They remind us to look forward, beyond, upward to something spiritual, glorious, and eternal in nature. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Joy is the business of heaven.”

Joy is vital to our faith and an essential quality we must cultivate to navigate the various challenges, complexities and distractions that invariably confront our daily lives. Not only that, but joy is an important evangelical tool. The notably atheist 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once famously remarked, “I will believe in the Redeemer when Christians look a little more redeemed.” If we wish to carry out our mission to be lights in our communities and spread the gospel of Christ, we need to look like light, not like a people dragged down and discouraged by the difficulties of daily life. Individuals we encounter should not only see something different about us in our speech and in our conduct, but also in our mindset and our attitude. They should observe us and see something entirely different in our very nature. They should see joy.

As we embark on the coming year, let’s all be encouraged by the many examples we find in God’s word to rejoice and be joyful, regardless of our circumstances and whatever may be going on in the world around us. Let us be reminded that joy is one of the defining characteristics of a true Christian. Joy is one of the most magnetic forces on the planet. Joy is a blessing from God. Let’s all choose joy.