For the last several decades researchers have aimed to measure and identify what makes people happy. The general conclusions: it’s not the extrinsic stuff like wealth, popularity and influence. More important are relationship, care of others, variety in experiences of life and a number of other factors related to genetic and physiological predisposition. Although some of the methodology of the research is debated, the conclusions provide a helpful framework for paying attention to something that we are daily confronted with: our feelings, emotions and experience of life.
I don’t want to trip up here on semantics. Many a preacher, teacher and Christian trying to work out daily life in relationship with God have developed whole theologies on the difference between happiness and joy, what is or isn’t authentic joy, and all sorts of things in the middle. Trying, I imagine, to get some handle on the complexity and mystery of pain and disappointment and some exclusively ‘biblical’ perspective on what is a universal human desire for joy.
Take a moment to actually go there yourself. What do you picture when you think about what joy practically looks like? What do you associate it with?
This isn’t to evaluate and have a ‘right’ perspective, but to simply reveal and identify what you think and believe.
And now to the main thing I want to say in this post. In the midst of all the wonderful complexity of what joy even is, how to have it, cultivate and sustain it, I want to share one way I experience joy.
When I spend time with God, I feel joy.
Now, it isn’t like it (joy) happens all the time. And unfortunately I can’t say joy has been an abiding reality, particularly not this year. I’m sure this can be explained in part by the current tension we live in, where heaven is here on earth already, but not yet fully. So, joy is here already but not yet fully.
I can’t help but think the extent I experience joy is also influenced by the extent I chase after false idols and false comforts compared to resting/trusting/depending on God in all the multitude of various ways that looks to me.
Also, I’ve experienced joy in God’s presence, as well as a number of other emotions, experiences and empowerment: God’s grief, anger, rebuke, conviction alongside love and love for others, peace, and peace-making…Joy is part of a dynamic ongoing relationship with the Spirit, but seems more central and available than I often recognize.
Believe me I can keep on going, making this all more dynamic and complex. I can break it all down in terms of what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, what causes it, what gets in the way of this. But, really it is that basic. When I spend time with God, even just become aware of his presence, I feel joy.
Too simple, it’s simplistic? Maybe.
But, try it out and see what happens. Relax (rest in God’s presence/company), Relate (interact with God), Receive (whatever he has for you).