Happiness Vs. Joy

There is a game that Kyrgyz children play in which they use the dried vertebrae of sheep.  The children squat in a circle on the ground and take turns rolling or throwing these vertebrae much like one rolls dice.  Each bone is shiny from its use.  I haven’t fully understood the object of the game; but one thing is certain, the children love to play.  They shout and jump and laugh.  It’s such a simple pleasure that brings about much happiness.

Every culture knows how to find happiness.  In poorer countries happiness is found in the simple things of life because simplicity is all there is to find.  Nonetheless, it is indeed happiness that lives in the hearts of those playing with old bones, riding horses, cooking simple meals, or among a group of women washing clothes together in a river.  In the western world, finding happiness comes in different shapes: a new car, a trip to the beach, a hike in the mountains, a dream job, a house, new shoes, lunch with a friend.  The list of what brings happiness goes on and on.  Pursuing happiness is a desirable thing and it’s especially good that it can be found whether rich or poor.  Happiness comes whether one is playing with old bones or a nintendo — but what about joy?  Can anyone find joy?

There is a great difference between happiness and joy.  You see, happiness depends on outward stimuli whereas joy depends completely on something inward.  The things that make us happy can be seen, but what makes us joyful is invisible yet it is present.

Have you known people who experience a great tragedy, but amidst their tears and sorrow there is a calm in the storm?  Life gives us all sorrow, grief, and disappointment.  No one is exempt.  Some fall apart in the difficult times.  It may take them a long time to emotionally recover; sadly, some never recover at all.  Others can experience the same difficulties; yet even in their tears and broken hearts, they come through stronger with a peace, and yes, a joy that is ever present in their eyes, sustaining them in their hearts.

How can this be?  Why do some survive life’s hurts with calm and inner joy while others are destroyed?  The answer is simple yet poignant: it’s a matter of what we cling to in the tempest of life’s raging seas.  Some fall to the decks sensing no hope at all; others cling to the unseen Creator of the universe knowing that His love and strength will get them through any storm.  One has no hope; despair takes over.  The other has all hope; joy abides.

The truth of the promise found in Hebrews 13:5-6 reminds us of the hope that can come to any of us: “…’I will never leave you,” God says. ‘I will never abandon you.’  Therefore we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will have no fear.’…”  Another comforting and unshakable truth of God is this: “…Weeping may last through the night but joy comes in the morning.”  There we have it: no matter the sorrow or the depth of grief or the piercing hurt, joy comes in the morning and all because God is with us.

Obtaining happiness is a wonderful thing.  We all enjoy the circumstances of life that make us happy; but when happiness subsides, we can thank Father that His joy lives on and on.  It is eternal.  Darkness cannot hide it. Pain cannot destroy it.  It is the joy of God that surpasses anything that happiness can bring or that sorrow can give.  Pursue happiness alone and joy will elude us.  Pursue God and joy lives in us.

Tragedy To Triumph

Today is the start of the Easter week-end.  It’s a time of great reflection for the Christian as one recalls just what Jesus did for each of us on the the cross over 2000 years ago.  For me, as I recall what Jesus did, my mind also thinks upon the disciples.  I try to imagine what they must have felt as events unfolded before them.  You and I know the story well — we know what comes next.  The disciples didn’t have a clue.

Imagine the triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  There was Jesus riding on a donkey with throngs of happy people shouting out their praises to Him.  Can’t you imagine how proud and happy the disciples were, too?  Their faces must have been aching with the smiles that accompanied their glad hearts.

Then events take a sudden and unexpected turn.  They all meet with Jesus to celebrate  the Passover meal together.  Jesus begins talking of one who will betray Him.  What?  Surely not.  Then Judas leaves the meal.  What’s going on?  The others assure Jesus that they would never betray Him.  Then, of all things, Jesus turns to Peter and accuses him!  Jesus tells Peter that before daybreak, before the rooster crows, Peter will already have denied he ever knew Jesus, not once, but three times!  What?  Preposterous!  They had had such a joyful day with the people cheering Jesus on.  Everyone was in high spirits.  Why was Jesus now putting such  damper on the occasion?

Then Jesus asks them to accompany Him across the Kidron valley.  They enter a grove of olive trees and Jesus begins to pray.  He wants them to pray with him but surely Jesus can understand — they’ve had a highly emotional day.  They’re exhausted.  Why can’t Jesus understand that it’s better to sleep for now?  Why couldn’t Jesus stay within the spirit of the great joy they have all experienced?

Suddenly, coming out of the blackness of night, a band of soldiers come, arrest Jesus and take Him away.  What?  How could this be?  What was happening?  Wait!  Maybe Jesus was going to set up His kingdom now.  Yes!  That was it!  He’s going to overthrow the Roman government and set them all free from its tyranny!

But, no.  What was happening?  Jesus whipped unmercifully.  Men and women mulling about chattering incessantly about what was taking place.  The joy of Jesus’ triumphal entry was now replaced with abject terror.  Peter denied he knew Jesus.  The rooster crowed.  Jesus enters carrying a ruggedly hewn cross on his bleeding back.

The disciples watch Him suffer in agony and they watch Him die.  That’s it then.  The end of their hopes and dreams.  There would be no new kingdom.  There would be nothing at all.  Jesus was dead.  Can you picture and imagine their anguish?

Can you then imagine their immeasurable joy when it turns out that Jesus is alive?  The stone to His tomb has been rolled away.  He isn’t there!  He has conquered death!  He has risen from the dead!

Have you ever felt like the disciples must have felt in the situation of that week-end when tragedy struck unexpectedly?  Have you ever felt let down by the promises of Jesus that haven’t yet come true?  Have you endured the pain of hopes and dreams slipping away?  The despair that fills your mind when you have no new plan to follow?

May I encourage you this week-end to take heart — choose to trust Jesus for the bigger picture.  Remember, you and I can only see today, while Jesus knows the beginning from the end.  He holds time in His hands.  He does all things well — always.

Have your dreams died?  Hope gone?  Are you drowning in despair? Look to Jesus and watch Him roll the stone of desolation away.  Watch Him revive lost hope.  Walk with Him as He fulfills His promises to you in just the right time.  He is never too early — He is never too late.  The plans for your life and mine unfold at exactly the right moment.

As you celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, may you also celebrate His joy that comes after tragedy and despair.  It’s a promise.  “…weeping may go on all night, but joy comes with the morning.”  Psalm 30:5