If you seek happiness, you will find yourself frustrated far more than you find yourself fulfilled. Happiness is an emotion that rises and falls depending on circumstances. Grasping the feeling of happiness is like trying to hold water in your hand. The harder you squeeze it, the faster it goes away. All too often, Christians hold God accountable for their happiness or lack of it.
“God could have given me that opportunity.”
“God should have punished the one who hurt me.”
“God could have answered my prayer — the way I wanted.”
“God should have protected me.”
When things go exactly how we want, we feel happiness. The instant things don’t go as planned, we flip into emotions of hurt and regret.
James gives us a different option. We don’t have to chase after the feeling of happiness.
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.
— James 1:2–3
James teaches us that there is something solid and sure, even when things aren’t going our way. James is teaching us that we can have joy despite our circumstances. There is a better way.
As I was thinking through this, I was reminded of the first several verses of Romans 15. The chapter begins with admonishments to believers to sacrifice our own wants and desires for the benefit of others. The text speaks of taking on insults for the sake of others. Suffice it to say, the first few verses don’t communicate a clear path to happiness. Then, in Romans 15:5, there is a bit of hope. Christians can live this way because it has been modeled to us by Christ. It is possible, but it won’t necessarily be fun. So what is the payoff? Why would we live this way when it will not lead to a place of happiness? Because following Christ leads to a place that is vastly superior to happiness. It leads to a place of joy.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
— Romans 15:13
Joy is a gift from God that fills us with peace. Interestingly, our joy only gets stronger as we continue to trust him. The longer we trust, the more joy we get — eventually to the point of overflowing.
As you and I enter into this week that will lead us to Christmas day, we will be confronted by all sorts of things. For some, there will be a person missing from the family gathering. For some, the relative that hurt you will be present and pretending nothing ever happened. For some, the sparse number of gifts under the tree will bring about feelings of inadequacy and failure. There may be all sorts of things that happen to steal away your happiness, but in Christ Jesus, it can’t take away your joy.