Read Psalm 126
1 When the Lord brought back his exiles to Jerusalem,
it was like a dream!
2 We were filled with laughter,
and we sang for joy.
And the other nations said,
“What amazing things the Lord has done for them.”
3 Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us!
4 Restore our fortunes, Lord,
as streams renew the desert.
5 Those who plant in tears
will harvest with shouts of joy.
6 They weep as they go to plant their seed,
but they sing as they return with the harvest. (NLT)
It seems joy is a strange thing. From this Psalm, at least, we gather that it may come only after much hardship. From the apostle Paul, we learn that sorrow and rejoicing can happen simultaneously. So we can conclude that joy is not the same as happiness. Whereas happiness is built on the foundation of favourable circumstances, joy is built on our confidence in the faithfulness of God. That is why we can’t always be happy, but we can have a go at constant joy: glad confidence in the goodness of God no matter what happens.
We must be careful to make joy rather than happiness our goal. It is so much more stable, so much deeper. Listen to what Eugene Peterson says about the pursuit of joy: “A common but futile strategy for achieving joy is trying to eliminate things that hurt: get rid of pain by numbing the nerve ends, get rid of insecurity by eliminating risks, get rid of disappointments by depersonalizing your relationships. And then try to lighten the boredom of such a life by buying joy in the form of vacations and entertainments.”
It seems that when we follow Jesus, we sign up for a package. Delight and disappointment; rest and activity; friendship and conflict; joy and sorrow. Try to unpack the package and we become insecure pleasure seekers. Grasping the package opens us up to a world of pain and pleasure, heartache and happiness. And somehow, Jesus walks through it all with us.