Read John 15:9-12
9 “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. 10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.11 I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! 12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. (NLT)
First, a personal confession. Seeking joy is an overarching theme of my own life. Because of that, seeking to understand what joy is and is not is also a significant part of my life. I have long ago recognised that joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness is an emotional reaction to favourable circumstances, whereas joy is something like glad confidence in the goodness of God.
We can’t be happy all the time because circumstances are not always good. We are told to be joyful all the time because God is always good. Joy will include wonderfully positive feelings, but it seems that it is also compatible with tears and sorrow. Jesus did promise his disciples joy and trouble and didn’t seem to think there was a contradiction.
Eugene Peterson says, “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 relationships. And then try to lighten the burden of such a life by buying joy in the form of various entertainments and distractions.”
Perhaps what Jesus says in our text is a key. Our experience of joy is linked directly to our experience of being loved by God and loving God ourselves—such love being expressed in obedience. So joy is not some spasmodic feeling but a way of life reflecting love from God and love for God. It may be we best seek love and let joy ambush us along the way.