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Our English word “happiness” comes from the old Norse word “happ” — this is the same word from which we get our word “happen;” thus happiness is based on what happens to us. So the argument goes like this: if something good is happening, we are happy…if something bad is happening, we are sad. Though that is a fairly accurate understanding of the word “happiness,” that alone is not the only meaning of the word. The word “happy” can also be used to subjectively describe the believer’s joy (Prv 3:18; 29:18; Mt 5:3-12), which is not necessarily dependent upon what “happens” to him. Though some believers have insisted on applying “happy feelings” only to circumstances, and have objected to the use of the word “happy” when translating the beatitudes of Matt 5, that is not what Scripture teaches. Just because the derivation of the word “happy” in English has its orientation in “happ,” does not necessarily limit its usage as such, as any modern dictionary will attest. Scripture tells us that we can indeed be “happy” even in the midst of pain and suffering. Thus to insist that “spiritual joy” and “spiritual happiness” are not equivalents is to engage in meaningless contrarieties that only serve to confuse the reader. The Lord has blessed us with ability to feel & emote, and we honor Him when we appropriately exercise those emotions; it is good for believers to rejoice and be exceeding glad and happy at all times in the Lord (Lk 2:10-11; 6:23; Jn 8:56; Rom 10:15; Rev 19:7). Paul sets “rejoicing” and “being anxious” in juxtaposition to each other in order to contrast their differences (Phil 4:4, 6-7; Mt 6:25-34) — to be anxious is to be joyless. The believer can experience a deep abiding peace and joy in his life regardless of circumstances… he can experience elation that transcends his circumstances… and experience that which is highly pleasing and pleasant in the midst of difficulties and trials — all these emotions are “felt” experiences. When the believer experiences a joyful happiness, there is an absence of anxiety, tension and want in his soul; conversely, when the believer is in a “state of want,” that longing produces a disquieting unrest in his soul, so instead of being at peace and satisfied, he is anxious and restless. Happiness is one of the most misunderstood words in our vocabulary, yet we search for this intangible state our whole lives. If I only had this or that, if I met the right partner, have a big house, a new car, the job I’ve always wanted, then I would be happy. The ancient yoga and spiritual teachings stress that happiness is real only when we let go of seeking material and transient things and discover the lasting joy that is within. Every time we see a giggling baby or young child we’re reminded that we are all born with this natural and innate sense of happiness, that it is actually our birthright. We learn about suffering or unhappiness as we grow older, more externalized, and as circumstances change. We taught a workshop where a number of the participants had lost loved ones in the past years: One had lost her son to AIDS, another had lost her husband, son, and mother all within 12 months, and another’s partner had drowned. Others were dealing with specific illnesses or difficult issues in their lives. What really emerged for everyone was the awareness that their real happiness lies within themselves, that it’s not dependent on someone or something outside of them. They had lost what they had thought of as their source of happiness — a loved one or their health — and now had to look more deeply within themselves. It was a weekend of many “aha” moments!
Here are some of the ways our workshop participants discovered how to feel happy again: 1. Don’t take yourself too seriously. At times of hardship, such as loss or illness, it’s easy to lose your humor and even easier to get involved with the negative aspects of what is happening. Remembering not to take yourself too seriously brings a lightness and acceptance to the weight of circumstance around you. Don’t forget, angels can fly because they take themselves lightly! 2. Don’t identify with suffering, loss, or illness as being who you are. Many of our participants realized how they’d been identifying themselves as a cancer survivor/widow/recovering addict, or whatever it may be, but had not asked who they were without that label or identity. When you don’t identify with the negative issues, then who you really are has a chance to shine. 3. It’s OK to be you, just as you are, warts and all. You may think you’re imperfect, a mess, falling apart, hopeless, or unable to cope. But true perfection is really accepting your imperfections. It is accepting yourself, complete with all the things you like as well as the things you don’t like. In this way you’re not struggling with or rejecting yourself. Each one of is unique, a one-time offer, but we can’t know this if we are facing away from ourselves. 4. Make friends with yourself. Your relationship with yourself is the only one you have that lasts for the whole of your life, and you can be the greatest friend or the worst enemy to yourself. So it’s very important not to emotionally put down or beat yourself up. Just be kind.
5. Feel everything, whatever it may be. When you are suffering, it’s easy to want to deny or repress your feelings, as they get huge and overwhelming. But if you can really honor whatever you are feeling then it’ll bring you closer to the inner happiness beneath the suffering or grief. Acknowledging and making friends with your real feelings is the greatest gift. 6. Forgive yourself. Love yourself. Treasure yourself. These are big steps, but each one liberates the heart and sets you free. You need to forgive yourself for feeling angry, for getting upset, for all things you think you’ve done wrong. They are in the past and who you are now is not who you were then. You can take any guilt or shame by the hand, invite it in for tea, and open yourself to self-forgiveness. 7. Meditate. There is an overwhelming amount of research showing how meditation changes the circuits in the part of the brain associated with contentment and happiness and stimulates the “feel-good” factor. Meditating on love and kindness makes you much, much happier! And the only way to know this is to try it, so don’t hesitate. Can you connect with that place of inner happiness within yourself? Do leave us a comment. You can receive notice of our blogs by checking Become a Fan at the top.
I consider it as a great privilege to start this inspirational conference with a reflection on the Theology of Joy.
What is Joy?Let us begin by asking the question: What is Joy? After all that is the theme of this conference. Give Room for JOY. In other words, Let the Joy Grow – obviously in three
dimensions: towards God, within us and towards others.
Do we all have the same answer to this question: What is Joy?
Is it an idea, emotion, virtue, philosophy, ideal, or something else? There is no commonly agreed definition for it, yet still everyone seems to be selling happiness these days – drug dealers, pharmaceutical companies, Hollywood, Disney, toy
companies, and of course happiness-pedaling gurus.
As a quick survey I asked few of my friends this question: What is Joy? I got different answers – some very tangible and some not so tangible.A Hindu friend defined Joy as something we can sense through our five senses: sight (a
beautiful flower), hearing (a melodious music), taste (a Danish pastry), smell (a special perfume), and feeling (a feather touch).
He further added that Joy can be acquired or achieved through our spiritual discipline or efforts – citing YOGA as an example. In other words, he sees Joy as both sensual and
spiritual. Sri Krishna in a certain discourse in Bhagavad Gita says: Notions of heat and cold, pain and pleasure, are born only of the contact of the senses with their objects. They have a beginning and an end. They are not permanent in their nature. Bear them patiently. (Bhagavad Gita 2.14)
Sri Krishna further says: A person who is the same in pain and pleasure, whom these cannot disturb, he alone is able to attain immortality. (Bhagavad Gita 2.15) 2 A Muslim friend said this: Perfect happiness will only be available to us if we spend life everlasting in Paradise. It is only there that we will find total peace, tranquillity and security. It is only there that we will be free of the fear, anxiety and pain that are part of the human condition. However the guidelines provided by Islam allow us, imperfect humans, to seek happiness in this world. The key to being happy in this world and the next is seeking the pleasure of God, and worshipping Him.A young agnostic friend told me this:If you want happiness for an hour — take a nap.If you want happiness for a day — go fishing.If you want happiness for a year — inherit a fortune.If you want happiness for a lifetime — help someone else.A scholar- friend pointed out: In the fifth century, Boethius – a Roman Senator and
philosopher – could claim that “God is happiness itself”. But by the middle of the 19th century, the formula was reversed to read “Happiness is God.” Earthly happiness emerged
as the idol of idols, the central meaning in modern life, the source of human aspiration, thepurpose of existence. Materialism relocated God to the shopping mall.A Christian friend replied: I find Joy in Jesus.What do we make out of these responses? I felt that part of one’s joy could be lost if one gets too much into the realms of philosophy or psychology or theology of Joy. I liked that one-line response of my Christian friend: I find Joy in Jesus. This was one such moment when I profoundly thanked God for revealing true wisdom to ordinary folks.However, judging from the variety of answers I received, I felt the need to establish certain
contours of understanding, if at all possible, about what is Joy – before we go forward.Further, my survey-outcome highlighted the need for Christians to be pretty clear of what
they mean by Joy – based on what the Bible says. This is very important in a multi-religious society – to be clear of what one believes – amidst the cacophony of several philosophies,
ideologies, ideas and alternative spiritual movements.
Webster’s dictionary defines Joy as “a condition or feeling of high pleasure or delight;happiness or gladness.”Other definitions which I came across include: 3 Joy is an emotion so deep and so lasting. Joy is a source or cause of keen pleasure or delight. Joy is an expression or display of glad feelings or festive gaiety. Joy is a state of extreme happiness. Is JOY different from HAPPINESS? Naturally a question then springs up in our mind: Is JOY different from HAPPINESS – two words we often use interchangeably? The answer is: Yes and No. Joy is something that lasts. Happiness is something that is temporary. Joy springs from within and is an internal experience. Happiness is caused by external circumstances or experiences. Joy brings with it a feeling of contentment and confidence which can take us through a storm in our life-journey. Happiness is not present when we are in the midst of a storm; it just vanishes. Happiness is a blurred emotion. It can mean different things to many people. Joy is a conscious commitment to be happy, to have a sense of gratitude and contentment despite life’s challenges. How does having a Positive Mental Attitude (PMA), pushed by today’s motivational speakers, fit into real joy? Too many people try this kind of pop psychology with no foundation under it. It comes across as forced and artificial. A few leading televangelists preaching prosperity gospel come to my mind. To me, they all seem to project Joy as buyable/sellable commodity. Somebody once said that Joy is happiness with a much longer shelf life. But Joy is even more than that. Bible and Joy Let us now turn to the Bible and see: What the Bible says about JOY. 4 A search for the word JOY came up with 155 verses in King James Version. Another source reported that the word JOY appears 88 times in the Old Testament in 22 books; 57 times in the New Testament in 18 books. Certainly there is a lot of JOY in the Bible! There are 15 different Hebrew words and 8 Greek words to describe JOY – both as a noun and as a verb. This shows that Joy constitutes something that is tangible or concrete as well as intangible or abstract. In Hebrew – the original language of the Old Testament – several words for Joy, each with different shades of meaning, appear. Similar is the case in Greek – the original language of the New Testament. In both the Old and New Testaments, the words translated as “Joy” mean much the same as the English word: gladness, cheerfulness, calm delight. In the Old Testament Joy refers to a wide range of human experiences—from erotic love (Song of Solomon 1:4), to marriage (Proverbs 5:18), birth of children (Psalm113:9), gathering of the harvest, military victory (Isaiah 9:3), and drinking wine (Psalm 104:15). The Psalms express the joyous mood of believers as they encounter God. (Psalm 32:11 “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.”). Joy is a response to God’s word (Psalm 119:14 “In the way of thy testimonies I delight as much as in all riches.”) In fact, Joy characterizes Israel’s corporate worship life (Deuteronomy; 2 Chronicles 30:21a: “And the people of Israel that were present at Jerusalem kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with great gladness.”). How joyous our corporate worship is? Basic to the Old Testament understanding of Joy are God’s Acts in history. Two such Acts are: Israel’s deliverance from Egypt (Exodus 18:9-11) and Israel’s return from the Babylonian exile (Jeremiah 31:1-19) to Jerusalem. In the Old Testament spiritual joys are expressed by the metaphors of feasting, marriage, victory in military endeavors, and successful financial undertakings. For example, the joy of the harvest is used to describe the believer’s final victory over his adversaries (Psalm 126:5-6 5 “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of Joy! He that goes forth weeping bearing the seed for sowing shall come home with shouts of Joy bringing his sheaves with him.”) We can hear the echoes of such metaphors in the Danish Hymns contained in Den Danske Salme Bog. In the New Testament Jesus himself joins the Joy of mundane events of daily life – for example the marriage at Cana. Do we picture a happy, laughing Jesus in our thoughts or reflections? Joy is associated with the nativity scene of the angels’ song (Luke 2:10 “For behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people”). The Magi, upon finding the infant Jesus, are overjoyed (Matthew 2:10). The birth of John the Baptist as the forerunner of the Messiah is an occasion of joy for his father and others (Luke 1:14 “And you will have joy and gladness.”). Luke’s Gospel-narration is concluded with the disciples returning with great Joy from Bethany after Jesus’ ascension. (Luke 24:52 “And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy.”) Heaven and Angels too rejoice in the New Testament at an unbeliever’s conversion. Luke places three parables together in which God, in two instances with the angels, rejoices at the redemption – upon finding the lost sheep, the shepherd rejoices (Luke 15:3-7); the woman rejoices upon finding the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10) . The prodigal son’s return brings rejoicing (Luke 15:11-32). Interestingly there is a subtle change in the usage of the word Joy from Acts 13 onwards. It gets tied with trials, suffering, persecution and the like. Why?I believe that a change had begun to take place in the church about this time. The first 20 years had passed, and now the apostles were dealing with a more mature body of believers – struggling with the application of Gospel teachings. The believers had started facing stark opposition and challenges – theological, political, economic and what not! But for these believers, trials and persecution are occasions for Joy (James 1:2 “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials.”). Suffering brings Joy as believers are united with Christ in his suffering (1 Peter 4:13-14) Paul speaks of his Joy in the midst of affliction (2 Corinthians 7:4-16 “With all our affliction, I am overjoyed.”) 6 Joy becomes part of the faith (Philippians 1:25). God’s kingdom is described as: righteousness, peace and Joy (Romans 14:17). Certainty of salvation is a cause for Joy, as the disciples are commanded to “rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). Surely the meaning of Joy takes in new dimensions and shades. Also, about this time, Apostle Paul emerges as the dominant figure. Paul mentions Joy as the second fruit of the Holy Spirit in his letter to the Galatians, along with eight other fruits. Galatians 5:22: (“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self- control.”) Joy is not something to be pursued; it is rather a result of the Christian life – a product. The church was coming increasingly under fire, and Christians were struggling to grow. We can suppose that Paul began to see and teach Joy in a different light – Joy as a character trait- tempered by fire! Christian Joy often comes tied with challenges and trials. What we have been witnessing in the Middle East and in some other parts of the world in recent times is a stark reminder to this fact. How do those brothers and sisters continue to sing and worship the Lord without losing their Faith and Joy? It clearly shows that Joy in Christian theology is different from superficial, external happiness. Let me narrate a particular case – where the involved persons have literally challenged my own concept of Joy through their life-example. Peter says: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” (I Peter4:12-13) Count your trials as joy. James 1:2-3 says, “Knowing that the testing of your faith [through trials] produces patience.” God’s testing process has the goal or aim of purging us of all impurity, to make us “perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (verse 4). The word Gospel literally means good news. Jesus encouraged us to think of the future as a time of Joy, so that it sustains us now when times are difficult. 7 I see three categories or groups of people gathered here today: those who are natural citizens of Denmark – born and brought up here; those who came to Denmark of their own choice; and those who came here due to circumstances beyond their control. All of us however enjoy the Joy of Christ because of this particular theology: Trials and tribulations are integral part of Christian life! It is part of our Faith. It is part of our DNA. Christian joy is not the seeking of pleasure: quite the opposite. It is a curious paradox of life that the more we seek to be happy the more miserable we become. A famous writer (Eric Hoffer) once said: “The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness.” Joy is God’s gift. It is not something to be pursued. As mentioned earlier, Jesus said to his followers: “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20) Joy is about getting this into perspective, not how wide our grin is! The Christian has the promise of Jesus that the best is yet to come. We can be joyful in spite of circumstances. As we read the Bible, we will find this theme again and again. Christian Joy exists in spite of circumstances. Christians should be able to display their inner JOY at all three Houses of Worship: Church, Home and Work-Station.Let us encourage each other to be truly Joyful – driven by our Faith, Hope, Love, Contentment and Gratitude – in spite of circumstances. The five pillars of Joy! We are familiar with the first three pillars coming from what Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:13, “So faith, hope and love abide.” Regarding the fourth pillar contentment, not everyone is truly content with his or her life. Often we are unsatisfied and seek more for what we don’t have and who we are. Through scripture however, we are commanded to be content with all we have in life. As we practice the discipline of gratitude instead of complaining, grumbling, or forgetting God’s goodness, we will experience His peace, be filled with His joy, and grow in faith and hope. All these five pillars – Faith, Hope, Love, Contentment and Gratitude – are borne out of God’s grace, and even though we don’t deserve. They are the five gifts of grace.I would encourage you to look at JOY as a fruit – made up of five tastes or colors: Faith,Hope, Love, Contentment and Gratitude 8 Let me now read out two scripture portions for you – one from the OT and the other from the NT – as part of this inspirational talk. Habakkuk 3:17-19. (Explain background.) “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.”Here is what St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6:4 -10 (Explain background). “Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything”. Do these two scripture-portions resonate in any manner with our own life-journeys? If yes, REJOICE. Because in these two verses I see the gist of Christian Theology of Joy – a theology that encompasses Faith, Hope, Love, Gratitude and Contentment.When we have the Joy of the Lord, we will know it and so will others. In addition to being joyful, we should let others have their Joy. Christian Joy is contagious. Do we see some role-models – at our homes, communities, cities and villages My wife and I have met quite a few JOYFUL Christians here in Denmark. They have truly inspired us. Where Joy cannot be found? Men have pursued joy in every avenue imaginable. Some have successfully found it while others have not. Perhaps it would be easier to describe where joy cannot be found:Not in Unbelief — Voltaire was a non-believer of the most pronounced type. He wrote: “Iwish I had never been born.”Not in Pleasure — Lord Byron lived a life of pleasure if anyone did. He wrote: “The worm, the canker, and grief are mine alone.” 9 Not in Money — Jay Gould, the American millionaire, had plenty of that. When dying, he said: “I suppose I am the most miserable man on earth.” Not in Position and Fame — Lord Beaconsfield enjoyed more than his share of both. He wrote: “Youth is a mistake; manhood a struggle; old age a regret.”
Introduction — The pursuit of happiness has probably reached its peak in our twentieth century world. Americans don’t stand alone in this pursuit, because it is an innate drive found in every man’s nature. Everyone wants to be happy and seeks it in varying ways and with varying degrees of intensity. Some seek it through pleasure, others through enter-tainment, possessions, work, position, education, and success; still others seek it in athletic endeavors, hobbies, travel, fashion, physical beauty, wealth, status, bigger homes, boats, planes, and vacation homes, as well as alcohol, food and drugs. King Solomon conducted a series of experiments in a quest to get the most and best out of life — his experiments not only included most of those things listed above, but also laughter, the finest wines, wisdom, and building projects that were the envy of the world… he built houses for himself, planted vineyard and gardens, built waterpools, acquired male and female servants, male and female singers and musicians, herds and flocks that were unparalleled, silver and gold and valuable treasures… said Solomon, “I became great and excelled more than all who were before me in Jerusalem… whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them… I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure…. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done… and found it to be nothing but vanity and a striving after wind” (Ecc 2:1-12). Therefore, said Solomon, “I completely despaired of all the labor in which I had toiled under the sun… it was all vanity” (Ecc 2:20-25). Solomon admitted that his quest rewarded him with a degree of joy, yet he still found that it did not satisfy him. Most people think they would have had an endless amount of joy were they as blessed as Solomon was… but Solomon concluded that it is God who determines whether or not we experience joy (Ecc 2:26). The experiences of men the world over tell us that no matter how secure and wonderful their sources of joy may be, human joy does not last long.
On the other hand, when we follow God’s prescription, He feeds us in such a way that we experience real joy and satisfaction. God makes it very clear in Scripture that real joy lies in the quality of our relationship with Him; therefore, can we actually be so foolish so as to think that we can somehow produce it ourselves? One thing is certain: dwelling on ourselves and our wants will never produce true joy — rather than being obsessed with ourselves we must become obsessed with Christ; if we do, we will immerse ourselves in His Word, and seek to know Him more intimately “and our joy will be made full” (Jn 15:1-11). It is only through God’s Spirit that we can experience true joy (Ps 15:11-12; Gal 5:22; 1 Th 1:6); it cannot be accomplished apart from God (2 Cor 12:10; 13:4). The harder we try to be joyful through our own efforts, the more miserable we will become. Rest in the Lord’s arms (Mt 11:28-30) and seek His face through prayer and Scripture. Writes the apostle Paul: “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” (Rom 15:13).
The psalmist David wrote these encouraging words: “Thou will make known to me the path of life; in Thy presence is fulness of joy; in Thy right hand there are pleasures forever” (Ps 16:11). The Bible is clear that the only place we can find true joy is in God’s presence. Faith is a necessary requisite for experiencing joy and pleasing God (Heb 11:6; Jam1:2-4), and without joy we don’t have the faith to conquer the problems we face in life. The night before Jesus went to the cross He taught His disciples how important it was for them to “abide in Him;” that only when they were experiencing “intimacy with Him” would they be able to bear fruit — “apart from Me you can do nothing.” He went on to tell them that He had spoken these things to them“that His joy might be in them, and that their joy might be made full” (Jn 15:11). Writes David, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him. For to those who fear Him, there is no want” (Ps 34:8-9). When we lack joy, the heart is discontented, anxious, and unhappy… so a lack of joy leads to a lack of peace; and obviously where there is no peace, there is no joy.There is nothing like knowing that our joy remains full even when we have been rendered empty of all that we had thought we needed to sustain our happiness. Sadly, it is true that most Christians fail to experience joy when times become difficult — generally they get so caught up in the issues of life that they forget to “rejoice in the Lord,” or they question how it is even possible when life gets so discouraging, depressing and frustrating. To experience the secret of joy one must carefully reflect on the path of joy as it is outlined in Scripture. Twice in Philippians 4:4 Paul gives this command: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say rejoice.” Just because God’s Spirit dwells within us does not mean that we will necessarily experience joy— we must make a choice to let Christ be our joy. When we falter in our faith, we try to manufacture our own joy, and that is simply not possible, because God is its author. Only when we find our happiness in the person of Christ can we experience true joy. Jesus said to His disciples, “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (Jn 15:11). Here Jesus reminds us that we will not have fullness of joy unless we abide in Him, and that involves keeping His commands and putting our full trust and confi-dence in Him. Obedience to God is central to experiencing the joy of God — if we do not follow His will and live according to His Word, we will not experience joy. The darkest times of life for most believers are times of disobedience because there is a lack of joy in their lives even in the midst of positive circumstances. The most joyful times in life can actually be when we triumph in faith during the most difficult and oppressive times. If we want to experience the “supernatural joy life,” then we must walk in obedience, resting in God all the while. When we put our confidence in God and choose to have His joy, we will experience that unspeakably wonderful “gift of the Spirit” – JOY. His joy can be experienced at this very moment in your life – regardless of circumstances – if you will walk in faith and obedience (again, more on that later).
It was the prophet Nehemiah who said, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh 8:10). To appre-ciate what this means we must understand the context in which these words were stated. The Israelites had just returned from Babylon after having spent seventy years in exile… under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah the Jewish people rebuilt Jerusalem’s ruined walls, and now they set their sights on re-establishing the temple and restoring the nation. Though they were no longer being held captive in Babylon, “they were still slaves to those who were governing the land God had given to them” (Neh 9:36). The Jewish remnant who returned to Jerusalem from Babylon, in large part were ignorant of their spirit-ual heritage due to their captivity; furthermore they had forgotten their native language; and above all, they had lived in sin and had forgotten God. Nehemiah called a “special meeting” in the middle of the city — altogether about 50,000 people attended. Ezra the priest was asked to read the book of the Law of Moses to the assembly — he read it aloud from daybreak until noon, and the Word of God spoke in a profound way to the hearts of the people, and for the first time they were made aware of their sinful-ness before God. The people learned that Jeremiah had prophesied the very destruction that they had suffered, yet in the same breath Jeremiah gave them a promise that their mourning would turn to a morning of joy — God would bring them back to their land seventy years later. Ezra read, “Behold,” says the Lord, “I will gather My people from the remote parts of the earth… a great company shall return here… they shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them… for I am a father to Israel” (Jer 31:8-9). The people experienced the relevancy of the message — they were made aware of the connection between the sins of their own hearts and their distressful situation, and they saw that their slavery was the result of their own sin. As they stood there mourning over their sins, they understood the message of salvation… it was not a message of “I told you so” or “you should have known better” or “look what a mess you have made of your lives”… instead they are told to “Go and enjoy choice food and drinks, for this day is sacred to the Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!” “Then all the people went away to eat and drink and celebrate with great joy, because they now under-stood the words that had been made known to them” (Neh 8:9-12). This day was sacred to the Lord — it was the joy of the Lord that made this such a sacred day… God had deliberately led them to this moment in time… it wasn’t a day of good fortune or good luck… it was the joyful day of the Lord! The people were told “not to grieve” — “God’s anger is but for a moment; whereas His favor lasts a life-time” (Ps 30:4-5). When the Word of God was opened and read to them, the people began to understand themselves and the need to change their minds about the way they were living. And like them, if we listen, it will also bring us to a “mourning of joy.” When we set our hearts to obey God’sWord, the Lord Himself causes us to rejoice — “God had made them rejoice with great joy” (Neh 12:43). On the eighth day according to the Law there was an assembly of all the people… they gathered together for a great day of national confession… with fasting and mourning, they listened to the reading of the Law for three hours… and then for three more hours they confessed their sins and those of their fathers and worshipped the LORD their God (Neh 9:1-3). The people responded to the reading of the Law thus: “Because of our sins… we are in great distress” (Neh 9:37). Their confession was accompanied by great remorse… they understood their terrible condition as they journeyed back to God… but more importantly, they understood God’s joyous message of salvation, and at that they burst out in praise! Then said Nehemiah to the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God… do not mourn or weep… rather, go eat and drink…. DO NOT GRIEVE, FOR THE JOY OF THE LORD IS YOUR STRENGTH!” (Neh 8:9-10). NOTE CAREFULLY it is “the Lord’s joy” that is our strength… it “the Lord’s joy” that gives us reason to rejoice… it is “the Lord’s joy” that fills us with hope. It is God’s happiness that is our strength!!! It is not anything that we have done that is our hope, joy or strength! Furthermore, it is not God’s anger, wrath or holiness that is our strength! IT IS “GOD’S JOY” THAT IS OUR STRENGTH!! NOT OUR JOY!! GOD’S JOY!! IT IS THE “LORD’S JOYOUS WISH” TO SAVE US FROM OUR SINS — AND THAT IS OUR STRENGTH and ENERGY and VITALITY! It is GOD’S JOY to stand us back up on our feet and strengthen our feeble legs & wobbly knees so that we might discover that HIS JOY IS OUR STRENGTH! It is the “joy of the Lord” that remains our strength today! REMEMBER, IT IS “GOD’S JOY” TO SAVE YOU!!! His faithfulness continues throughout all generations! Our response should be to commit our lives to Him for joyfully wanting to save us! It is incredible to realize that no matter how bad things get for us, GOD’S JOY will forever be our hope and strength! James clearly has victory over trials in mind, not mere acceptance of one’s trials. It is “joy” that gives us the strength to fight and overcome our trials. Joy gives us the strength to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim 6:12). Spiritual joy has a way of infusing strength into our being! If you are tired of fighting the battle it is because your problems seem too much for you — you have lost your joy, and have rightly concluded that the fight is too great for you. Paul said, “Rejoice in the Lord always!” (Phil 4:4). You are to always rejoice in the Lord — you can’t live off of the joy you had yesterday or last week — that joy will not give you strength today. Joy can only give you strength in the moment… it can only give you strength when you possess it. The time to rejoice is always “now” — if you don’t rejoice, you will lose the strength to fight. I love this verse in Habakkak — “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crops fail and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, YET I WILL REJOICE IN THE LORD; I will be joyful in God my Savior” (Hab 3:17-18). He is going to REJOICE because “the God of his salvation is his strength; He makes his feet like the feet of a deer, and enables him to walk on high places” (Hab 3:19). Habakkuk had no intention of staying defeated. The difference between the person who is defeated and the person who is victorious is his attitude toward God. An attitude of gratitude is what made the difference in the prophet’s life. Even though nothing good was happening in his life – no fruit, no crops, no sheep, no cattle – yet he rejoiced! Though our lives are filled with trials, we are also to rejoice! Regardless of our circumstances, we can rejoice! Reflect upon the words of the prophetic Isaiah: “Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation. Therefore I will joyously draw water from the springs of salvation” (Is 12:2-3). Notice what this Scripture says: “with joy you will draw water from the springs of salvation.” It is joy that keeps you strong and enables you to draw from the springs of salvation. Our English word “happiness” comes from the old Norse word “happ” — this is the same word from which we get our word “happen;” thus happiness is based on what happens to us. So the argument goes like this: if something good is happening, we are happy…if something bad is happening, we are sad. Though that is a fairly accurate understanding of the word “happiness,” that alone is not the only meaning of the word. The word “happy” can also be used to subjectively describe the believer’s joy (Prv 3:18; 29:18; Mt 5:3-12), which is not necessarily dependent upon what “happens” to him. Though some believers have insisted on applying “happy feelings” only to circumstances, and have objected to the use of the word “happy” when translating the beatitudes of Matt 5, that is not what Scripture teaches. Just because the derivation of the word “happy” in English has its orientation in “happ,” does not necessarily limit its usage as such, as any modern dictionary will attest. Scripture tells us that we can indeed be “happy” even in the midst of pain and suffering. Thus to insist that “spiritual joy” and “spiritual happiness” are not equivalents is to engage in meaningless contrarieties that only serve to confuse the reader. — to be anxious is to be joyless. The believer can experience a deep abiding peace and joy in his life regardless of circumstances… he can experience elation that transcends his circumstances… and experience that which is highly pleasing and pleasant in the midst of difficulties and trials — all these emotions are “felt” experiences. When the believer experiences a joyful happiness, there is an absence of anxiety, tension and want in his soul; conversely, when the believer is in a “state of want,” that longing produces a disquieting unrest in his soul, so instead of being at peace and satisfied, he is anxious and restless.