You Have a Right to Be Happy
Do you recall Chariots of Fire, the inspiring film based on the life of Scottish missionary and Olympic runner Eric Liddell? If so, you will probably remember these stirring words that he spoke: “I believe that God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.” He made this statement when people criticized him for pursuing his interests in track and field before going to the mission field.
I believe we could easily substitute the word “joy” for “pleasure” in Liddell’s statement without changing the meaning at all, for God delights when His creation manifests its God–given purpose. And if God finds pleasure and joy when we excel in desires that honor Him, shouldn’t we feel the same satisfaction? Of course we should.
Claiming Your Right to Joy
I don’t speak about a Christian’s “rights” often, but I will in this case. I believe we have the right to rejoice! And I say that because I believe God created us with the potential for great pleasure and joy. We even see joy ascribed to the creation in Scripture: mountains skipping like rams (Psalm 114:4), stars singing together (Job 38:7), and rivers and trees clapping their hands (Psalm 98:8; Isaiah 55:12). I realize those are figures of speech. But where there is a metaphor, there is a connection to something real, and the Creator infused His creation with joy. If the angels of God rejoice, should not we as well? (Job 38:7; Luke 2:13–14; 15:10)
I believe the experience most missing from the average Christian’s life today is joy.
I believe the experience most missing from the average Christian’s life today is joy. I don’t mean just laughter and hilarity, although there is plenty of room for more of that in the body of Christ. (Considering Proverbs 17:22, who knows how much healthier we’d be with a little, or lot, more laughter?) I am also referring to a deeper dimension of enduring happiness. As God’s people, our joy is rooted in a deep–seated conviction that God is in control; God is good; and therefore, I have no reason to be pessimistic about the future.
If I could see you in action when you’re pursuing your heartfelt desires, I imagine I would see your pleasure and joy in full form. And I would be right there, high–fiving you the whole time. It’s a wonderful thing to see people rejoicing, isn’t it?
We know how to do that part of rejoicing. But it’s the other kind—rejoicing when we feel like crying or shouting—that we need to embrace. Remember: If God has built joy into His creation, then it’s your right, as His child, to rejoice even when it doesn’t seem natural.
Choosing Joy in Tough Times
Think about these two opposite conditions: Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and the apostle Paul in a Roman prison. Though the Bible tells us very little about Adam and Eve’s life in Eden, I’m going to assume it was a happy, joyful place to be. In Revelation 21:4, we read that one day God is going to take away tears, death, sorrow, crying, and pain from human existence. Those experiences are part of humanity’s fallen condition, so I assume they were not present in Eden. In other words, Adam and Eve had no reason not to be joyful.
But what about Paul in prison? The New Testament letter that talks more about joy than any other was written by Paul while he was under arrest. His setting was not as bad as in his final imprisonment in the dreaded Mamertine Prison in Rome, but it was bad enough. During his house arrest, which offered no happy ending so far as Paul knew, he wrote Philippians and three other letters. Even though he had food and clothing and occasional visits from friends, he didn’t know the outcome of his imprisonment. He could have been martyred any day. And yet he wrote over and over about joy.
So, joy in Eden is easy to understand. But how could Paul experience joy in prison when his life was in the hands of a pagan Roman emperor? That’s the kind of happiness we need to cultivate.
Cultivating a Lifestyle of Joy
Joy was Paul’s lifestyle.
Paul’s perspective on joy was not something he discovered while in prison. Instead, it was a settled conviction that found expression. Here’s how we know. Around A.D. 51, Paul wrote these two profound words to the Christians at Thessalonica who were experiencing persecution: “Rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16). It wasn’t until ten years later, in A.D. 61, that he wrote his letter to the Philippians in which joy is mentioned fourteen times. In fact, he repeated to the Philippians his ten–year–old admonition to the Thessalonians: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). Joy was Paul’s lifestyle.
But how? we ask. How do we “rejoice always”? I hope you know me better than to expect a secret or a trick that will keep you happy for the rest of your life. The biblical answer is not surprising: It requires both an attitude and an action.
Attitude: We know from Galatians 5:22 that joy is a supernatural manifestation of Christ’s life in us—part of the fruit of the Spirit. But it is our responsibility to be filled with the Spirit, to embrace the Spirit’s work in every situation. Moment–by–moment in life, and especially in difficult moments, we must carry the conviction that God wants to release His joy in our lives.
Action: Part of walking by faith is… walking! Our responsibility is to act on what God has promised to provide. We need to respond joyfully, giving testimony (both verbally and nonverbally) to our conviction that God is good, God is in control, and God will bring good out of every situation for His glory (Romans 8:28). I’m not talking about a veneer of joy; I’m talking about pleasure through and through. Even when there are tears, they are not tears of anger or frustration. Even when we experience grief, we can have joy because we know it’s our right to rejoice.
I encourage you, with the apostle Paul, to “rejoice always.” The circumstances of life may change our reasons for rejoicing, but they don’t change our ability to rejoice in Christ.
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