The classic Ode to Joy says that is what God is the “giver of”.
A gladness that is not of this world. Yet it is so imminent and immediate that it alters the world in which it is a foreigner and fugitive.
- Unearthly but earthy.
- Eternal but temporal.
- From forever for now.
- Immortal for mortals.
Most of us just call it joy. All of us just want it badly. Few of us have it really.
Joy it is a rare commodity in short supply in our banged up world these day. I have wondered why.
I think it is at least in part because in our society of short-cuts we have exchanged the priceless virtue of joy with the cheap value of happiness.
Happy is McJoy…the artificial fast food version of the real thing.
Happy is a cheap substitute for a culture aimed at avoidance, anesthetized by distraction and attracted to ease. No wonder Pharrell’s fun Ode to Happy makes us all want to dance with the stars.
Happy is fun.
But happy is also temporary. It vanishes as fast as it appears. Like a magician’s trick, Happy plays sleight of hand when faced with the living realities of really living. It is smoke and mirrors. It is the little man behind the curtain pretending to be the great and terrible Oz.
Happy is a fickle friend who moves on when you find yourself between the rocks and hard places in life. Happy will drop you like a hot potato when life is suddenly disrupted by the intrusion of unwelcome circumstance or unwanted pain.
Happy faces harsh reality and fearfully runs for all its worth.
Joy is different.
Joy is faithful. It remains when all else flees. Like an anchor for the soul, it is embedded in the providence of God and hangs on to His sovereignty during life’s perfect storms. It is tried and true. It is the little shepherd swinging a sling in the face of a raging giant.
Joy stays with you in the hard times. Joy sticks with you through the tough stuff. Joy suffers with you in the raw moments. Joy will guard your heart against despair, steel your spirit against disillusionment and protect your mind against the onslaught of disappointment.
- A culture of ease sings of happiness.
- A culture of suffering sings for joy.
Why is this distinction significant? In the flow of life as it is, is the difference between joy and happiness any more than a matter of semantics?
Peter describes this quality of joy as “unspeakable and full of glory”—literally, it is too good too talk about because it has God’s fingerprints all over it (1Peter 1:8).
Joy is the stamp of the divine…the King’s signet seal set in the soul that demonstrates to the watching world that you belong to God. It resonates with the sounds of the eternal and resists the pull of the artificial.
Joy is no small side-issue in the scope of the Kingdom of God.
Joy is Transcendent
- It is the “Joy of the Lord”, it is eternal; immortal. It is “your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
- It comes from Jesus, no one can take away (John 16:22).
- This joy is above circumstances and beyond crises. It lasts.
Joy is Triumphant
- Jesus was able to endure the cross because of “the joy set before Him” (Hebrews 12:2).
- When weeping lasts all night, joy makes its surprise appearance in the morning (Psalm 30:5).
- This joy will take you through any devastation and lead you to your ultimate destiny (Jude 1:24). It survives.
Joy is Transformational
- It turns weeping into mourning and sorrow into dancing (Isaiah 61:3).
- It enables you to count all kinds of hard times as blessed because of what they create in you (James 1:2).
- This joy is not taken in by lies or taken over by liabilities. It overcomes.
Joy is central to the Kingdom.
It is the connective tissue of life—a fruit of the Spirit’s presence in us. (Galatians 5:22). This is joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17) and joy in the Holy presence (Ps 16:11). It is the joy that Jesus lived in His life and left as His legacy. It is complete (John 15:11).
Joy is so basic that it is one of the triumvirate virtues that define the Kingdom. It stands shoulder to shoulder with righteousness and peace (Rom 14:17).
Beethoven set to music those words written by Friedrich Schiller because both artists saw Joy as so central, significant and sublime as to merit its own anthem. In a world obsessed with happy yet possessed by empty, there is a desperate need to tune up the symphonies of our imperfect lives and once again play that eternal song of joy.
One of the most painful parts of a personality that is driven by perfection and based on performance is that joy is often missing in action. I am slowly learning this important lesson:
No matter how difficult your circumstance, painful your history, intense your failure or complete your brokenness, joy will stand up in the middle of the ashes and sing “I know my redeemer lives!”
My right-now life just as it is can be God’s ode to joy (Romans 15:13).
Ode to Joy like it should be sung!