What is it about you? Why amongst this nonsense [read: political turmoil, social uproar, racial tension, economic uncertainty, environmental disaster …] can you be so joyful?
Someone very wise and very dear once explained to me how joy is different from happiness “Because happiness,” she said, “depends on what happens. But joy does not.”
When we are facing intimidation, facing trail, hardship, a health crisis, failing relationships, financial insecurity, a bankrupt business, crushed dreams, loneliness, fear of failure, when were are unhappy, can we still be joyful?
I truly believe that the answer is yes. You can choose joy. Plenty of God’s people certainly believed this too.
In Exodus, for example, we see two million people freed from slavery miraculously. As they walk, newly freed, with God to their new promised home they come to the impassable Red Sea. Can you imagine being on the run from some of the worst and most terrible enemies you’ve ever faced, suddenly halted by the edge of the sea, unable to run away from what is chasing you? Going back, not an option. Going forward, incomprehensible. Being truly afraid, and truly stuck. I can guarantee you that in the midst of this there was only fear and absolutely no happiness.
Exodus 14:10 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord.
It’s written right there. They were absolutely terrified. And probably angry and tired and heartbroken.
Exodus 14:11-14 Then Moses answered his people “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you. You need only be still.”
Moses’ reassuring words were of stillness. He looked right at his fear. Looked right in the eyes of helplessness and said, “Be still.”
This is difficult for us today, the “being still.” Especially with the many forms of earthly turmoil around us. And yet we hear people say all the time, “If you’re happy, I’m happy.” We think if I have the right job, I’ll be happy. If I make $xxx,xxx then I’ll be happy. If I could just find the perfect spouse. If I could just get an A. If I could get into this college, or get this promotion, move to this city, have this many children, travel to this place, and on and on and on, then I’ll be happy. And those things may make us happy. But happiness depends on what happens. So, if the thing that will make us happy doesn’t work out, we are left unhappy, brokenhearted, and on the hunt for the next thing to hopefully make us happy. This cycle will leave us exhausted.
But the Lord asks us to be still. To sit at his feet, and to see what he’s already done for us. The Gospel tells us that Jesus took on all of those sins that always make us fall short of happy.
1 Corinthians 15:3-4 That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day.
He took the blame, he bore the cross for our shortcomings and our imperfections. He died for us and rose from the grave to give us joy, the promise. It’s really that simple.
Romans 10:9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Isn’t it funny that “joy” is spelled J-O-Y? Jesus. Over. You. Jesus’ promise first and foremost. Over me and my life. Over my happiness. Over my job. Over my grades, my bank account, my health. With this promise that Jesus has made to us, when we accept it, we can look at anything and confidently say, even in sadness, in shame, in unhappiness, “Jesus over you!”
Jesus over suffering.
Jesus over my relationships.
Jesus over cancer.
Jesus over my grades. My happiness. My bank account. My political feelings. Jesus over my dreams. Over my fears, my desires. Jesus over addiction. Over failure. Over uncertainty. Over fear. Jesus over you. Jesus over you. Jesus over you.
And that joy? It’s everlasting. Forever.
1 John 1:8 And this is what he promised us – eternal life.
In this joy that does not change with the circumstances of life we can stand firm and confident and loved, no matter what happens, because the Lord will fight for us. We need only be still.