When joy is elusive

How joyful are you today?

A few days ago I had an honest conversation with God. I asked him to restore to me the joy of my salvation, because for several days I had been frustrated and angry and all my joy had left the building. 

The man looking back at his life in Ecclesiastes chapter 2 had tried to find meaning with pleasure and laughter, great projects, beautiful homes and gardens, lots of money and possessions. “I denied myself nothing. . . . Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (verses 10 and 11). 

As I reread the chapter, I noticed all the "I" statements—I thought; I said; I tried; I wanted; I undertook; I made; I bought; I owned; I amassed; I acquired; I became—and I wondered if the quickest way to misery is to make life all about me. It seems maybe it is, and yet, the temptation is to think happiness is always just around the corner and only comes with more. Once we feel better or get the bigger house or once we become the boss’ right-hand man or pay for our children’s college or wedding or once we retire, THEN we will be happy. 

When it comes to happiness, the apostle Paul said, “The Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35).

Jesus said happiness is in the giving, not the getting. That requires a shift in focus from accumulating to sharing. And that gets to the heart of it all. 

Happiness is based on circumstances. If today I feel well and things go how I want, then today I am happy. But as the writer of Ecclesiastes found, our standards can go up and what made us happy yesterday may no longer make us happy.

“Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). And it doesn’t end with money. The writer’s achievements weren’t enough either. There wasn’t enough pleasure or recognition to fill that spot in his soul.

But joy—that’s different. That’s a gift of the Spirit that transcends circumstances because it’s based not on what we feel or what we have. It’s based on who we are in Christ and the gifts God gives that can’t be taken away. 

The apostle Paul sang hymns in prison after being beaten; he was content in need and hunger because he figured out that all the treasures of the world can’t buy the forgiveness and love Christ freely gives (Philippians 4).

So if happiness seems elusive, it is! But if joy has taken a leave of absence from your life, as it had mine, maybe it’s time to reconsider where you’re focusing. 

Possessions and positions won’t last. Pleasures grow old. We can waste a lifetime looking for more. 

Or we can walk with Christ . . . enjoying the miracles he brings to the journey—even that he is with us on the journey—and basking in the promise that the best is yet to come.

Amber Albee Swenson has authored four books, writes an occasional devotional blog, and is a regular contributor to several Christian organizations. In 2011 she started speaking to women with the intent of bringing the Bible to life in tangible, applicable ways.

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