Happiness or Joy

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Friday, September 19, 2014 0 comments

by Charlie Wolcott

“We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable; that all men are created equal and independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
~Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence

The American dream is very often summarized in this statement. It is a very unique approach that has never been seen in any other society in history. The American government system is unique. It doesn’t exist anywhere else. We have a freedom that no one else really understands. But with that freedom comes a great and heavy responsibility. Too many of us, myself included, have taken these “rights” for granted. We don’t know or understand what it means to live without these rights, let alone what it costs for us to have them.

The American Patriots understood what it would take to hold to these rights. And while we have heard the stance they took from our history books, little demonstrated the resolve they had than more than in the War of 1812 when Fort McHenry was under siege. This is when a famous man by the name of Francis Scott Key witnessed a scene that we sing about, but we really do not grasp what it meant when he witnessed what he saw. Take a few minutes to watch this video about what he saw and what was the basis of the U.S. national anthem.

These men who held Fort McHenry understood what the U.S. flag represented. They understood that to hold to what that flag meant was to face the full British Armada. They knew that if they fought, they might not live to see the next day. We don’t have that mentality today. Not like we used to have. We’ve gotten lazy and want “entitlements.” We don’t know what it takes to preserve the freedom that was earned for us. And as a result, we have a different understanding of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” than what Thomas Jefferson had.

This week with Worldview Warriors, we’ve been addressing the difference between happiness and joy. You may ask what American history has to do with happiness or joy – good question. But let me ask you this, those who watched the video above about the siege of Fort McHenry: those men who willingly gave their lives to hold that flag up, were they happy? Most would say yes. They died fighting for what they believed so firmly that nothing could sway them. But I would suggest that they weren’t. Here is why. Happiness is an emotion. It comes and goes like the waves or the seasons. I don’t think these men were very happy that their families and their home (which was mostly a civilian fort, not a military fort) were being attacked. You aren’t happy when that happens. But those who died did so with a smile as they looked upon the flag and towards heaven. This is not happiness, but joy. Joy goes much deeper than a mere emotion that depends on circumstances. You can have joy despite the whole world falling apart around you.

There is another group of people that understood the hardships and the courage that the U.S. patriots had: the first century church. While the U.S. patriots fought for political freedom from a religious perspective, the early church fought for spiritual freedom despite a political oppression. The U.S. patriots were predominately Christian and they understood the principles of the U.S. constitution were meaningless and of no effect unless it was carried out by a Christian population and by Christian leaders. They fought for religious and political freedom. The church fought for spiritual freedom. Not their own because they already had it, but for the many they witnessed to. And that came with a price because those who were lost in their sin are being held prisoners by their sin and by the forces of darkness.

When the early church faced persecution, it was no pleasant thing. There is no happiness to be found in enduring a flogging, being stoned, being publically humiliated, being crucified, being sawed in two, being give a bath of boiling oil, being beheaded, being fed to the lions, being forced to fight in the gladiator arenas, or being driven from their homes, and the list goes on. Take another moment to read Acts 16:16-40.

When Paul and Silas had been flogged in Philippi and then thrown into prison, I really doubt they were happy right then and there. They were thrown in around four in the afternoon. It wasn’t until around midnight that they started praising the Lord and when the famed earthquake took place. That suggests it may have taken them eight hours to get over their emotions of what happened and focus on what they need to focus on. Paul and Silas did not experience happiness in that cell, but they did experience joy. This is why Paul tells us to count it all as joy when we face trials and persecution. He understands it. He saw the bigger picture. He saw the end goal. And he did not depend on what he felt at the moment to determine what he would or would not do.

The same resolve Paul had, to give his all for the mission before him, is the same type of resolve the American Patriots had. And as Christians, it should be the same resolve that we should have. Rejoice in the Lord always! No matter what the circumstances. In success. In failure. On the mountain top. In the valley. In sickness. In health. In peace. In war. Do not make a choice depending on your emotions. If you do, the vast majority of the time, it will be the wrong choice. But you can choose to have joy despite your circumstances. And you will find that when your attitude and your perspective on your circumstances change, the circumstances themselves will appear to change. The pursuit of happiness is an American dream, but it means much more than an emotional high. It means pushing through the difficult times to seek after the goal. And when you have that goal in your focus in any area of your life, in all cases, have joy as you get closer to that goal. As Nehemiah said: “The joy of the Lord is our strength.