If you read through very many of VOM’s newsletters, there are sometimes heartbreaking stories — ones that can be difficult to read because of the pain these dear Christians had to endure. Oftentimes though, there will also be pictures of these Christians smiling or they make statements that almost make them seem happy.
This poses a question: How is it possible to be happy in the midst of suffering?
I would argue that it may not be possible to be happy in the midst of suffering. I recently found out that the English word happy comes from the word “happenstance,” meaning what is currently happening. Essentially, being “happy” is dictated by whatever happens to be happening at that time — happenstance.
Instead, I would argue that what we see in the faces of our brothers and sisters and what we hear them speak of comes from joy, not happiness. Joy, unlike happiness, is not something dictated by circumstances. In fact, it is not necessarily an emotion. Joy comes from being in fellowship with Jesus Christ. Our brothers and sisters who seem strong in the face of persecution use their joy as their source of strength, like we see in Nehemiah 8:10, “...The joy of the Lord is your strength.” Therefore, when you lose your joy, you can also lose your strength, but when you find your joy in Christ, you find your strength.
This does not mean that there will never be times of grieving or loss; we were created to feel things deeply. Jesus wept at the death of his friend, Lazarus (John 11:35) and withdrew to a solitary place upon hearing that his cousin, John the Baptist, was beheaded (Matthew 14:13). But even the worst of circumstances do not have the power to steal our joy when we are grounded in the power and saving grace of Jesus Christ. This is why Paul says in 2 Cor. 7:4, “In all our troubles, my joy knows no bounds.”
Imagine if the scripture in James 1:2-3 read this way: “Consider it pure happiness, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds.” That would be ridiculous and impossible. But instead, it states, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, for we know that the testing of our faith produces perseverance.”
There is a distinct difference between happiness and joy. Seek to build up a habit of seeking joy, rather than happiness, in your life. That way, the next time you face a trying circumstance, you will still find yourself on a solid foundation.
YOUR TURN: Are your days ever dictated by happiness instead of joy? What can you do to pursue joy instead of emotions that can be fickle?
"Grace Taylor" serves on the staff of VOM. She was first introduced to the ministry of VOM by her parents and grandparents, who received the VOM newsletter, and through the VOM book Jesus Freaks. She has served in 12 different countries and is passionate about helping expand God’s Kingdom throughout the nations of the world.