I grew up in an unbelieving home, and first heard about Christ as a teenager. Initially, Bible stories seemed no more true than the Greek mythology and comics I loved. Then I read the Gospels, and believed that Jesus was real, and then superheroes became mere shadows of him. When Jesus rescued me, I experienced a profound happiness I’d never known, and have never gotten over. My heartfelt gladness was the result of being born again, forgiven, and indwelt by God’s Spirit. “Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Psalm 32:1, NRSV).
This “joy of your salvation” (Psalm 51:12) contrasted starkly with the emptiness I’d felt before hearing the “good news of happiness” (Isaiah 52:7), also called the “good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10).
I never considered what I gave up to follow Christ as sacrifices — mainly because they hadn’t brought me happiness. Jesus now meant everything to me. I wasn’t trying to be happy; I simply was happy.
Sorrowful, Yet Always Rejoicing
Not everyone who comes to Christ experiences such a dramatic increase in happiness. Plenty do, but even many of those see their happiness gradually fade over time.
Until Christ cures this world, our happiness in Christ will be punctuated by sorrow. Yet somehow an abiding joy is possible even in suffering. Christians are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10).
Recently a dear friend took his life and I wept more than I have in years. One moment, Nanci and I were huddled close and sobbing with his widow. Then inexplicably guitar and drums exploded while someone sang “Twist and Shout.” Shocked and wide-eyed, the three of us started laughing uncontrollably at the startling incongruity.
That moment was a gift, laughter lifting our heavy hearts. More such moments came over the next three days that included the dreaded graveside and hope-filled memorial service. Death’s grim face did not prevail, as the family worshiped a sovereign, loving, happy God who gave us joys both small and great in the midst of heartbreaking sorrow. Jesus said, “How happy are you who weep now, for you are going to laugh!” (Luke 6:21, Phillips). The laughter promised us in heaven sometimes erupts in the present, a welcome foretaste of the unending happiness awaiting us.
Positive Thinking and Pure Joy
Experiencing daily happiness in Christ isn’t wishful thinking. It’s based on solid facts: God secured our eternal happiness through the cross and resurrection. He dwells within us, and he intercedes for us. Nothing separates us from his love. And he tells us “Be happy and full of joy, because the Lord has done a wonderful thing” (Joel 2:21, NCV).
“Positive thinking” says we can be happy by ignoring the negative (such as sin, suffering, and hell). I don’t believe that. Nor do I embrace the God-as-genie, name-it-and-claim-it prosperity gospel, which promises happiness through health, wealth, and success.
We should be grateful when God grants us health, provisions, and delightful surprises. But it’s one thing to be happy when such things occur, and another to believe God has failed us when they don’t.
Our models shouldn’t be jewelry-laden prosperity preachers, but Jesus-centered servants. Servants such as missionary Amy Carmichael (1867–1951), who brought the gospel to countless children she rescued from temple prostitution in India. She experienced much physical suffering and didn’t have a furlough in fifty-five years. Yet she wrote, “There is nothing dreary and doubtful about [life]. It is meant to be continually joyful. . . . We are called to a settled happiness in the Lord whose joy is our strength” (Frank Houghton, Amy Carmichael).
There’s selfish and superficial happiness, just like there’s selfish and superficial love and peace. But we still use those words, even though the world sells cheap imitations. We dare not belittle Christ-focused happiness just because there is self-centered happiness!
A Joy Bigger Than Circumstances
The quest to be happy is as ancient as Eden. People’s thirst for happiness remains. Our culture is characterized by increasing depression and anxiety, particularly among youth. Studies show more people feel bad than good after using social media; photos of others having good times leave observers feeling left out and inferior.
Research indicates there’s “little correlation between the circumstances of people’s lives and how happy they are” (Happiness Is a Serious Problem, 115). Yet when people are asked “Why aren’t you happy?” they focus on circumstances. In our fallen world, troubles are constant. Happy people look beyond their difficult circumstances to Someone whose grace brings light to the darkness and smiles to our faces in the most unlikely moments.
Many Christians live in sadness, anger, anxiety, or loneliness, thinking these feelings are inevitable given their circumstances. They lose joy over traffic jams, wifi issues, or rising gas prices. They miss the reasons for happiness expressed on nearly every page of Scripture.
We Will Breathe Happiness in Heaven
A.W. Tozer wrote, “The people of God ought to be the happiest people in all the wide world! People should be coming to us constantly and asking the source of our joy and delight” (Who Put Jesus on the Cross?).
Amy Carmichael’s “settled happiness” is possible despite life’s difficulties. Rich and durable, this happiness is ours today, because Christ is here; it’s ours tomorrow because Christ will be there; and it’s ours forever, because he’ll never leave us.
The day hasn’t yet come when God will “wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 21:4). But it will. Christ’s blood-bought promise has breathtaking implications for our present happiness. Jesus made this startling statement: “Happy are those who mourn; [for] God will comfort them!” (Matthew 5:4, GNT). Present happiness is derived from the promise of future comfort. The eternal perspective of God’s children informs them of a true and ultimate happiness they can anticipate now (see Psalm 16:11; 21:6; 36:7–10; 37:16; 43:4; 73:28; John 10:10).
Why not frontload eternity’s joys into the present? Don’t we find current happiness in anticipating an upcoming graduation, wedding, visit, reunion, or vacation? So shouldn’t we find even greater pleasure in anticipating the day when God will swallow up death forever (Isaiah 25:8), permanently reverse the curse (Revelation 22:3), and unite us with our Savior and eternal family?
Calling upon his grace, let’s enter into our Master’s happiness today by contemplating and sharing his promise that we’ll behold his face in a new and captivating world, where joy will be the air we breathe.