The Definition Of Joy

“We're depending on God; he's everything we need. What's more, our hearts brim with joy since we've taken for our own his holy name. Love us, God, with all you've got — that's what we're depending on.” (Psalm 33:20-22 MSG)

This devotional is based on Kay Warren’s new book, “Choose Joy: Because Happiness Isn’t Enough.

Finding joy is a challenge for me. I’m not naturally an upbeat person; I’m more of a melancholy. When I talk about joy, I’m not doing so from the perspective of a generally peppy person who never has a bad day. In fact, it’s because of my own inability to live with joy that led me to explore why my experiences didn’t line up with Scripture.

My problem was my definition of joy. I thought joy meant feeling good all the time. That’s impossible! Even for those who are naturally upbeat and optimistic, that’s impossible. We have to start somewhere more realistic — and close to Scripture.

So here’s the definition I’ve come up with from studying Scripture:

Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.

You’ll find nothing in that definition about happy feelings, because, as we all know, happiness is fleeting and temporary.

We tend to think that life comes in hills and valleys. In reality, it’s much more like train tracks. Every day of your life, wonderful, good things happen that bring pleasure and contentment and beauty to you. At the exact same time, painful things happen to you or those you love that disappoint you, hurt you, and fill you with sorrow. These two tracks — both joy and sorrow — run parallel to each other every single moment of your life.

That’s why, when you’re in the midst of an amazing experience, you have a nagging realization that it’s not perfect. And while you’re experiencing something painful, there’s the glorious realization that there is still beauty and loveliness to be found. They’re inseparable.

If you look down train tracks into the brightness of the horizon, the tracks become one. You can’t distinguish them as two separate tracks. That’s how it will be for us, too. One day, our parallel tracks of joy and sorrow will merge into one. The day we meet Jesus Christ in person and see the brightness of who he is, it will all come together for us. Then it will all make complete sense.

Talk About It

  • What is your definition of joy?
  • Does it need to change to match the Bible? How?

Kay Warren co-founded Saddleback Church with her husband, Rick Warren, in Lake Forest, Calif. She is a passionate Bible teacher and respected advocate for those infected and affected by HIV and AIDS as well as orphaned and vulnerable children. She is the founder of Saddleback’s HIV/AIDS Initiative, author of “Say Yes to God,” and coauthor of “Foundations,” the popular systematic theology course used by churches worldwide. She has three children and five grandchildren.


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