This weeks 'thought' comes from the well-known missionary statesman of the last century, E. Stanley Jones. He was a man who spent many years in India and whose writings were extremely popular in the 1950's.
It deals with the difference between joy and happiness, and the disillusionment people can struggle with when they seek a form of happiness which the Bible does not promise. It is taken from his book "Christian Maturity." Enjoy.
"There is something deeper than happiness, and that is joy. Happiness comes from happenings, but joy may be within us in spite of happenings. 'Happiness' is the world's word; 'joy' is the Christian's word. The New Testament does not use the word 'happiness' or promise it -- it uses the word 'joy.' And for good reason.
Many people are expecting happiness from following the Christian faith -- that God will arrange things that happen to them so they will add up to happiness.[For most this means having everything go their way, or go in a way that they would approve of, or appeals to them.]* When the things that happen to them do not produce happiness, such people are dismayed and feel that God has let them down. Why should this happen to me? They expect to be protected from happenings that make them unhappy. This is a false view and leads to a lot of disillusionment, for the Christian is not necessarily protected from things that make people unhappy. Was Jesus protected from things that make people unhappy? Was Paul? Their Christian faith got them into opposition, into persecution, into death. How could a faith that has a cross at its center promise exemption from happenings that ordinarily bring unhappiness?
What is the answer? The Christian faith offers joy in the midst of happenings which make people with that faith unhappy![Yes, people of faith can experience joy even when they are unhappy with their circumstances!]*
When the Christian doesn't find joy on account of his happenings, he can always find joy in spite of them... You must live 'in spite of.' Carlyle once said: 'You may hear it said of me that I am cross-grained and disagreeable. Don't believe it. Only let me have my own way and get everything exactly as I wish, and a sunnier or pleasanter creature you will not find." But Carlyle was being satirical here. We must make sure our own happiness is not dependent upon happenings." [* Added explanatory insert by me!]
Where can joy come from in the midst of unhappy times? From the promise of our Sovereign God who declares through the Apostle Paul that He, "works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose." (Rom. 8:28)
Notice what Paul does not say -- He will make everything work out as we like. That would be to fall into the trap Jones warns against. He promises to work it out for our good, and then goes on in the next verse to tell us what that ultimate good is: "to be conformed to the image of His Son."(Rom. 8:29)
The "good" which God "works all things together for" is our being confromed to the likeness of Jesus. He uses everything (even the most difficult and painful of circumstances) to sanctify, purify and grow us more and more into the likeness and image of the Son He loves. And when we seethat as our greatest good in this life, and desire it with all our hearts, the promise that God will work it all together for that end gives us joy even in the midst of our pain. Strange and contradictory as it sounds, it is true that we can experience joy at the very same time that we are feeling unhappinesswith our circumstances!
In the Service of Christ, Pastor Jeff