The Difference Between Happiness And Joy

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials.” (James 1:2)

It may have been fourteen years ago, but the summer of 1995 was a memorable time for me. I celebrated my 42nd birthday and only now affectionately refer to that summer as my “Summer of 42″.

Everything seemed to be falling apart. I learned that my childhood asthma, which I was told I had outgrown, had returned; I had an annual physical only to learn that I had diabetes; and I lost one of my best friends after a long bout with cancer. What else would God bring my way, and why?

I periodically ask my Sunday School class members whether they are heading into a storm, are already in the middle of a storm, or are coming out of a storm. It’s a great way to link all the crises that we confront in life with our spiritual growth. God doesn’t guarantee that Christians will not face trials. In fact, he assures us that trouble will come our way, and he expects us to use it as an opportunity to strengthen our faith.

That all sounds great when you’re telling someone else how to handle their problem. But this time, I was the one who was in the middle of a storm, so this was my problem and my problem was different. Interestingly, James may tell us to “count it all joy”, but I wasn’t about to thank God for what he was bringing my way. What did he expect me to do … Jump for joy?

Absolutely. He expected me to see my trouble for what it was, and if I would just be willing to face it with the faith of a mustard seed, I could ride the storm out and learn that some of the best fruit in life is just on the other side.

Jesus tells us a story in John l6 about storms and why we have them. In this parable, God is the owner of a vineyard and we are the vines. He owns them, he loves them, and he cares for them. He removes every branch that doesn’t bear fruit, so there will be more room for the branches that do bear fruit. He even prunes the branch that does bear fruit because it’s the only chance that branch will have to bear more fruit.

Jesus teaches us about several spiritual truths in that parable that we can apply to every “storm” that comes our way. He points out that we have an opportunity to glorify God. Storms are our chance to show the difference that God’s presence makes in our lives. In other words, it’s our chance to let his glory shine through our problems. That why Jesus says: “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit.” (John 15:8)

He also reminds us that God is never closer that when trouble comes our way. Think about it. The owner of the vineyard is never any closer than when he is there pruning the vine. It’s at this point in any storm that we are close enough to touch him and he is close enough to touch us.

Finally, Jesus lets us know that those who use their faith to navigate their way through storms are not just believers, they are His friends. “No longer do I call you servants …but I have called you friends.” (John 15:15)

Indeed, he is a friend that “sticketh closer than a brother”. In fact, I wouldn’t trade my “Summer of 42″ for anything. I may not be happy about the circumstances in which I find myself, then or now. But I now understand what it means to “count it all joy”. There is a difference between happiness and joy. I know because I’ve seen the other side.

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