Sat in on a church service on Sunday where the preacher preached how we’ve got it all wrong.

Life has become all about pursuing happiness. He stuck up definitions of the words ‘hedonism’ and ‘narcissm’ on the screen so we could see just how bad it was.

I’m with you so far.

And then he dropped the M.Night.Shyamalan twist. ‘The way of the Christ follower is that we must pursue God. And happiness will follow.’

Ouch. Instantly i realised this was not of the ‘The Sixth Sense’ Shyamalan twist variety… this was the more recent Shyamalan twist where the twist was ‘This movie is crap!’ [Although let’s be honest, it’s stopped being a twist by now, we should have taken not of the signs]

The rest of his message was ‘convincing’ us that God is a happy God and therefore us pursuing God is us finding happiness.

And i agreed with him to the extent that it sounds nice but is completely not true. At all.

Was the apostle Peter happy do you think when they crucified him upside down? [he allegedly refused to be crucified right way up because he didn’t feel worthy to die the same way Jesus did]

Was James happy when they sawed him in half?

Do you think Paul was happy when he was flogged and beaten and stoned and shipwrecked and eventually lost his head?

Were the early christians happy to be covered in tar and set on fire to be used as human torches for Nero’s birthday celebrations?

No, i don’t believe they were happy.

I DO believe they were very likely filled with joy though.

Because Paul would write things like this:

‘For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.’ [Philippians 1.21]

Which followed on from statements like  this:

18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. 20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. [Philippians 1.18-20]

The difference really seems to come down to the distinction between ‘Happiness’ and ‘Joy’ and it might be that the preacher just mixed the two up and that he meant everything i am saying here. But if so, I didn’t hear that. He told us that if we pursued God we would be happy. And i think most people have the same kind of idea when they hear the consequence of their actions will be happiness – no problems, no pain, everything will go smoothly, certainly no suffering or death.

But then a family member gets cancer. Or someone they know is killed in a car accident. And suddenly the ‘promise’ they were given from the front of the church doesn’t seem so true any more because they certainly aren’t happy. And so because it isn’t true then God is made out to be a liar. [in cases where it really IS the messenger we should be holding accountable for broken-telephoning it]

This is how i see the difference:

# HAPPINESS is circumstance dependent – you give me a present, i become happy. i win a prize, i am happy. she says “Yes!” i am happy. but if you scratch my new car or a friend dies or it rains when i’m wanting to go out then i might be unhappy. happiness is more an emotion – something you feel.

# JOY, however, is a deeper experience that often encompasses happiness but can also be present even when circumstances don’t naturally lead you to feel happy. a deeper knowledge of and trust in God is often what leads people, like Paul, to be able to rejoice [celebrate joyfully] even in adverse conditions or circumstances. joy is more a state of being  that may or may not involve the emotion of happiness.

So even if you are being persecuted or having a bad day or even if circumstances are looking bleak, there is that deeper something [which i believe only a deep faith in Jesus can truly bring about, so some of you may not understand what i am talking about if you don’t have that – joy after all is a fruit of the Spirit] which still brings you hope and encourages you to keep going and even allows you the chance to celebrate in the face of adversity or challenge.

And i will agree with the preachery guy in terms of his focus of things. That as we seek God and to be in good relationship with Him, so joy will follow. 

But following God and receiving happiness? There are hundreds and thousands of christians through the ages who have gone through real and actual persecution, who have lost loved ones and limbs, who have lived in adverse circumstances and who have been beaten, imprisoned or killed because of what they believed, who might take issue on that statement. But joy? I bet you they would talk you ear off for hours, maybe days, about that one.