Years ago I was asked by a boss, “What steals your joy?” That was a curious question I’d never been asked before. I don’t remember what my answer was but I do recall how I pondered the query for years and years following. It resurfaced again this week. However this time I was able to draw from a discovery I’d made since that changed my answer completely.
One of my favorite movies is “Elf” with Will Ferrell. Although it’s a seasonal flick, my wife and I have watched it in August. There’s a joviality to it, a playfulness and meaning that spans much further than just the Christmas season. And, there’s a lesson in it about joy that makes the question my former employer asked seem completely ridiculous now. Too many people confuse happiness with joy, even to the extent that they’re one-in-the-same. I believe they are fundamentally separate. One is an emotion, the other is a Person.
Buddy the Elf, well a human raised by elves, absolutely loves Christmas. The decorations, the candy, candy canes - candy corn and syrup, too - he totally relishes presents and trees. One of my favorite scenes is when the Gimbles' manager announces the arrival of Santa. Wow, does Buddy go T-O-T-A-L-L-Y crazy. The odd looks from the manager and customers reveals an understanding that they just don’t possess what Buddy has. When Santa arrives, Buddy rushes to the front of the crowd blocking the small children from seeing Santa. As casual adults linger in the background, Buddy’s enthusiasm takes center stage. Most would call him rude towards the children who so excitedly want to see the King Elf. Wow, is Buddy over the top!
But Buddy has locked into something that displays the difference between joy and happiness. Happiness revolves around the gifts and trees, tinsel and toys. But joy is about a person and for Buddy it’s Santa! Nothing can contain Buddy’s enthusiasm. “I know him!” he exclaims to the manager and know him he certainly does. Buddy spots the imposter within a second of close examination and he is NOT pleased. Santa does NOT smell like beef and cheese!
And here’s the fundamental difference between joy and happiness. Happiness comes from my surroundings, the things I have, the atmosphere of my workplace or home, the kind of car I drive, the toys I own, all the things that society and my personal cravings demand. But what do I do when the air I breathe isn’t so pleasant? What happens when my car stinks, my job stinks and everything just smells like beef and cheese? Suddenly misery loves my company and my joy evaporates with my happiness; joy gets stolen. But it shouldn’t. For years this was true of me until I made a fundamental shift.
Just like Buddy, my joy is now based on knowing a person - one who never lets me down, never forsakes me and always, always is by my side. It wasn’t until I realized that no one can take joy from me that joy began to reside permanently. No matter what life may smell like, my joy can remain. Do I have times of unhappiness? You bet! The last few years have been chock full of those moments, but joy still resides! The Bible says that joy is a manifestation of the presence of God and His Spirit.
Galatians 5:22-23 says that one of the by-products of the presence of God’s Spirit is….joy! Where the Spirit is, there joy is also. And since the presence of the Spirit is NOT based on outward conditions - the stinky smells of life - no amount of unhappiness can repel him from our lives.
My friends, one of the beautiful gifts that God gives us when we trust in his love is the gift of joy. Joy is a person that can’t be stolen. Don’t allow the outward events - the beef and cheese of life - to overshadow and quench your joy. Choose to hold onto the promise that when you commit your life to Jesus, he will never abandon you. And he will, as a sign of his commitment and love, give you joy, his Spirit. I challenge you this season, choose joy, choose to believe the promise of God! Joy is a person and he can’t be stolen. "Jesus! I know him!"