Once again we are tempted to settle for a mere cultural definition of what this attribute looks like. I like to say that joy is primarily different than happiness in that it is not dictated by circumstances. When we think of the answer to the question, “Are you happy?”, most often we mentally visit our surroundings for the answer. How are my relationships? Are my kids turning out the way I hoped they would? And, how about this weather? It is fair to say that happiness comes and goes as we have satisfactory answers to questions like the ones mentioned. This is not (necessarily) the same as joy.
Biblically speaking, that which makes joy unique is its ability to remain constant… even/especially when we assume it would naturally flee. There are plenty of examples of this in the Scripture. Paul and Silas singing after being beaten and imprisoned. Jacob serving Laban for seven years to marry Rachel… and then another seven because of the deceit of Laban… and his love for her was so strong that it seemed to him but a few days. The book of Hebrews also reminds us that Jesus was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterward. This is Bible joy. It defies convention and is full of (and perhaps not possible without) the next attribute… peace.
How is this joy possible? If you don’t have it, how do you get it? Think happy thoughts? Sort of… and, not really. Joy is the state of mind and heart that chooses to focus on the goodness of God… no matter the conditions of life. Because God does not change, even though circumstances do, joy is always available as we celebrate the otherness of God.