Joy Under Pressure

May 3, 2020 – Rev. Donnell T. Wyche


The pursuit of Happiness! Oops! Happiness is not joy.

Happiness we expect. Happiness, we can even plan for. Happiness turns up more or less where it should, and, most importantly, we can control and manufacture happiness – a good relationship, a satisfying and rewarding job, a well-prepared meal, a well-planned vacation.


The marketers tell us that happiness can be purchased, and they provide every way possible for us to do so. The self-help gurus tell us to “channel happy thoughts” and they extol the benefits of our “positive thinking.” Because “good friends are the key to happiness,” we are invited to surround ourselves with happy people in the hope that we will absorb their happiness by osmosis.

What would it take for you to be really happy? I bet most of us have an answer to this question, more money, smarts, time, stability, a better house, a better job, a better car, employment, a partner in life. But go ahead and fantasize with me about you acquiring what you think might make you happy. How long before what ever it is, stops making you happy? A week, a month, a year, a decade? See it would take a near infinite supply of whatever it is to satisfy us–to make us happy for a lifetime. Is this a part of what God says he wants for us?

Happiness depends on the circumstances of our life. If my life follows the plan I have it for it, and the things in my life happen the way I want them to happen, then I am happy. What happens when we don’t get the circumstances which make us happy? How do we feel? How do we act?

Our pursuit of happiness won’t ultimately make us happy what we want is bigger than just fleeting happiness, what we want is lasting happiness, happiness that’s not being dictated by our situations, this is happiness that comes from our relationship with God, it’s lasting and it overflows from the depths of our lives, it springs up from gratitude, it’s what we call joy.

Joy can’t be manufactured, only happiness can. Joy is a relationship word.

“When was the last time that you had an experience of joy?”

I mean a kid splashing in the puddles, joy. The delight that you experience during the first drop on your favorite roller coaster, joy. The warmth of the sun, joy. The sheer pleasure you experience after your invited guests take their first bites of the meal you have prepared for them, joy. The you-don’t-any-expectations or anything outstanding or hanging over your head, joy.

Many of us are barely making it, just hoping that by putting one foot into front of the other, the routines of our lives will move us along. Some of us are just eking out quiet lives of desperation, where we are fearful, overwhelmed, disappointed. We are experiencing more of the fruit of the Empire (fear, judgment, anger, bitterness, lust, apathy, shame, greed, and envy) than we are of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control).

Jesus says something about the Kingdom of God that I think is helpful…

44“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” (Matthew 13:44)

I love that the emotion Jesus uses is “joy” when describing someone discovering the goodness of God. I think we could use more joy; I know that I can.

Aha! Joy springs up from gratitude.

I know that using joy as a barometer of how your relationship with God is going can feel like too much. Joy is a tricky thing because it’s different from happiness: joy isn’t fleeting, joy can co-exist with hardship, “you can get fired, dumped, dumped on, and pulled through the eye of a needle” and still be able to experience and have joy.

Happiness is a fleeting emotion that’s more or less under our control, but joy surprises us.

Joy knows no rules.
Joy has no boundaries.
Joy transforms the way we see ourselves.
Joy transforms the world we inhabit.
Joy transforms our lives and our situations.

Author, Austin Channing Brown says, “Joy is resistance.”

Let me try to explain what I mean.

Have you ever encountered someone who was joyful, even though their world seems to be falling apart all around them? Well, I have. On the surface, you just think that the person isn’t being realistic. They aren’t confronting reality. They seem to be “faking it, in order to make it.” Right? And while that might be the case for some people, there are those who seem to have discovered the secret of life because they have figured out how to follow Paul’s commandment in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18,

16 Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying. 18 Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

It’s an echo of something I heard the church mothers say when I was growing up in the Black church,

“This joy that I have, the world didn’t give it, so the world can’t take it away.”

In this way, joy is otherworldly. It’s a gift from God.

See, joy is rooted in gratefulness. It’s not that joy makes us grateful, it’s that gratitude makes us joyful. Our joy springs up from our gratefulness. You can be the most successful person in world, but if you take your success for granted, your success will not make you joyful. Joy is that extraordinary happiness that is independent of what happens to us. It’s a way of seeing ourselves with our prophetic imagination, invoking a way of seeing ourselves, not as we are, but as we are in Christ, being transformed in the loving presence of the living God.

Joy can’t be manipulated because it is a gift from God and a product of our relationship and dependence on God. Joy is therefore a relationship word. To be grateful is to be dependent. Our gratitude lays waste to the idea that we are all self-sufficient. Because gratitude helps us see that we are dependent on others and on God. In order to have joy, we have to change the way we live. This starts by incorporate gratitude in our everyday, understanding that, yes, we will have hardships, but that our hardships aren’t the end of the story because we serve a Savior who has overcome the world.

33 These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

The most important thing about us is what we think about God.

We won’t be able to live a life that’s joyful unless we believe that such a life is possible. A friend of mine recently said that “joy and suffering aren’t mutually exclusive.” But many of us believe it is.

Dallas Willard says that the process of spiritual formation in Christ is the process of progressively replacing our toxic, distorted images of God with ideas and images that filled the mind of Jesus.

“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with joy unspeakable and fully of glory.” 1 Peter 1:8

What if God meets us and shows up with his kingdom in the places where we come alive?

What if God shows up when we come to understand ourselves, who we really are, and what we’re made for?

And what if our pursuit of happiness or our suffering distracts from being present. And this distraction prevents us from coming alive, preventing us from fighting the good fight of faith. All of this robbing us of the experience of joy that God gives when we come alive in his presence.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. And it occurred to me that I come alive in a lot of places:

Solving problems
Helping people reach their potential

What if that’s what it means to have our hearts happy in God? Our hearts are happy in God when we experience the joy he gives when we discover him in the places where we come alive. And once we have experienced this type of joy, it’s just like the song says:

This joy that I have
The world didn’t give it to me
And the world can’t take it away.

Maybe this is why James, the brother of Jesus said,

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4

Here’s something you can consider this week.

I want to encourage you to seek out and pursue joy… gratitude help us find the places we experience joy. For some of you, this might mean looking for wonder, those experiences of delight that overcome feelings of “the world is dark and broken,” little reminders that this story we are living in has all these places of hidden potential, whether that’s in a good meal, the smell of a flower, or watching a sunrise… pay attention to those moments that reconnect you to joy.

1.) Try using a pen/pencil and paper. The process of writing using a pen/pencil creates a bit of space to contemplate. Try starting your gratitude with, “I’m grateful for…” or “I’m grateful that…”

2.) Start small. No need to be an overachiever, you aren’t competing with anyone else. Note the things you are actually grateful for, avoid noting the things you should be grateful for.