“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” Philippians 4:4
We often read this verse and hear, “be happy about everything.” But that’s not what it says. So how do we follow this command to rejoice always? Well, it’s important to understand the difference between happiness and joy.
First, happiness is an emotion; joy is a character trait. Happiness comes and goes because our circumstances are always in flux. In other words, happiness is conditional. When happiness is the goal you can become a prisoner of your circumstances. The apostle Paul says we can choose to rejoice in the Lord regardless of our circumstances. That’s because joy has to do with our faith, not our feelings.
While happiness depends on what happens, joy depends on Jesus. Paul goes on, “Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:5-7). Joy is the result of trusting in the sufficiency of Christ. We learn to rely on Him in every situation through persistent prayer and genuine gratitude.
Is choosing to be joyful hard sometimes? You bet! But Paul isn’t just telling us to do something because it sounds good; he’s sharing truth that he’s already tested. He and Silas were beaten and bound in a prison cell, “But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened” (Acts 16:25–26).
What would happen if you started praising God for who He is, despite your circumstances? Realizing that Jesus is capable of meeting every need brings both peace and joy. And joy mixed with gratitude and prayer equals praise. You see, rejoicing is the opposite of worrying and complaining. As you stop focusing on things beyond your control, joy brings contentment. So, what’s the difference between happiness and joy? Happiness is only a thermometer, but joy is the thermostat!