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The Definition of Joy

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What does it mean to be “happy?” Many have tried to define it. For instance:

Gandhi said: Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.

Ayn Rand said: Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s values.

Robert Ingersoll, the famous Agnostic saind: Happiness is not a reward – it is a consequence.

Aristotle the most famous philosopher said: Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.

Margaret Lee Runbeck said: Happiness is not a station you arrive at, but a manner of traveling.

Someone else has offered the following advice about how you can be happy. They said

1. Don't expect perfection from yourself or anyone else. Progress is good enough.

2. Accept others. Stop judging.

3. Stay in the present. Do not waste time and energy regretting the past or worrying about the future.

4. Be grateful.

5. Decide to be happy. Having the intention to be happy, regardless of current circumstances, attracts conditions that support you.

6. Be self-authorized. Stop making choices based on what others believe you should do, think, or be.

7. Choose how you feel. Learn to pause. Take a moment to choose how you wish to react and feel.

8. Examine your beliefs. Often things in our life we accept as facts are really self-defeating beliefs.

9. Expand your options. Drop the word "can’t" from your self-talk. Allow yourself to dream big. On a weekly basis, write down all your desires, and let the sky be the limit. No one has to see this list but you!

10. Create what you desire. Rather than putting all your energy into pushing away the things you don’t want, direct your energy into creating what you do want.

RAH! RAH! RAH! Do these seem as unrealistic to you as they do to me? It seems that so many people have all kinds of ideas about happiness, but very few people are genuinely happy. For one thing, we make it so complicated. I mean, how many of us can really remember those ten things all the time to really be happy . . . and even if we could, would it really make a difference?

I think not! You see, the Bible tells us about happiness by using a somewhat different term. The Bible speaks constantly, not so much about happiness, but about joy, and if you define happiness the way our culture defines it, there is often a great, great difference.


For the next few weeks I am going to be talking about this difference. You see, I really believe that these next few messages could be life-changing for some of us. We all suffer from the culture shock of overstimulated minds and under-appreciated blessings. I know that there are people under the sound of my voice today who, if we got you to be honest, would say with a fading grin, “I put on a good front, but I am desperately unhappy. I, quite frankly, expected a lot more out of life than what I have received.” You might go on, from that point, to describe why you feel that way. If you’re like most people, you’d go on to describe some disappointment or disaster you’ve experienced which broke you and left you devastated and discontent. You’re unhappy and you know, or at least you think you know, why. I want you to listen: This series may just offer some hope, not necessarily of some great change in your circumstances, but hope of the greatest change of all: A change of heart.

But then there are some here who may not know why. You are desperately unhappy, when all of your circumstances say that you should not be. Things are going great: You have a good job, lots of material blessings, a great family, but, on the inside, there is a discontentment that is scaring you. You don’t want to blow what you have, but you’re afraid that your restless, unhappy heart is about to take you into some sin that will ruin you. You’re grabbing for the bush of sanity on your way over the cliff of disillusionment and, at least a part of you doesn’t want to go there. Listen. God wants to give you some answers, I believe.

/ You know the one I’m talking about because you’ve heard it many times before. You can never be too happy because you live your life constantly waiting for the “other shoe to drop.” What I mean is, you live in the eternal cringe of waiting for the gun of disaster to fire in your life. You may be happy, but you’re not confident. Listen. You can live beyond constant fear. How? Well, it comes through an exchange. An exchange of happiness for deep Christian Joy.


And I know that statement may not mean a whole lot to you right now, but I am praying that, as we walk through this series, it will come to bless your heart the way it has mine. So where do we begin? I think the best place to start is with a good definition. We can say of joy what Tom Hopkins says of success: “Before you spend a lifetime pursuing it, you should take five minutes to define it.” Well, it will probably take a little longer than five minutes, but I want to help you define biblical joy this morning.

One of the best passages of scripture defining the concept of joy is in Psalm 16. Let’s read it together:

Preserve 1me, O God, for in You I put my trust. O my soul, you have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord, bMy goodness is nothing apart from You.” As for the saints who are on the earth, “They are the excellent ones, in cwhom is all my delight.” Their sorrows shall be multiplied who hasten after another god; Their drink offerings of dblood I will not offer, Nor take up their names on my lips. O Lord, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You 2maintain my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Yes, I have a good inheritance. I will bless the Lord who has given me counsel; My 3heart also instructs me in the night seasons. fI have set the Lord always before me; Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will 4rest in hope. For You will not leave my soul in 5Sheol,Nor will You allow Your Holy One to 6see corruption. You will show me the hpath of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

This morning I primarily want to focus on those last three vv say: Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will 4rest in hope. For You will not leave my soul in 5Sheol,Nor will You allow Your Holy One to 6see corruption. You will show me the hpath of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. I just want to begin by giving you the definition of joy that can be drawn from these verses. Here it is:


Look at it again: JOY IS THE CURRENT CONFIDENCE THAT FLOWS FROM THE FUTURE HOPE AND PRACTICAL GUIDANCE MADE POSSIBLE THROUGH THE CONSTANT PRESENCE OF GOD. Now I know that some of you are going, “Huh?” so let me explain. You see, I believe that you can only pursue genuine joy when you know what it is, so let’s look at this chapter and unpack this definition. Here’s where it starts:



We will begin to examine this psalm by going in reverse. V 11 says You will show me the hpath of life; In Your presence is fullness of (what?) That’s right, “JOY”At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. You can’t read this psalm without a sense of desire and wonder, at least, I can’t. When the Bible talks about having “joy” and “pleasure forevermore,” I get hungry for it. I think the Holy Spirit led David to write the psalm this way! He builds these eleven verses from a plea to be preserved to a declaration that there are “pleasures” . . .litearlly, “raptures,” being made available to you and me “forevermore.”

But notice where those pleasures are to be found. It says, In your presence is fullness of Joy.” Which just leaves us with this question: What exactly does it mean to be “in the presence” of God? Well, if you walk through this psalm, you receive the answer: First being in the presence of God means to have a single desire Made a vagabond from his own country by the jealousy of a rejected king, David had lost everything. His family was off-limits and his inheritance lost. His portion was God and God alone, so he says in v 1, “Preserve me, O God, for in You I put my trust.” He has one single desire and it is for God. Being in the presence of God begins with our desire for God. It means to have a single desire for God.

But it also means to have a growing knowledge of Him. In his commentary on this psalm, James Montgomery Boice points out this growing knowledge through the various names by which David addresses His God. In v1 he addresses Him as “El.” He says, Preserve me O God, and “God” there is the name, “El.” This is the shortened version of “Elohim” which was the most common, and you might say more distant name for God. It spoke of the strength and power of his awesome, mighty God. He was Elohim, the Mighty One.

But the description grows more personal in the next title given to God: v2 says, O my soul, you have said to the LORD. Note that all the letters here are capitals. That tells us that the Hebrew behind this English translation is the word Yahweh. This is the personal name of David’s God. This is what God told Moses His name was when he asked Him for His identity at the burning bush. Do you remember? When Moses asked Him whom he should say had sent him to deliver Israel, God answered, I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I am has sent me to you.” This was the covenant name for God which spoke of His undying commitment to His people. Even though David had lost his inheritance through the intrigue of Saul, he realizes that his inheritance does not rest in the grubby, greedy hands of man. It rests with God, so he says, “apart from You I have no good thing.”

And, then there’s this third name in v2. It says,O my soul, you have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord . . . Notice that the second Lord is in lower case. This indicates that behind the English translation of Lord is the Hebrew word, Adonai. This word was not exclusively reserved for deity. It could refer to an earthly boss or master. Don’t miss what David is saying here: He is saying, Preserve me O my MIGHTY POWERFUL GOD, for in You I am trusting. I say of You, My personal covenant I AM, GOD, You are my Master. In other words, “You are the one who sets the agenda. I am surrendered to Your sovereignty.”

What does it mean to be in the presence of God as this psalm describes it? It means to have a single desire for God that cause you to grow in your knowledge of Him by recognizing His mighty power, being thankful for His undying commitment to you and by being absolutely surrendered to His sovereignty.


So let’s just take a minute to kind of “flesh out” this definition. How can you and I get this down into our hearts? How can we truly live in His presence? Well, first there must be a captivated heart for God.. What I mean is that God must, through His divine intervention, create in us a hunger for Him. This is a great mystery, actually. The human heart, corrupted by sin, will never desire to know God. Before we can even desire to move towards Him, He must operate upon us. By the way, that simply means that if you have never really come into a relationship with Jesus Christ this morning, there is no way you will until He moves upon you first. My greatest prayer for you this morning is that, when He does move in your life, you will respond. And Christian, the same goes for you this morning. If God has moved upon you and you have responded to Him in faith, how will you escape if you neglect such a great salvation. This relationship is yours to cultivate and to respond to. Joy begins by seeking His presence. there must be a captivated heart for God.


One missionary writes that while he was serving in Paraguay, a Maka Indian by the name of Rafael would come and sit on his porch. He was inside eating, so he went out to see what Rafael wanted. When he asked, Rafael just said, “Ham, henek, met.” He didn’t get a lot out of that, even though he understood what was being said. Literally, it meant, “I don’t want anything; I have just come near.”

The missionary later shared the incident with a local veteran missionary. The veteran explained that this was Rafael’s way of honoring him. You see, Rafael didn’t want anything; he just wanted to sit on his front porch. He found satisfaction and pleasure in just being near.

The Lord says, “What brings you here, ______________ (use names)?” We answer, “Ham, henek, met.” “I don’t want anything; I have just come near.” That’s what it means to have a captivated heart for God.


But not only is there a captivated for God, there must also be a cultivated awareness of God . That means that I must take control of my time and take control of my mind and not leave this heart for God to chance. I memorize scripture; I pursue prayer; I meditate on God and His goodness. Minute by minute and day by day, I pursue Him. I cultivate my awareness of Him.

And then there must also be a capitulated will to God. He becomes not only my “Elohim” and my “Yahweh,” He also becomes my “Adonai.” He is my Lord and my Master. I seek to obey Him with all of my heart.


In Character Forged from Conflict, Gary Preston writes about Gladys Aylward, a missionary to China during and after World War II:

Gladys's ministry in China was chronicled in the film The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. She suffered terribly during her journey across the mountains of China in order to bring a hundred orphans to safety in Sian in Shensi. Ranging in age from four- to fifteen-years-old, these children were saved because of Gladys's faithful obedience to God.

But it was not without cost.

When Gladys arrived in Sian with the children, she was gravely ill and almost delirious. She suffered internal injuries from a beating by the Japanese invaders in the mission compound at Tsechow. In addition, she suffered from relapsing fever, typhus, pneumonia, malnutrition, shock, and fatigue.

Through her ordeal Gladys learned more about obedience to Christ. She learned to choose Christ over anything else life had to offer—so much so that when the man she loved, Colonel Linnan, came to visit her in Sian as she was recovering and asked her to marry him, she declined. In her heart she knew she could not marry him and continue the work God had for her among the children of China. Out of her obedience to God, she said good-bye to Linnan at the train station, and they never met again. Gladys continued serving God faithfully in China and England until her death in 1970.

You see, if I want joy, I must understand that it comes from being constantly in the presence of God, and that presence is achieved through a captivated heart, a cultivated awareness, and a capitulated will. But, even though there may be effort involved, and even though there may be, as there was for Gladys, suffering involved, there is also some wonderful fruit when I come into His presence. You see,



The psalmist, in v 9 makes an amazing statement: He says, Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will 4rest in hope. For You will not leave my soul in 5Sheol, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to 6see corruption. “Sheol” was “the place of the dead.” It was the grave. David says, with a prophecy later used to speak of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, that God would not allow him to see corruption and that he would not be left in the grave. Because of this promise of ultimate rescue, v9 ends with this statement: My flesh will also rest in hope. You see, because He knew God; because He knew Yahweh and was surrendered to Adonai, he was absolutely certain that his death would not mean his end and he could be confident when the the doctor said “It’s cancer;” he could relax when the banker said, “You’re broke;” he could over look a thousand insults from the wife who was supposed to love him. You see, undergirding his life was foundation of hope that, in just a little while, this short, often painful life, would end and eternity waited. His awareness of God’s presence and God’s plan gave Him future hope.

But it gave him something else. v 11says, You will show me the path of life. This means that the experience of God’s presence yields practical guidance. One commentator writes,

Having gotten past the grave in his thinking, what does the rest of the future hold in store for a saint of God? (That God will make known to him) the path of life, meaning, of course, the path that leads to life, and the traveling of which is life. ‘Make to know’ is the equivalent of tasting and experiencing the reality of all that is involved.

You see, when I rest in the presence of God and I am experiencing all that He is, I am undergirded by His hope and directed by His wisdom. And it all comes from being in His presence.


On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson became pro baseball's first black player when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers. But there's an amazing story of faith and courage behind Robinson's entry into baseball.

Branch Rickey was the Dodger's baseball executive who eventually signed Jackie Robinson. Rickey's pastor was Wendell Fifield, from the Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims in Brooklyn. (This church, at one time pastored by Henry Ward Beecher, had a history of working with the "underground railroad" to help free slaves.) While Rickey was trying to decide if he should sign Jackie Robinson, he paid a visit to Rev. Fifield. He barged into the pastor's study and told Fifield, "Don't let me interrupt. I just want to be here. Do you mind?"

According to an eyewitness report written by Fifield's wife June, the two men passed the time without words. The pastor continued his work and Rickey energetically paced the floor, stopping occasionally to look at the pastor's window. For forty-five minutes he continued pacing, pausing, pacing, and then pausing. Finally, Rickey broke the silence by pounding his fist on the pastor's desk as he shouted, "I've got it!"

"Got what, Branch?" the minister asked.

June Fifield said that Rickey finally relaxed on a chair and told his pastor, "This was so complex, fraught with so many pitfalls but filled with so much good, if it was right, that I just had to work it out in this room with you. I had to talk to God about it and be sure what he wanted me to do. I hope you don't mind."

"Wendell," he said, "I've decided to sign Jackie Robinson." Then Rickey straightened his bow tie, donned his hat, and left the room as he said, "Bless you, Wendell."

In a couple of interviews from 2011, people who knew Rickey reflected on this story. Rickey's grandson said that when a well-known journalist told Rickey that "all hell would break loose" when Jackson took the field, Rickey quietly countered, "I believe all heaven will rejoice." Also, Jackie Robinson's widow Rachel had this to say about Rickey's need to pray about the decision: "He knew he was going to be pretty well isolated in making it, so he needed all the strength he could summon up, to be able to take the step."

You see, Mr. Rickey knew what King David had discovered: In His presence is fullness of joy and part of that fullness was knowing that in the decisive moments of life, His presence would light every step. You see, I truly believe God waits to give us direction, but that direction is not found in the often fickle advice of men; it is found in the guidance of God.


You may say to me, “Rusty, I know what God says and I even know the direction I should go, but I just don’t want to. I have no desire to obey.” Well when you say, “I know what God says, but . . .” everything after the “but” is sin. Remember these examples:

“I know that God said not to eat the fruit, BUT it will open your eyes.”

“I know I shouldn’t look at Bathsheba, BUT I am the king and she is bathing on the roof.

“I know I shouldn’t say that Sarah is my sister, BUT I don’t want to be killed by someone who wants to take her as their wife.”

“I know that God said we should not take any of the spoil in Jericho, BUT, I deserve to enjoy the spoils of war. No one will ever know.”

And I could list a few of ours: “I know that I shouldn’t take this job and be away from my family more than I already am, BUT I really need the money.

“I know that living together before marriage is wrong, BUT we don’t have the money to do anything else.”

“I know that I have no grounds for divorce, BUT I am not happy.”

“I know that everything I have belongs to God and that I should honor Him with the tithe, BUT I just don’t know how I can financially afford to do it.”

Listen! Isolated believers make bad decisions because they are not guided by God. When you leave His presence, you walk in your own wisdom and very often you make eternal mistakes. But when you dwell in His presence, you receive future hope and practical guidance. And what is the ultimate joy of this approach to life? Well:



v9 begins with a statement that get’s right at the heart of what joy really is. It says, Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices; my flesh will also rest in hope. The word “rejoices” is the Hebrew word samach which suggests three elements: A spontaneous unsustained feeling of jubilance, a feeling so strong that it finds expression in some external act, and a feeling prompted by some external and unsustained stimulus.

Now this is what we think of when we think of joy. An exuberant feeling of happiness that cannot be still. I saw it a couple of weeks ago when I was with my grandson. On about the second day I was there, we went to Walmart to ride Winnie the Pooh. While we were there, I bought him a dollar’s worth of bubbles. He can’t say bubbles, so he called them “bubus” all week. I’d be standing in the kitchen beside the back door and he’d say, “Outside” and “bubus.” Sometimes I couldn’t, but as often as I could, I’d gather him up in my arms and take him out there and we’d blow bubbles. Whenever I said yes, he’d start nodding his head and pat me on the back or hug me. You see, he experienced a feeling so strong that it found expression in some external act. He was so happy he could not be still. He was “rejoicing.”

But we all know that we can’t stay in that state constantly. Those feeling brought by outward circumstances pass. The verse says, Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will 4rest in hope. When it says, “rest” in hope it means to “dwell, inhabit, settle down, abide.” Now I think we’re getting to what real Joy is. You see, it is a current, abiding confidence in God. Yes, it is sometimes moved by emotion and it has to express itself outwardly, but it doesn’t depend on outward motivation because it is founded upon the very character and faithfulness of God and it is focused upon His presence. It is the current confidence that flows from the future hope and practical guidance that is made possible through the constant presence of God.


John Patton pastored a growing Scottish church for ten years but, after that tenure, felt that God was calling him away to an island, off the coast of Australia, inhabited by canibals. Now they knew that the tribes of this island were canibalistic because one missionary couple had already gone there and died.

So, since his congregation loved him, you can imagine that the news that he was leaving them to go to a cannibal infested island frightened them for him . . . so much so that many took it upon themselves to give him advice. One elderly man in the church, up in his 80's took him aside one day to try to talk some sense into him. He exclaimed to Patton, “Cannibals, Cannibals, You will be eaten by cannibals!”

John replied to him, “Mr Dixon, you are advanced in years now and your own prospect is soon to die, be buried and, there, to be eaten by worms. I confess to you that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals or by worms and in the Great Day, my resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the image of the Lord Jesus.” Upon hearing that, the old man left the room exclaiming, “After that, I have nothing more to say.”


You see, finally, at last, confidence comes not from our circumstances, but from our faith. If we really believe that to “live is Christ and to die is gain,” there flows into us a great overwhelming assurance that, no matter what, we will be ok.

And not only that, but confidence comes not from our ability but from our hope. We tend to think that confidence comes because “I know what I can do. After all, I’ve done it before and I can do it again.” Joy then, become a reflection of my past experienced and my confidence is based upon the misguided notion that what happened before will happen again . . . but guess what . . . it never does! You see, because life actually does not really repeat itself, if we trust in our ability and experience, we will often fail. Our confidence must come from viewing our ultimate accomplishment through the eyes of Christ, not the blindness of our flesh. Confidence does not come from ability but from hope.

And then, confidence comes not from accumulated wisdom, but from divine guidance. Very often accumulated wisdom doesn’t take you down God’s road, but down your own. Earthly wisdom is based on experience; godly wisdom is based upon the truth of God’s Word.


And what does all of this mean in your life? Well, if you really had this confidence, this joy in the Lord, your marriage would be different. Come on, and admit: Very often the problems that you have in your relationships are self-inflicted: You’re looking to get instead of give; because you are not getting your joy from the Lord, you’re looking for someone else to give it to you. If you really had this God-given confidence, you could salvage your marriage.

What would this mean to your ministry? It would mean that you would not feel threatened when the attendance dipped, or someone criticized your teaching. It would mean that you could take instruction and really improve because your ego would not be at stake.

What would this mean to your job? It would mean that there would be a new ability to handle the inevitable chaos you might find yourself in without stressing out or further alienating those over you whom your anger has insulted. It might mean that the Holy Spirit so possesses you that your impact and witness becomes un shakable.

What would this mean to you, High School Senior? It might mean that you have the confidence to actually leave home and go to Bible College because the Lord is your strength, and, even though you know it may be lonely at times, you know that your joy in the Lord . . . your unshakable confidence in Him will sustain you.

I can’t mention everything this morning, but I tell you, I really believe that this joy in the Lord is the thing so many people are missing. They lack the current confidence that flows from the future hope and practical guidance that is made possible through the constant presence of God. They have never discovered what the Bible has said for centuries: It is the joy of the Lord that is our strength!

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