The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Hard-wired for joy

In good times and bad, we can rejoice in the Lord

The kids next door decided they live in the “Happy House,” and they put a smiling yellow face on their mailbox. For a few weeks the face retained its vivid color. Then rain and sun took their toll. Now the mailbox sits with a weathered white circle on it. The children’s house is still often happy: Their laughter floats out over the street. But like the face on the mailbox, happiness fades quickly.

Paul isn’t talking about happiness when he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). Rather he points Christians toward the more settled disposition of joy. We long to comply—if we could just figure out how. What’s the difference between happiness and joy?

Children are happy when they get what they want, and the neighbor kids are no exception. At the moment they have bikes, Game Boys and the best backpacks on the playground. But I remember an afternoon not too long ago when squirt guns made them happy for hours. Happiness is tethered to desire, and desires change.

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