As part of my focus on my practical obedience of God (progressive sanctification process), I’ve been pondering Biblical joy/happiness. The Bible clearly commands believers in Jesus to rejoice always. (Philippians 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:16.) But what does this really mean? My pastor recently preached/taught through 1 Thessalonians and I was really struck with his excellent teaching on God’s command to be happy in God and that God is a happy God. I’m also reading Randy Alcorn’s outstanding book, Happiness, on the same topic. In this book, among other things, Alcorn teaches and proves from scripture that God wants us to be happy and that words translated like “blessed” really mean “happy”. Of all people, believers should be happiest, for we are in fellowship with a happy God, the source of all true happiness, and our happy eternal destiny is secure. Is happiness/joy just an emotional mood, or is there something more to it? Is there a difference between Biblical joy and an emotional happy mood? Many seem to think it is an either/or between “Biblical joy” and “mood”, and many think they are the same and a happy mood must remain constant if you are rejoicing in the Lord. As I’m studying this, I am beginning to see that it is both of these views in a paradoxical way. Moods come and go, but Biblical joy in God must remain constant. Biblical joy does mean to be happy. Am I sinning against God if I am grieving a loss, feeling hurt or angry, experiencing disappointment/sadness, or the like? Since God has created people to be emotional beings, I can’t accept that experiencing mood changes is a sin in itself, and that can’t be what “rejoice always” means. I believe our moods and emotions have been damaged in the Fall (because of sin), so they aren’t reliable indicators of truth. What we choose to do with our emotional feelings and mood swings as we respond to the difficulties and circumstances of life may either lead us into sin, doubt and despair, or into trust, joy, happiness, thankfulness, prayer, and contentment with God. I am pondering and studying this lately—how to watch my thoughts and choices and where they will lead, and how to cooperate with/obey God in seeking to be truly happy and satisfied in Him alone. I hope to blog more on this soon.
But I believe there is one aspect of “rejoicing always” that may be getting overlooked. I believe that sometimes some people experience brain sicknesses (depression, acute brain fog) that hinder their ability to “feel happy”. I experience this from time to time personally. Is a brain sick person to be held responsible for not feeling “happy” or sounding like they are not “rejoicing” even if that person is holding on to God’s truth, trusting God and hoping in their promised good eternity, and hoping and praying for the lifting of their brain sickness? Should that person be admonished for not sounding or looking joyful when they are sick and their brain is unable to feel happy? Or should that person be helped, encouraged, and prayed for in their sickness? I believe we must think twice and pray long before admonishing anyone for a seeming lack of joy or happiness with God. The Bible calls us to admonish only “the unruly” — not the weak or sick person (1Thessalonians 5:14). We need wisdom and discernment to rightly determine if a person is disobeying God or sinning which is resulting in their unhappiness, or whether the person is impaired by an illness that makes them unable to feel happy despite making right choices for God. The godly sick person knows he/she is happy, blessed, and has great hope and trust, despite the fact he/she cannot feel it or sound like it due to the illness. At least this has been my personal experience from time to time; I cannot speak for others. I also have times when I experience great feelings of joy and happiness and I am able to really sound that way to others. (Just get me talking about eternity when I’m feeling well and you’ll know what I mean.)
In cases of brain sickness/impairment, I believe we need to provide help, encouragement, and prayer for lifting of the sickness, but be careful about telling someone they just need more joy/happiness and that they are wrong to not be feeling it. As you may guess, I’ve experienced feeling put down in this regard by well-meaning believers. Thank God, my brain fog/paralysis-inability to feel happiness does pass, and my happy/rejoicing feelings do return. But while I go through the sick times, when I can’t “feel it”, my hanging on to God and the truth of His Word by faith do prove reliable and get me through. So, for me, sometimes, Biblical joy is not a “feeling” but a “hanging on by faith” which some Bible teachers say is wrong. Only God knows a person’s heart and what illnesses are hindering his/her brain and moods. Let’s be careful to help and encourage the weak and sick persons among us, and not to admonish a sick person. Do speak and remind of the truths that cause rejoicing, with permission, because the sick person’s brain may be too tired and sick to rehearse those truths very well. Sometimes my brain is so sick I can only focus on simple prayers like, “Lord Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me,” for one example. But please speak truths without a sense of misjudgment and admonishment for the lack of happy feelings or signs of rejoicing that you may perceive as sin/doubt or as the cause of a lack of joy. I wish Bible teachers would explain and allow for the possibility of brain impairment in terms of “feelings” in their teaching about joy/happiness. Unless someone has experienced it personally, they likely have no idea that the problem is real and that it does exist, or what it feels like when it strikes. I hope my sharing this might be helpful to someone. If I am wrong Biblically in my thinking on this topic, I will revise my writing and likely delete this post. However, I presently feel confident God wanted me to share my thoughts in this regard. I remain in study and prayer on the topic of happiness/joy in Christ. I rejoice in my Savior today. I hope and pray everyone I know will come to find peace and joy with God through Jesus Christ. And I pray for any rightly trusting God believer who is brain sick out there who is unable to “feel” the joy at the present time – I understand. May God lift your brain sickness and enable you to feel and experience the Biblical joy that you have in Christ. May God help me if this illness strikes me again.
“We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” 1 Thessalonians 5:14.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” Philippians 4:4
“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18