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Read:   Galatians 5:19-23

22 … the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.

The most misunderstood fruit of the Spirit is joy.  People confuse joy with happiness, but the two states of being are different.  Joy is deeper than happiness.  Happiness is typically the result of external circumstances – things working out as planned, or better than we imagined.  Happiness can result in eating a hot fudge sundae, going on a bike ride, going to a favorite restaurant, or having a favorite sports team win.  Happiness is often transitory.  And while happiness and joy are often partners, joy has a bit of a different grounding, and is more enduring. 

How does joy do it?  How does joy sustain itself when the vacation is over? Joy sees the “big picture”.  Joy sees potential with hope and affirmation.  Joy is collective, as well as personal.  Joy gets its legs – its durability, through faith.  Faith that: life is good.  Love endures.  History and culture has a bent toward justice even if the arc is long and gradual. God holds the future.  This basis of faith allows joy to withstand times of personal loss, tragedy and suffering.

So far I have contrasted happiness and joy, and I’ve not been entirely fair to happiness.  Happiness, as a state of being, has been elevated by philosophers as the best life possible, and they would take exception to my characterization of happiness as indulgent, transitory, and frivolous.  And, words have different connotations and even different denotations among cultures and individuals, so my apologies to those who’ve studied philosophy, and have a greater appreciation for classical “happiness”.

I’ll close with a bit of wisdom that has stuck with me for many years.  Over lunch with an amazing, optimistic clergy colleague who was serving a very challenging church, steeped in conflict, I asked, “How do you do it?”  His reply was profound, “Rob, I learned long ago to never let them steal my joy”.  That is powerful.  Treasure your joy, nurture it, and share it.  The loss of joy is a serious thing, and among the most debilitating of spiritual dis-eases.  The presence of joy is a delight, and is one of the most wonderful fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Shalom,

Pastor Rob Nystrom