Turning Points Magazine & Devotional

June 2024 Issue

Faith Keepers

From the May 2024 Issue

Happiness: What Are You So Happy About?

Happiness: What Are You So Happy About?

Wouldn’t you know it? A team of researchers in Europe has published a study focused on why dogs wag their tails. Animals have tails that are used for many things. Alligators use their tails for swimming, cows for swatting flies, monkeys for clinging to tree limbs, squirrels for balancing. Dogs, on the other hand, use their tails mainly for expressing emotion. But the researchers noticed a subtle detail. When dogs are happy, their wagging inclines toward the right, and when they have a negative emotion, their tails wag more to the left.1

Do you think the researchers are barking up the right tree?

When joy shows up in our lives and on our faces, it’s a tremendous recommendation for the Gospel.

Personally, I’m more interested in dog owners—people like me, in other words. How do we express our emotions, especially our feelings of happiness? That’s an endless subject in our culture. It’s remarkable how many books have been written about happiness and how many songs have been written on this subject. Graduate students study happiness and write dissertations on it, and motivational speakers give us their three, five, or seven steps to a happy life.

Yet for all that, most people in the world aren’t as happy as they want to be. Their possessions have been strangely weak at sustaining happiness, and the pursuit of fun and pleasure has a way of leaving us empty.

J. P. Moreland wrote, “We Americans are obsessed with being happy. But we are also terribly confused about what happiness is. As a result, we seldom find a happiness that lasts.”2

The Bible has a special word for the kind of happiness that comes and grows—JOY. It’s a fruit of the Spirit and should characterize the child of God. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “In a sense a depressed Christian is a contradiction in terms, and he is a very poor recommendation for the gospel.”

He went on to say that both depression and happiness show up on our faces, and we can’t really hide it. “If we are depressed or unhappy, whether we like it or not, we will show it in our face. On the other hand, if we are in the right relationship to God, and in a true spiritual condition, that again quite inevitably must express itself in our countenance.”3

You can discover God’s secrets to a joyful attitude in His Word.

That’s why the writer of Psalm 42:11 called God “the help of my countenance.”

When joy shows up in our lives and on our faces, it’s a tremendous recommendation for the Gospel. Others are fascinated with someone who seems joyful and cheerful. It makes them ask us, “What are you so happy about?”

The Promise of Joy

When George Müller was a young and troubled man, he was invited to a Bible study. He didn’t know what to expect, but he later wrote, “I found something after which I had been seeking all my life long…. I was happy; though if I had been asked why I was happy, I could not have clearly explained it…. I have not the least doubt, that on that evening [God] began a work of grace in me….That evening was the turning point in my life.”4

In a world of despair, joyful people stand out.

Joy begins with Jesus and His Book, the Bible, which promises us the joy of the Lord.

Regardless of your personality or temperament—even despite your circumstances—you can discover God’s secrets to a joyful attitude in His Word. Our God is a joyful God. He wants His creatures to be joyful. For those who believe the Bible, there is no debate, no doubt about this. Almighty God wants His joy to be our joy. He wants us to experience the sort of joy He has in heaven, and we learn about it through the teachings He has given us. Jesus said—and He said this on the night before His crucifixion!—“These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

Let me suggest you read through a portion of Scripture, circling every verse about joy. There are forty occurrences of that word in the Psalms, thirty in Isaiah, five in Philippians, and nine in the Gospel of John. But don’t limit yourself to that one word. Add joyful, rejoice, rejoicing, cheer, cheerful, delight, gladness, and yes, happy, and happiness. You’ll be overwhelmed at how often God sprinkles His Word with these magnetic attitudes.

The Practice of Joy

As you discover what God has to say about the joyful life, you will realize it’s a quality that requires tending, just as farmers tend their crops. Joy is a plant that grows in the middle of our personalities, and we have to work on it. Let’s focus on the farmer analogy. The farmers themselves cannot create the seeds nor replace God’s involvement in causing them to sprout and grow. Life comes from Him. Farmers can, however, cooperate with the process. They can plant, water, fertilize, and tend to the crop.

We cannot create joy inside of us, but we can do our part in working on its cultivation. Paul said about the growth of the Gospel, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6). The same is true about joy. We have to train ourselves to be joyful. We must remind ourselves of the “joy” verses God gives us. We must preach them to ourselves, pray them into our lives, and choose to be joyful even if our emotions don’t feel that way and even if our circumstances don’t seem very positive at the moment.

That’s exactly what Civilla Martin did in 1905 when she wrote these words: “Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come? Why should my heart be lonely and long for heaven and home, when Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is He. His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.”

Civilla was talking to herself, reminding herself of the words of Jesus in Matthew 6 about His caring for us because we are worth more than the sparrows. She was asking herself why she should feel discouraged when Jesus is her portion and constant friend.

This is the prescription found in James 1:2: “My brethren, count it all joy.”

We have to practice being joyful, don’t we? The more we practice it, the more joyful we will feel. And the more joyful we feel, the more others will be fascinated by this strange aspect of our personalities—that in a rather unhappy world, we are rather happy people.

The Presence of Joy

When a joyful person enters the room, it makes a difference. Missionary E. Stanley Jones said that when he found Christ, he felt like he had swallowed sunshine. There’s a kindness on our face, a quietness in our reactions, and a warmth in our eyes that makes others want what we have.

In her church newsletter, Chelsea Judkins recalled a time during her college years when her ministry group was on a bowling outing. One specific guest stopped her to ask, “Why are y’all so nice to each other? What’s so different about you?”5

Richard Tan, a Methodist lay preacher, wrote, “I come from a non-Christian family and my father was a freethinker. My brother was an active church member and I saw the joy he had in him. He was the one who brought me into a cell group, which then led me closer to accepting Christ”—which Richard soon did.6

In a world of despair, joyful people stand out, and they infect others with their attitudes. Express the joy of your salvation. You don’t have a tail to wag, but you have a tale to tell. Let the Lord’s presence show up on your face, find the joy of the Lord as your strength, and let your happiness become a means of fascinating others and sharing with them the joyful sound of the Gospel.

Sources:

1Trisha Pathak, “Dogs Wag Their Tail to Convey a Lot More Than Just Happiness, Study Finds, WION, January 17, 2024.

2J.P. Moreland and Klaus Issler, The Lost Virtue of Happiness (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2006), 14-15.

3D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1965), 11, 13-14.

4George Müller, A Narrative of Some of the Lord’s Dealings with George Müller, First Part (London: J. Nisbet, 1855), 11-12.

5Chelsea Judkins, “By Your Love,” First Baptist Church Arlington, October 26, 2022.

6. Richard Tan, Chinese Annual Conference.

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