Happiness and joy aren’t the same thing. God distinguishes between happiness and joy in both the Old and New Testaments. Happiness is mentioned only around 30 times, while joy and rejoicing are addressed over 300 times. Joy isn’t only mentioned—it is commanded: “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).

When asked, “What is joy?” 75 percent of Christians will tell you that joy is more than happiness, but few can explain what joy really is. We're told that joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22), that the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10), that the Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17) and that God wants us to be filled with joy (John 15:11).

But what is joy? And how is it different from happiness? We have all experienced the roller coaster that is happiness. We can be on top of the world one moment and down in the dumps the next if we run our lives based on our experience of happiness. This is because happiness is dependent upon our situation and fluctuates with how well our circumstances are fulfilling our desires. If our desires are satisfied, we are happy, but if they are denied, we feel frustrated and distressed.

Joy is a sense of wellbeing and ongoing contentment in any and all circumstances. It is a byproduct of a deepening relationship with the Lord and our growth in Christlikeness. Joy is produced by the alignment of our desires with His. As our desires come into harmony with His, we grow in confident expectation that we will possess what we desire, and our lives become filled with joy.

Jesus is our ultimate example of joy. We are told that even when facing the pain and torture of the cross, He was able to endure it because of the joy He experienced (Hebrews 12:2). What was this joy that was so strong that it surpassed the suffering of the cross? It was His confident expectation of possessing what He desired most: reconciliation and restoration with us and the establishment of His Kingdom on earth. He wants us to share this joy with Him forever.

As we make the decision to seek His Kingdom—that is, to align our desires with His rule and reign—we enter the realm of His blessing. His joy becomes our strength in every situation, for we know that as we rule and reign with Him, our shared desires will be fulfilled.

Why is happiness never enough? It’s because the aim of happiness, the fulfillment of our human desires, will never produce the lasting contentment we seek. Only as we align our desires with His will we grow into a sense of purpose and destiny large enough to fulfill us and give us a lasting experience of a life filled with joy.

I’d like to welcome you to our Special Christmas Services this Sunday at 9:30 AM and 11:30 AM. Our seasonal choir will be singing along with us, and we will be featuring an original stage performance that you don’t want to miss! My son, Gabriel, will also be sharing a special message titled “Home for Christmas!” so invite your friends and family members to join us!

Ché Ahn and his wife, Sue, are the Founding Pastors of HRock Church in Pasadena, California. Ché serves as the Founder and President of Harvest International Ministry (HIM) and the International Chancellor of Wagner Leadership Institute (WLI). With a Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary, he has played a key role in many strategic outreaches on local, national and international levels. He has written more than a dozen books and travels extensively throughout the world, bringing apostolic insight with an impartation of renewal, healing and evangelism.