This morning, I woke up with a cup of cappuccino. I have a cup of peanut butter flavored oatmeal waiting. It has been a very long time since I had to wonder where my next meal would come from. Air conditioning maintains my comfort continually, electric lights illumine the entire house, and a simple turn of the knob provides a hot shower. My friends and family are healthy, and they love and care for me. I can see, hear, walk, speak, and have full use of my arms, hands, and fingers. God has blessed me in so many ways, yet it is way too easy for me to complain when difficulties arise, or my desires are not fulfilled in my timing.

Every day I decide: is today going to be a blessing or a curse to me, or more importantly, am I going to be a blessing or a curse to others? Do I choose having joy or being discontented? Situations and circumstances play a lesser role than my response to them. In Philippians 2:14-15, Paul warns the believers in Christ not to grumble or to dispute amongst themselves, so that they might be above reproach and be lights in the midst of a perverse and wicked generation.

Discontentment, therefore, inhibits our witness. The world is watching how we respond to difficulties and where we put our trust. My faith says that God has a plan for me, and He will provide everything I need to fulfill that plan. On the other hand, not all circumstances are pleasant. Jesus did not promise us that life would be easy. In fact, He promised the opposite, “In this world you will have tribulation...” but I leave you my peace (John 16:33). Following Jesus' warning about life, His Spirit allows us to be more than conquerors as we overcome every challenge.

Thus, we can see the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is taking pleasure from good circumstances like when we have what we desire, and life is good. The problem with that is that circumstances are not always good. Paul gives us the key in Philippians 4:12-13 – “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Paul's secret was that he learned to be content.

If you are familiar with Paul, you know that he went through much tribulation. He labored for his needs, was imprisoned, shipwrecked, and was lost at sea for a day and a half. He was beaten numerous times, flogged five times, stoned and left for dead, and was often cold and hungry (2 Corinthians 11:23-27.) Through it all, Paul told other Christians to imitate him. Paul had Joy!

Joy is taking pleasure in our relationship with God and in knowing that He loves us unconditionally when we are in Christ. He is working out His plan in our lives. We have purpose and meaning greater than our fleshly minds could ever conceive. Our peace and joy come in knowing who and whose we are, and is not dependent on our performance, what we have obtained, or if life is pleasant at the moment. Joy comes by fulfilling our purpose as God's son or daughter and in operating as a part of Jesus' body.

It is ironic that we often spend our whole lives working for things that will make us happy. We think, “If I only had a better job, car, house, family, or boat … (You fill in the blank).” Then when we get it, we find that it is never enough, and we feel miserable and defeated. However, when we cease striving and surrender our lives as servants of the one true God, we find the joy that we have longed for.

I have discovered that joy comes through trusting God to guide me, to provide for my needs, and to work out every situation for my good and His glory. God knows my every need, desire, and what is best for me. Joy comes through faith in His love and acknowledging every blessing as His gift to me. Walking in thanksgiving opens a wellspring of praise and serves as my witness, for my light shines brightest in the darkest of nights.