What's the difference between happiness and joy? The word happiness has as its root the old English word hap, from which comes the related word happened. If, therefore, a good thing happens, you feel happy.
But what about the times when difficulties or losses occur? If you're not happy, can you still have joy? Hard to believe, but the answer is yes. Psalm 100, affectionately known as "Old One Hundred," shows us how.
Shout for joy
The psalm begins with an invitation to worship God: "Make a joyful noise ... all the earth" (v. 1). The "all" does not grant an exception for you or me—it embraces everyone.
But shouting is not your current mood. You review your calendar for the days past or ahead and it does not contain any shouting events. Maybe you feel more like shouting from pain or boredom. But this psalm summons you out of grief, sadness, or depression by saying, "Make a joyful noise ... serve the Lord with gladness; come before His presence with singing" (vv. 1-2).
Lord, I don't feel like doing that today. I'm more in the mood to sing a dirge, to wallow in the pathos of Psalm 88, to sit on the dung hill with Job, or recite the alphabet of Lamentations—my woes from A to Z—with Jeremiah. I feel more like Gethsemane evening than Resurrection morning. How can I turn off the faucet of sorrow and wash instead from the spigot of unrelenting joy?
4 Reasons for Joy
The psalmist has an answer to your question of how. "Know that the Lord, He is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture" (v. 3).
Four fundamental realities serve as the sources for the fountain of joyous worship.
1. The Lord is God. Underlying the universe and your own personal world is His reality. You have a floor of hope, a foundation of sureness. No matter what stage you are passing through, whether you are at the peak or in the pit, the Lord reigns eternal.
2. He made you. God never does anything without purpose, and that includes making you. Please don't limit the word made to your birth as a baby. True, you were made then; but, God is not finished making you until your last breath.
3. You are His. You are God's possession and far more. You are also in His family. Even as a husband says of his wife, or a mother says of her daughter, "She is mine," so God affirms without hesitation our relationship to Him.
4. You belong to God's community. You are not simply a solitary soul valiantly struggling alone through life. You are one among "His people, and the sheep of His pasture" (v. 3). You are in His flock, not the only sheep, but one nevertheless. He knows you by name, leads you to green pastures, rests you by quiet waters, protects you from ravaging animals, finds you when you are lost, holds you when you are wounded, and places you secure in His fold against the elements and the night.
Acting With Joy
No wonder at public worship the psalmist can't contain his enthusiasm (v. 4). You won't find him mumbling through the congregational singing or passively watching others express their love for God. He has reasons for thanksgiving and praise—as do you.
Using temple language, the psalm writer describes a visit to the temple. What an exciting moment as he approaches the gate. He's reviewed his understanding of and relationship to God, so he is ready to enter with joy.
When our hearts fill up with the contemplation of the Lord and His watchful care over us, thanksgiving rather than complaint or confusion expresses itself from our hearts. Often when you are in pain, you become overly focused on the world within you rather than the realities outside you. That's why it's so important to begin your day with a visit to His sanctuary, and to frequently return to that sanctuary during the day to lift your voice and heart in thanksgiving for His watchful care over you, and for placing persons and circumstances in your life to help you.
A few moments later, beyond the gates and inside His courts, you feel calm and security. You know that "the Lord is good; His mercy endures forever, and His faithfulness to all generations" (v. 5).
George O. Wood is the General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God.