[The Zondervan Blog interviews Rich Wagner, author of The Myth of Happiness: Discovering a Joy You Never Thought Possible]
Rich Wagner is the author of The Myth of Happiness and The Gospel Unplugged. He's also author of 3 For Dummies books, written with the goal of making biblical truth easily accessible for modern-day readers. These books include Christianity For Dummies, C.S. Lewis & Narnia For Dummies, and Christian Prayer For Dummies. Rich lives in New England with his wife and three boys. He can be found online at www.digitalwalk.net.
Q: Why do so many Christians fail to experience the joy promised in the Bible?
A: I'm convinced it's because we're confused by what biblical joy is and how it can be fully experienced in our lives. All too often, joy is simply another word for happiness. We treat this spiritual gift like cotton candy -- sugary on the outside with no substance inside. But, as a result, we've become a church of happy Christians who look good on Sunday morning, but live the rest of the week strapped to rollercoasters, rising and falling based on situations in our lives. In the end, we find ourselves pursuing happiness instead of joy.
Q: What's the difference between the two?
A: On the surface, joy and happiness look almost identical. But as you dive deeper, the two often reveal themselves as opposites. Happiness is all about the here and now, but biblical joy is rooted in eternity. Happiness depends on circumstances. Joy is independent of anything that happens to me. Happiness draws me inward, while joy turns me outward to God and others. Happiness seeks temporary peace with myself, but joy embraces lasting peace with Jesus Christ. Pain kills happiness, but joy soothes it. That's why, in pursuing happiness, we easily get defensive and bent on protecting the things in our lives that makes us happy. Biblical joy, by contrast, is open to God's will, even when he takes us down unhappy roads and gloomy alleyways.
Q: James 1:2 tells believers to "count it as joy" when we face hard times. Why do we have such a hard time living this out?
A: When we face a crisis, it's easy for us to look upon joy much like Indiana Jones would. It's a smirk in the face of disaster. A gritty determination to persevere no matter the odds. Donning a fedora and a leather jacket, we memorize James 1:2 and become bent on being joyful in a crisis. Then, in true Indiana Jones fashion, when the tidal wave comes our way, we grab a life raft and attempt to ride out the storm. The fundamental problem with this view of joy, however, is that it becomes something attained by willpower alone. We stay afloat for awhile, but eventually sink. As I explain in the book, we choose joy, not will it.
Q: Can joy transform our Christian walk?
A: Absolutely. Happiness is available to anyone, but joy is distinctly Christian. It's dynamic proof of our future hope as believers and our greatest distinguisher to a cynical world held hostage by life’s circumstances. Once we begin to choose this spiritual gift, then we can jump off our rollercoasters and experience the freedom and transformation that Christ so clearly promises us.