Search the headlines for “joy,” and you’ll find the word is largely used as a briefer alternative to “happiness.”

A British newspaper reports “joy for millions of hard-pressed families” over newly lowered gas rates. Others announce “joy” for the winners of sports games (and “agony” for the losers) and “joy” for those who have made certain profitable investments. One headline tells of a patient’s “joy” at the discovery of a compatible donor for a potentially life-saving transplant.

In popular parlance, “joy” is what you feel when you are successful, when things seem to be looking up, when your team is winning.

As Christians, we have a different understanding. When I was growing up, my dad—a pastor and, like me, a lover of words—often remarked that joy, biblically speaking, is not a simple equivalent to happiness. If it’s possible to “consider it pure joy” when you face trials (James 1:2) or to be “joyful in hope and patient in affliction” (Rom. 12:12), joy must be something other than the walking-on-sunshine, optimistic feelings we have when gas prices are low and the prognosis looks good.

Joy, as we know it, has less to do with our circumstances and more to do with a settled assurance that God knows our condition and that nothing, neither cancer nor financial ruin nor grief nor even death itself, can separate us from his love.

When the popular Christian speaker and author Margaret Feinberg resolved to live by the word “joy” at the start of a new year, she embarked on a series of failed joy experiments, including a couple of weeks of saying “yes” ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.