Surprised by Joy: The Pursuit of Happiness

by Michael Gallup

The summer of 2004 found me on the journey many of my generation have found themselves on, I was trying to “find myself.” More specifically I was trying to find happiness. I had been diagnosed with depression and placed on medication. While I found some relief in my meds, the depression still placed heavy chains around me.

So in a quest to figure out why I was so sad, I spent the summer engaging in the places, people, and things that had brought me the most happiness in my short life. I built docks with my dad and brother on the coast of South Carolina, I visited my mom in the Ozarks of Arkansas, I traveled across the country following my favorite band at the time, and I spent time with my friends. Each time I would taste the once distant happiness but each time the overwhelming feeling of emptiness would return, but I kept looking.

Amazingly enough I found some semblance of an answer at the end of that summer. In a bit of what seemed like an epiphany I realized that what made me happy most was to make others happy. After the elation of that discovery wore off I was sobered with the striking truth of the fleeting nature of happiness and thus my depression intensified. What made me fleetingly happy was to make others fleetingly happy. It all seemed to be such a waste.

Thankfully this was not the end of my story, I would later realize that much more important to me than happiness was love and that what most fulfilled me was the empting of myself in love for others. This has become the mission of my life: to love. Somehow I was given to grace to move beyond what made me happy to what I loved, yet I am not so sure that the church has embraced this grace fully yet.

I mentioned last week that I found myself in a similar place recently to that of my depression six years ago. I knew that joy, a fruit of the blessed Spirit, was supposed to be a defining marker of my faith and yet I felt just as sad now as I did those few years prior. What was wrong with me?

I began to ask God some hard questions about who He is and who I am and what joy really is. But before God could show me what joy was, he had to show me what it isn’t.

Joy is not happiness.

This came as a shock to me; the words were practically synonymous in my vocabulary, totally interchangeable. But I was wrong, these are two rather different words and the first steps towards freedom for me was to accept this.

Accepting that happiness is not the marker of our faith is a hard pill to swallow. It is core to who we are as Americans, after all the pursuit of happiness is one of our unalienable rights. Yet the pursuit of my happiness had left me wanting, even more depressed than when I started.

This myth has infected our churches. When trying to find a new church home I would often leave feeling dirty because everyone was so “happy” and I was not. One of my close friends recently visited TNC and remarked that he liked the visit mainly because we were not “happy-clappy.” I took this as a compliment. For some reason, we have come to think that to be Christian means to be happy and this is not honest and ultimately, I think, not Christian. Being happy is not bad in itself but the pursuit of happiness is a pursuit away from joy, away from truth.

Happiness is purely circumstantial; it has little lasting power and is often self-serving. My desire to know joy was misguided because I was trying to find it in the wrong places.

But where was I supposed to look? The answer to that question was the most shocking revelation yet. God was beginning to teach me the hard lesson that I could find joy even my most sad moments that those places of my deepest hurt may end up being the very place of my greatest joy. How could this be?

Michael is a student at Denver Seminary. This is part two of a five part series asking hard questions about the nature of joy. You can read Michael’s blog, A Sprig of Hope, by clicking here:


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5 responses to “Surprised by Joy: The Pursuit of Happiness

  1. Georgie-ann

    very good,…i’m all ears,…


  2. Georgie-ann

    A couple of thoughts on depression:

    We shouldn’t really be amazed that a Christian can experience things other than the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5). We live in a world that is permeated with the effects and “invisible” servants of the enemy. This enemy is quite jealous of us humans, and especially Christians. He is waging war with us every second, and taking advantage of every weakness within us, and every opportunity to block us from perceiving the good things of God and how they work. He is blatantly a cruel and merciless foe.

    It is certainly within his power to not only help bring about pitiful processes whereby we become “wounded” and blinded and self-absorbed and even jaded internally, but he can also help orchestrate societal chaos and overwhelming confusion, temptation, distractions, even violence and dark despair in our external surroundings as well.

    God’s gift to us is Light and understanding. In Ephesians 1, we see that this gift is strongly linked to God’s attributes of Strength and Power, which are very necessary to aiding us in the warfare that we will face in this earth with the enemy — (satan & demonic cohorts).

    If the devil doesn’t “zing” us internally, he will most certainly “blow persistent bleak smoke” in our face externally, hoping we will lose our grip and our internal compass and finally our “way.”

    Christ prays for Peter that his faith will not fail him when the devil will inevitably test his faith:

    Luke 22:31-34

    [Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial]

    31 “And the Lord said, ‘Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.’
    33 “But he said to Him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.’
    34 “Then He said, ‘I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me.'”

    God gives us everything we need to find our way and strengthen our walk and become the overcoming spiritual people He has called us to be, but it will hardly ever be without spiritual struggle and possible conflict. Anything “easier” is probably also somewhat “imaginary.” But “through it all,” we come to know His Voice and His Goodness and His Ways, and learn to desire nothing less.

    Ephesians 1:3-23

    [Redemption in Christ]

    3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has BLESSED US with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in LOVE, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the GOOD PLEASURE OF HIS WILL, 6 to the praise of the GLORY OF HIS GRACE, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.
    7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He made to abound toward us IN ALL WISDOM AND PRUDENCE, 9 having MADE KNOWN TO US the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, 10 that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him. 11 In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, 12 that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.
    13 In Him you also TRUSTED, after you HEARD THE WORD OF TRUTH, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were SEALED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT OF PROMISE, 14 who is the GUARANTEE of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.”

    [Prayer for Spiritual Wisdom]

    15 “Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of WISDOM and REVELATION in the KNOWLEDGE of Him, 18 the EYES OF YOUR UNDERSTANDING being enLIGHTened; that you may KNOW what is the HOPE of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the EXCEEDING GREATNESS OF HIS POWER toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power 20 which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 FAR ABOVE all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.
    22 And He put ALL THINGS UNDER HIS FEET, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”

    Galatians 5 (excerpted):

    [Christian Liberty]

    1 “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. … 5 For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith … 6 … working through love.”

    [Love Fulfills the Law]

    13 “… through love serve one another. 14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ …”

    [Walking in the Spirit]

    16 “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. …”

    22 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, JOY, peace, longsuffering (patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness (meekness/humility), self-control (temperance). Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. …”

    God is Good. (-:

  3. Georgie-ann

    The following Scriptures have been very important to me, in finding and maintaining my “walk with the Lord.” Early on, it became very obvious to me that the battleground for the possession of the (i.e., “my”) mind and soul was the most important “fight of faith” that we would be waging in claiming and laying hold of our inheritance in Christ, as Christians, our “new life in Christ.”

    very sadly, our power went off, and a lot of good stuff was completely eliminated from this in the process,…if I’m able to, I will try to reconstruct it,…

    If we do not IDENTIFY AND RECOGNIZE THE CORRECT MIND-SET OF A CHRISTIAN, a spiritual person, having “the mind of Christ,” we can be so easily fooled and “brought down” by the earthly influenced things the devil offers us instead, trying to make us think that this mess (he makes) is “who we are.” (Far too many people are believing his lies! … and, paying the sad price.)

    Reading the Bible in this way, is a good way to help brush his creepy cob-webs off our minds and souls! God speaks Truth, and desires to give us Truth, which of course, is what “sets us free.”

    John 8:32 “And you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.”

    Philippians 2:5 “Let this MIND be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”

    1 Corinthians 2:15-16

    15 “But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. 16 For ‘who has known the mind of the LORD that he may instruct Him?’ But WE HAVE THE MIND OF CHRIST.”

    1 Peter 4

    1 “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, ARM YOURSELVES ALSO WITH THE SAME MIND, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but FOR THE WILL OF GOD.”

    1 Corinthians 10:13 “NO TEMPTATION HAS OVERTAKEN YOU except such as is COMMON TO MAN; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also MAKE THE WAY OF ESCAPE, that you may be able to bear it.”

    Depression is certainly one “temptation,” world outlook, that the devil would like to offer (“sell”/impose upon) us. I would much prefer to fight those dark imposing clouds with the Word of God, the “Sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17), than be carried down their boring, dreary, false path to “not much” and “nowhere.” This is NOT the Glory that God has created and carefully designed us for!!

    Ephesians 6:11-13

    11 “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”

    1 Timothy 6:11,12

    11 “But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue RIGHTEOUSNESS, godliness, faith, LOVE, patience, gentleness. 12 FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT OF FAITH, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”

    Luke 11:9,10 [Keep Asking, Seeking, Knocking]

    9 “So I say to you, ASK, and it will be given to you; SEEK, and you will find; KNOCK, and it will be opened to you. 10 For EVERYONE who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

    Of course, the devil is his meannest and cruelest worst when taking advantage of the innocent, youth, the most unsuspecting, and he only cares about getting “the jump” on their ultimate desecration and destruction. This IS very very depressing news, but also ALL THE MORE REASON to rise up in strong resistance to his ugly ways. Passivity “in this fight” may appear to be “an easy way out” at first, but will NEVER NEVER suffice for the long haul!

    So, along with those who overcome, we can someday be saying:

    2 Timothy 4:7 “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

    Believe me, it WILL be WORTH IT!

    God loves you & God is SO GOOD!

    Thanks, Michael! (-:

  4. Georgie-ann

    surprise!,…it was all there waiting!,…i don’t think i could have recaptured it all that well,…so,…God IS Really Good to us (who believe!)!!!

    Thank you, Lord!


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