Joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness comes as a result of pleasant circumstances. We all know at least one couple who were beaming with happiness on their wedding day and then became angry, bitter, and filed for divorce a few years later. Their happiness faded when their circumstances changed. Happiness shows on the faces of college graduates as they walk across the stage, but chances are those happy smiles will fade as they take on the stresses and responsibilities of their new occupation, family, and lives. Joy is not based on circumstances. Joy is not dependent on external stimuli. So, from where does joy come?
Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and is a result of a life committed to righteousness. Joy is also a choice that a person makes to choose to be content in the goodness of God even when life does not present pleasing circumstances. Most of us have met someone that exudes joy. Their face is bright and some would even say they glow. These people are the ones that find joy even in the darkest of situations – even when going through times of tearfulness and sorrow, they have joy in their hearts. The only people I’ve met that have this incomprehensible joy are those who have put their complete trust in Jesus Christ. I Peter 1:8-9 reads, “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (ESV)
Those who are assured of their eternity in Heaven and have the love of Christ alive in their hearts have joy in knowing the Lord will sustain them through their trials. Many Christians often say they would not trade their difficult times because those very same hardships drew them closer to the Lord – the joy of the Lord really was their strength (Nehemiah 8:10). My great-grandmother, who I never had the pleasure of meeting, was bedridden for years. When people would come over to encourage her, she would end up blessing them with her joy and encouragement. This is a testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life.
Why is joy important in a potential spouse? First and foremost, it gives you a glimpse into his or her relationship with Christ. There are believers who hold back parts of their heart from the Lord and never fully experience the joy of the Lord because they are so busy holding onto relationships or things which God has told them to release.
Secondly, joy in the home is priceless. You can have a horrible day at work, followed by a speeding ticket, finished off by a flat tire, and then come home to be re-filled with the joy of the Lord to realize that all the trials of life are miniscule in comparison to what God has in store for His children.
A third reason to consider joy important in picking a spouse has to do with your future children. What spiritual aroma in your home do you want for them? Maybe you are full of joy; however, your potential spouse is prone to being consistently negative in speech and action. To what kind of spiritual aroma do you want your children waking up in your home: a joyful aroma or a disgusted, frustrated, angry aroma?
This is one area of life that can take some time to evaluate in another person. This is because we naturally put our best foot forward in the beginning of a relationship – some present mostly who they are throughout the relationship; whereas, others completely change for another person in order to keep them. But, sooner or later, people always return to who they are naturally because it’s too exhausting to keep up a façade long-term and the real person finally shines through.
Some people have married a spouse they believed they knew completely only to find out the person is very different from who he or she thought the other person was… perhaps prone to rage, careless spending, habitual lying, or laziness. These are all behaviors that can be disguised for a time if the dating process is short. This is why we don’t recommend getting married quickly after beginning to date someone – you don’t truly know who the other person is yet (even if you think you do).
But even if you think you know this is the person for you long-term, there are still aspects about him or her that you are better off knowing before marriage (good pre-engagement counseling and premarital counseling can greatly help in understanding each other much better). After observing your potential spouse in a variety of situations (the good, the bad, and the ugly), you will then see more clearly whether they have joy in their hearts or just seasonal happiness. Most of us are happy at some point or another; yet, joy spans all seasons and is perpetual.
Please don’t get me wrong, if your boyfriend goes through a circumstance that causes him to struggle with anger, don’t quickly write him off as unworthy of your affections. We all have to grow and unpleasant circumstances allow us opportunities to grow in the Lord. The important thing to watch for is that joy prevails predominately in his life and not negativism.
If your girlfriend cries randomly about various things, don’t assume that she’s going to cry every day for the rest of her life. She could just be going through a rough patch temporarily (again, another reason why allowing a good amount of time in dating is so important) or she may have depression (this can be a medical problem like migraines or heartburn and should not automatically be shunned as though she has a lack of faith). Again, watch for the pattern of joy.
The important thing is that you reflect and observe over the course of your relationship whether or not he or she leads a lifestyle filled with joy. None of us are perfect, but just as fruit grows on trees that are rooted and alive, spiritual fruit containing joy will grow and show in the lives of the children of God. “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5, ESV).
Is the joy of the Lord a strength of your future spouse?