Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Pursuit of Happiness

“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
(John 15:11)

Did you know that God wants us to be happy?

The Bible is full of Scriptures which confirm that God wants us to be full of joy and happiness.

• Psalm 40:16 reads, “But may all who seek you [God] rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation always say, The LORD be exalted!"

• Psalm 105:3 reads, “Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.”

• And, don’t forget Matthew 25:21, “His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!’”

There can be no doubt that God wants us to be happy and is pleased when we are happy. Christians are to be a joyful people.

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, “There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy.”

When I think of how blessed we are to live in this land and all of the abundant freedoms we enjoy, it is difficult to understand why so many people are unhappy. The majority of Americans, and among them some Christians, cannot truly say, “I am happy!” In fact, according to the book, Are You Happy?, by Dennis Wholey, only 20 percent of Americans are happy.

So how is it that the majority of citizens in one of the most blessed nations on earth are unhappy? How can it be that some of the most religious and spiritually blessed people in the world are professing their own unhappiness? What possible explanations can be found for all this unhappiness, especially when the Bible is full of Scriptures that speak of God’s desire for our happiness and which provide guidelines that will lead us to real happiness?

Abraham Lincoln observed that, “People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be,” and centuries before Lincoln, the Roman Emperor Marcus Antonius said, “No man is happy who does not think himself so.”

When it comes down to it, the unhappiness of Americans and Christians in particular, is a result of not having a proper attitude toward the people, things, and circumstances which we encounter every day. The Scriptures indicate that this happiness which we all seek is found only by properly ordering our lives in relation to God and His will.

Let’s develop this idea more by considering four specific principles that govern happiness.

• Happiness cannot be found in having everything you desire.

• Happiness cannot be found by trying to be someone different than we are.

• Happiness cannot be found on the other side of the fence.

• Happiness cannot be found by disobeying God.
Principle #1

The first principle that governs happiness is the understanding that happiness cannot be found in having everything you desire.

The American preacher Henry Van Dyke said, “It is better to desire the things we have, than to have the things we desire.”

King Solomon learned this lesson the hard way. After having sought every desire of his heart, he said, “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11)

Solomon was possibly the richest man that ever lived and he indulged every desire, whim and inclination he had – but when all was said and done he was miserable – his life was empty and his spirit was greatly troubled.

Former Senator Chauncey Depew said, “Unhappy is the man who is not so much dissatisfied with what he has as with what the other fellow possesses.” Mr. Depew recognized that too many of us make ourselves unhappy because we covet the possessions of other people. Charles Spurgeon recognized this truth and observed, “Happiness is being satisfied with what we have got and with what we haven’t got.”

Both of these men understood what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Tim. 6:6-10).

Paul understood that we can easily deceive ourselves into believing that others are happier than we are because of their possessions. Therefore, we struggle to have what they have in order to be as “happy” as we perceive they are. This vicious cycle of struggling “to keep up with the Jones” fills our lives with sadness and many disappointments.

Solomon finally figured out, “All man's efforts are for his mouth, yet his appetite is never satisfied.” (Ecclesiastes 6:7). He learned things do not make us happy.

Principle #2

The second principle that governs happiness is in knowing we will not be happy seeking to be someone different than we are.

The American clergyman Charles A. Stoddard observed, “We love in others what we lack in ourselves, and would be everything but what we are.”

I have heard people say one time or another, “I would be so happy if I could sing like her …” or “I know that I would be happy if I had the money he has …” or “If I looked like her I could have any man I want …”

Know that none of us will ever be happy until we are able to accept ourselves as we are. God created us as we are for a reason. He has a purpose for each of us. He uses the unique abilities that He gave us to allow the church to function at its best.

The Bible recognized that we each have limitations in ability, personality, and resources. Jesus illustrated this truth in the parable of the talents.

If you recall the story, there were three men each having his own talent (or ability) (Matthew 25:15). The Lord expected each one to manage the talent(s) he possessed. When the man with the one talent failed to do anything with the talent he had, God condemned the man. He condemned him not because he was not like the other two, but rather because he did not use the talent (ability) he had.

Basically, there are three kinds of people in the world – the “wills,” the “won’ts,” and the “can’ts.” The first accomplish everything! The second oppose everything! The third fails at everything! Too, many of us are failing because we will not do what we can do and find happiness doing it.

Principle #3

The third principle that governs happiness is knowing that happiness cannot be found on the other side of the fence.

You may have heard the expression, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” Don’t fool yourself. That is rarely the case.

American author James Oppenheim discovered that “the foolish man seeks happiness in the distance; the wise man grows it under his feet.” It is important that you know that you can be happy wherever you are.

Israel’s experience in the wilderness is a good example of how people blame where they are living for their problems rather than examine their own attitude and actions.

You may remember that the nation of Israel was in bondage and under terrible persecution by the Egyptians. God sent Moses to deliver them out of their slavery and into a new land flowing with milk and honey. The idea of escaping their suffering thrilled them and they were excited to leave Egypt and follow Moses.

However, once the hardships began to happen, their views of Egypt changed. Now all they thought about was all the good food they left behind – the garlic, melon, leeks, onions and cucumbers. They knew that if they could just get back to Egypt, things would be better. While in the desert, God gave them water, manna and quail and still they murmured and complained every step of the way.

Finally, God showed them the Promised Land, and it was truly a land flowing with milk and honey. But, fear of the unknown overwhelmed them and once again they lacked faith in the Lord and began wishing they were back in Egypt.

Israel could not be happy anywhere, until they had God in the center of their hearts. Caleb’s response to Israel’s fear and doubt of the majority was, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” (Numbers 13:30). The fearful, the doubtful and the negative will never be happy no matter where they go.

Principle #4

The fourth principle that governs happiness is in knowing that happiness cannot be found in disobeying God.

Jesus gave us an accurate picture of those who live in disobedience to God in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-24). If you have heard or have read the story, this young man was certain that his life would be joyful and satisfying if he could just get away from his father and all his rules (oh, and have his all his inheritance as well). That sounds like a lot of people today -- the young and not so young. They want to live life without any rules, without any obligations, without any responsibilities. They do not want to work, nor do they want to answer to any authority.

You will remember that the young man went away from his father into a strange land where there were more people just like he wanted to be. At some point he was friendless and penniless. The young man who wanted to be free of his father was reduced to being a servant and feeding pigs. Fortunately, the young man came to his senses. He changed his attitude, his mind and his heart. He went home and submitted to his father.

It is amazing that young people sometimes think they are the only ones’ who have to obey rules, submit to authority and yield to the wishes of others. But, let me tell you, everyone has to submit to someone. That is life.

Jeremiah the prophet observed, “It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young.” (Lamentations 3:27). That is the kind of training that prepares one for what life will throw at us. Learning to wait, learning to serve, learning to endure, learning even to turn the other cheek is what makes men of character. That is the kind of life that produces happiness because those are the kind of people who succeed and achieve.

Men who reject God and refuse to obey him are unhappy. Who are the most miserable and discontented people in our land today? It is those who can but will not work, those who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, those who have no regard for morality, and those who lie, cheat, steal and kill.

Satan wants us to believe that these free livers are the happy ones, but Solomon told us well, “Like the crackling of thorns under the pot, so is the laughter of fools…” (Ecclesiastes 7:6). They make a big blaze, but there is no heat. In other words, appearances are deceiving.

God wants you to be happy and He has made it possible for you to be truly happy through Jesus Christ. All that is left for us to do is make up our minds that we want to be happy.

When we understand that happiness cannot be found in having everything you desire; when we know we will not be happy trying to be someone other than ourselves; when we know that happiness cannot be found on the other side of the fence; and when we understand that happiness is not found in disobeying God, we can live a life full of joy and happiness.

So I ask you … are you ready to be happy?

May God bless you!

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