The Pursuit of Happiness

We are a very self-centered and egocentric people. We gravitate towards what affirms us, what encourages us, what builds us up. We lean in to hear someone patting us on the back, and rear away from perceived criticism. I am as guilty as the next, as something within me thrills to encounter personal praise, and I eagerly incline my ear to catch the least little whisper of it. I congratulate myself, and pat myself on the back so often it’s a wonder my shoulder isn’t out of joint. It’s a tendency that, when I think about it, discourages me.

There is much “wisdom” available to lay the foundation for a happy life. Books and seminars and so forth tout the benefits of ridding yourself of what doesn’t make you happy. Even within the realm of Christ-followers so much of what I see deals with happiness rather than holiness. I have structured my social media outlets so that I see mainly posts from Christian organizations, yet even there I find more of an emphasis on happiness and healing and deliverance than I do on holiness.

Does Jesus heal? Absolutely, He has healed me from all manner of spiritual and emotional wounds, and I know that there are physical ailments that He still touches and heals us from. Does He deliver? Absolutely, His death on the cross and subsequent resurrection delivered me from the power of sin and Satan once and for all so that no longer do I have to fear what Satan can do to my soul, and He has also delivered me from circumstances that would harm me, from dependencies that were crippling me. But, will He heal me from this current misery by removing the miserable circumstances? Maybe…it depends on what goal He has for me at this point of my growth. Will He deliver me from consequences of personal sin? Maybe…there again it depends on His goal.

I think so many of us assume that God wants us happy. No, my friend. He wants us holy. We are called to be consecrated, set apart, holy to the Lord. We are called to be His and His alone. Are there moments of ecstatic joy in a true and humble walk with Christ? Oh yes! But joy is not dependent on circumstances; happiness typically is. Happiness, at least the definition supplied by the world around us, is obtained by everything being “right” with your environment, your relationships, your bank account, etc. etc. What pitiful things we hold on to to make us happy. It is Christ, the magnificent and majestic King, in whom we find all that could ever truly make us happy!

It bothers me tremendously that there is a focus on happiness over holiness. If you are living in willful sin, you’re not supposed to be happy! That unhappiness is often the prod that the Father uses to spur us towards Himself. Yet we look at the situations around us, the circumstances we find ourselves in and set about changing that rather than turning the mirror on ourselves and allowing the truth of the Word of God to have it’s effect.

We have a pretty well-honed ability to deceive ourselves, to emphasize the wrong things, to excuse our faults and failures. We don’t need any help doing that, but we sure have a plethora of it. We have pastors and speakers, teachers and ministers who emphasize ritual over relationship, happiness over holiness. It’s disturbing and discouraging. Every time I run across a post with those leanings, I cringe. It’s deceptive and does not have the reader’s best interest at heart. The sad thing is that I would say most of those who post such motivational messages truly believe what they are saying.

These are not messages that condone outright sin. These are not messages that dispute (on the surface) the Word of God, that are blatantly espousing self over Sovereign. These are messages that claim and stand on a verse, one which is certainly true and inerrant, without claiming the conditions that surround it. There are many many many promises contained in the Word of God, and He means each and every one of them. But there are also many which contain requirements of us. Like Israel, we have adopted the blessings of God without following the heart of God.

An example of this (but not the one which sparked this whole tirade cause now I can’t remember it – too many distractions this morning) is Psalm 37:3: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” We run across this verse, see it “named and claimed” on social media, in sermons and expositions and talks, and what a thrill it is to believe that we’re promised to get the desires of our heart. Little thought is given to the surrounding verses which talk about trusting the Lord and doing good, committing our ways to the Lord. That’s not as thrilling, is it? The truth is that it is only when we truly delight in the Lord that He will fulfill the desires of our hearts…because our hearts will beat like His.

And there it is. We are called to “be perfect, even as our Father in Heaven is perfect.” (Understand, I realize that true perfection will never be achieved in this earthly life, but we are called to surrender and submit to our Father so that His will is done in our lives, not our own.) God will give us the desires of our hearts when our hearts want what He wants. Does that mean we will never get what we want? That God is consigning us to a lifetime of drudgery and misery and work? Oh goodness no. Our God is so much more than that! He Himself delights in His creation, delights in the work and wonder of it. He enjoys things, and He wants the same for us. But He Himself abides by His own laws…why would we assume that we don’t have to? We must trust that He knows what He’s doing and that each of His laws is designed to protect and preserve us.

At the heart of it, at the bottom line of it, it is not happiness that is the goal. Happiness is a beautiful side-effect of doing the will of God. Rather than reaching for something so ephemeral and incorporeal, we have Something real and tangible to reach for. Something solid and holy and defining and strong. Something that will never fail us.

What happens to those who strive for happiness over holiness when the bottom falls out of their world? What happens to those who believe the promise without understanding their own part of it, who go about their lives thinking that they are supposed to be happy but unable to find and hold on to it? They believe God has failed them. They turn their hearts and minds away from God because what they believe is not sustainable. What a desperately sad thing to know!

There is joy in the house of the Lord, there is joy in serving and worshiping Him. There is joy in surrendering fully to our Creator, to walking with Him, to walking in our purpose. But that joy, again, is a byproduct. The serving, worshiping, surrendering, and walking out the faith He gives us is the goal. Our God is good, He is faithful, merciful, gracious and kind. But His goal is not to make me happy. It is to make me holy. May it be.

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