June 4, 2011

Urban Legends: God Wants Me To Be Happy

A few years ago Lori and I were getting to know this couple that had move in next door. We decided to have dinner at our house and then watch a movie. We thought that a comedy would be a good thing so we started watching Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail. I don’t know if was because they were from Tennessee or they just didn’t get dry British humor...either way, from the look on their faces, our laughter was incomprehensible to them.

“You don’t get that? He’s got two halves of coconuts and he’s bangin’ ‘em togetha!”

So I took the husband with me to the local video store to quickly pick out another movie. We searched and searched, but couldn’t find anything. Then I saw Braveheart. I explained the premise of the movie to him, and he said it sounded like a great movie.

What he failed to tell me is that his wife only liked movies with fairy-tale endings! So when Braveheart’s wife was killed...she went ballistic! If looks could have killed we would have been dead! She had only just recovered from that shock when Braveheart himself was killed...and so the evening ended on a not so good not.

As they walked across the driveway back to their house I heard her say, “How could you have let him pick out such a horrible movie!” And so it continued for him for the next day or so.

I get where she was coming from though. Life stinks sometimes, and for her movies were an escape from reality. Fairy-tale endings in movies were just a distraction from the fact that endings aren’t always happy in real life.

Today’s myth is a VERY popular myth. Many preachers, teachers, and televangelists have adopted today’s myth and many people flock to it. They are falling for this because it feels good. It fits well with the American Dream and our love for the “fairy tale ending” where every body lives happily ever after.

The myth says,

Myth: God wants me to be Happy.


Or maybe you have heard, God has great things in store for your life! God wants the best for you! God wants you to enjoy your life and prosper in every single way!

This just sounds so good, doesn’t it? Who doesn’t want to be happy. Our Declaration of Independence says, “We...are endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” We put that in there because who doesn’t want to be happy? I want to be happy!

But if we are not careful there is a great deal of danger in this belief. It is subtle, but seductive. When we believe that God’s purpose for us is that we be happy we end up having God serve us rather than us serving God. Because if I am not happy, then God has failed to do what he “promised.”

The Dalai Lama in The Art of Happiness begins the book with this statement, "I believe that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness." But that just isn’t true for the Christian. If we are becoming what God desires of us then the ultimate goal of our lives with God is not that we are happy, but that God is worshiped and His will is accomplished in and through us.

What I don’t want you to hear is that God wants us to be miserable or doesn’t care about our happiness at all. I am not saying that. God as Father delights in us and in our happiness. But our happiness is not the goal. God’s work in us is to give us something MORE than happiness. Sometimes, in order to accomplish what needs to happen in our lives we need to be kept from happiness!

There are many things that would make our children happy...that we don’t let them do because we know, in the long run, it is not good for them. Awhile back Bri came in and asked me, “When can I ride my bike without my helmet?” I responded, “Never!” “All my friends think I look stupid with a helmet!” “All of your friends are going to be the stupid ones when they fall off the bike and hit their heads while not wearing their helmet!” It would have made her happy to ride without a helmet, but I wasn’t going to let it happen. Because I want something better for her...like no brain injuries and being able to eat solid foods for the rest of her life.

God does that for us. He seeks out what is best for us whether or not it makes us happy. So today we are going to look at a couple of times when God doesn’t want us to be happy, and then talk about what He really wants in our lives.

God doesn’t want our happiness if it leads to sin.

One of God’s purpose is to form a Christlike character in each one of us. And when sin creeps in He knows it will derail us from developing that Christlike Character.
1 Peter 1:14-16 says, “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.””
You see that “Just as he who call you is happy, so be happy...” No. Our goal as Jesus’ followers is not happiness...it is holiness. And if we are not careful our desire for happiness, our desire to be comfortable, our desire that nothing bad happen will interfere with God’s desire to build His holy character in us.

How does this interfere with God’s work?

Let’s say you work a full-time job, you’re busy. You’ve got things to do. When it comes to church you just want to attend, soak in all the teaching, and just have time with God. You never serve, never go to a small group, and never do anything extra. You might be “happy” but you would be disobedient to God’s commands. I believe there are times to back away for a season and find some rest, but if you heard this as many times as I have working in the church...you too would begin to think something sounded a little funny. Just attending would make some of us happy. We could just enjoy the service, the worship, the time with friends...but it wouldn’t help us become what God has in store for us which is something so much better than happiness.

God has given us each a gift and when we are not using our gifts to build God’s Kingdom and fulfill His mission in the world then something is being left undone that He has called and gifted us to do. When we aren’t engaged in a small group, we feel disconnected and have no relational community with those around us.

The Bible is clear that His followers are to tithe...we are to give a percentage of our income back to Him as an act of worship in response for all that He does for us and to support His work. We are saying everything I have is yours. What do some say? “But that is my money! I would be way happier if I spent it on something that I liked. I have had my eye on the new iPad.” In marriage we hear people say, “I’m just not happy anymore!” And they turn from the covenant they have made. Boy meets girl...girl looks nice...Boy is tolerable...they spend some time together and then they reason that God gave us certain desires...I know what God says, but this will make us happy.”

Do you see how quickly seeking to be happy can lead us down the wrong path? God doesn’t want us to be happy if it leads us to sin. And some begin to think this way, “Since God is going to forgive me anyway...I might as well do what makes me happy.” This isn’t some new thought that we have had. It has been around since the beginning of the Christian faith. That is why the Apostle Paul wrote Romans 6:1. It says, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” Should I keep doing wrong because it will bring me more grace?

Many Bible version translate the next verse with a very polite sounding “Certainly not!” But the original Greek is something a little more direct and straight forward. Paul reminds the church in Rome that this way of thinking is very dangerous...we have died to sin’s power...we are to have nothing to do with sin...how can we live under it’s slavery any longer?

As much as we want happiness to be the main thing...it isn’t. God isn’t seeking to make us happy; He wants to make us holy, and holiness often requires saying no to something that would make us happy.

So God doesn’t want our happiness if it leads to sins...also

God doesn’t want us happy if it is based on our circumstances.

Happiness is a temporary emotional state based on circumstances. When things are good...we are happy. When things are bad...we are not happy. Have any doubts about this...just watch Facebook status updates. One minute the person is having a good day and they are happy. The next someone has said something to them and they are not happy. Then they are happy again. The emotional cycle never ends.
Ecclesiastes 7:14 says, “When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other.”
When times are good...do what? Be Happy! Enjoy it. Party like it’s 199...um...2999. Christians should know how to have a good time...how to rejoice in the good times. Be happy when things are going well. We should be some of the best people at knowing how to celebrate the good times.

The Hebrew calendar was filled with times of feasting. Isaiah 25:6 in talking about what will happen when Christ returns reminds us that we should know how to have a good time! “On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines.”

Ecclesiastes goes on to say, “but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other.” Happiness is the temporary emotional state based on circumstances, and God desires to build something much deeper into us...God wants us to have joy. Joy doesn’t come from our circumstances; it comes from the inside. We have joy when we understand that God is ultimately in control and we see things from his perspective. Joy remains regardless of the circumstances.

Many seek happiness thinking it will be what ultimately fulfills them. But in Luke 15 we find the story of the Lost Son. The younger son comes to his father and says, “You are not dying fast enough! Give me my inheritance.” Then he runs off to a far away country and spends the money on everything he that makes him happy, and what happens? He finds the woman of his dreams and lives happily ever after? No. Everything he believes will make him happy does not.

We live in a culture that, like the Lost Son, is chasing after everything that makes them happy. We are one of the wealthiest nations in the world, and yet even after chasing everything they believe will make them happy...people are not happy at all. We have more stuff than we need. We have so much stuff that was supposed to make us happy that we have garages and storage rooms full of stuff. Our culture chases after this and that believing that this time they will be happy...and they aren’t. They are not able to really find happiness.

The deeper work of finding joy takes place on the inside. In the Epistle of Philippians, Paul is writing to the church in Philippi from prison. He is chained to another prisoner. He is hungry, cold, and tired. He has probably been beaten by the guards...and He writes these words in Philippians 4:11-13, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

What an amazing statement. “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” I can’t say that. Can you? I start whining at the first signs of pain. I heard some of you, occasionally over my own whining, about doing without something during Lent! Most of us aren’t very good at this...but this is the path to discovering something much deeper in our relationship with God...learning to be content no matter what situation we are in.

If we are to get past our desire for happiness and move on to what God really wants to do in our lives we must seek after this joy, this contentment. We do this by meditating on and putting into practice v.13. “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” We can be joyful in any circumstance because we are strengthened by God. We can do it because we know that He is ultimately in control of things. It isn’t easy, but we can do it!

It cannot be the external circumstances that defines our happiness it must be the internal strength that gives us joy!

So God doesn’t want us happy if it leads to sin. He doesn’t want us happy when it is based on external circumstance...so what does God want?

God wants us to be blessed.

The word for blessed is a great word...makarios...it means more than just happiness. It carries with it an idea of happiness, but also something much more. It means “Great news! God’s best is in store for you!” You have God’s blessing...His approval...His love. You are blessed. This is something more than happy!

So who is blessed? If you asked someone if they are blessed they might say, “God has blessed me with a new house...a car...a new job!” “I got a raise! I’m blessed!” “I’m blessed with good health!”

These can certainly be blessings from God, this isn’t exactly what God means when he says He wants to bless us.

In a couple of weeks we will start a message series on the Sermon on the Mount, and it begins with a series of “Blessed-s”. Who does God called Blessed in this?

Blessed are the poor in spirit...those who mourn...the meek...those who hunger and thirst for righteousness...the merciful...the pure in heart...the peacemakers...those persecuted for righteousness...

No one would look at the people on that list and say these people were “blessed,” who were “more than happy” but Jesus says that everyone of them are to consider themselves blessed. Why? Because He was opening the door for them to come into His Kingdom. People that are often mocked for being meek or poor, made fun of for being pure, persecuted because they want to do what is right...He was accepting them. The thing that made them most despised by others will be what brings their blessing!

But there are others who are blessed...Psalm 112:1, “Blessed are those who fear the LORD, who find great delight in his commands.” Blessed are those who fear the Lord...not fear in the “That clown has a knife!” kind of way. No...a reverent fear where we know we are in the presence of the creator of the universe! The Lord of all! And we are blessed when we “find great delight in his commands.” When we look forward to reading His Word and obeying what we find in it!

Each point of blessing comes with responsibility. Maybe God has blessed you with a raise at work...and he is asking you not to use it on yourself, but to support something He is doing. He isn’t asking us to be prudes and not spend anything on us, but He often blesses us with more so that we can give more. Maybe He blesses you with a mostly-conflict-free family life...and He wants you to invite others in who aren’t so lucky. Maybe He blesses us with a big house...and we have the opportunity to use it to invite others in to building deeper relationships...God blesses us so that we can fulfill His mission in this world...We get to enjoy what He has given us, but it also comes with responsibility.

But other things can also be a blessing...Maybe you lose a job...and discover that you have been neglecting your family in order to get ahead in your previous occupation. Or, and this I see all the time, you lose your job and discover the career you never imagined you could have! One guy I know lost his job as an engineer, and started doing odd jobs. He started working working with one guy doing odd landscaping jobs, and discovered that he absolutely loved doing landscape and maintenance work! Then he started his own business doing just that...now making money to support his family and absolutely enjoying his work.

Maybe a sickness brings some clarity to your life. You know that person that is always go-go-go, and then they get the flu and can’t get out of bed for a couple of days...they get that much needed rest, they catch up on their dvr recordings...they get to spend some time alone.

Over the past few weeks I have had some things going on that caused me to do some reevaluating. I thought I might have cancer. So far, everything points to the fact that I don’t. But when that happens a lot of the junk that is floating around in your life suddenly becomes NOT important and you can see the things that matter. It brings some clarity.

Conclusion

God isn’t in the business of making us happy. He is looking to make us holy, to develop Christlikeness in us, to impart true joy, to bless us! It is easy to take verses like Psalm 37:4 out of context and miss the bigger picture. It says, “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” To take delight means to dedicate ourselves to the Lord...to find our meaning and purpose in Him, and when we do that He will give us the desires of our heart. When we make knowing God the desire of our heart...He will give us that desire! That is what that verse says. That is something far greater than happiness!

It would be a lie to say that if we begin following God that everything is going to go well for us. All our sicknesses will be healed. We will have more than enough money. We will be happy. We will never struggle. In many ways, I wish I could say that, but it just isn’t true. God is doing something bigger in us than making us happy.
Matthew 16:24-25 says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”
The more we sacrifice, the more we give up of our own desire for having things my way...then and only then do we find what is really gratifying.

Father,
We really want to be happy. And we confess that sometimes we look for it in ways that are contrary to what you want for us. We ask that you will helps us to grow in the things that really matter. Help us to be Holy. Help us to be joyful. Father we ask for you blessing this morning.
Amen

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