“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” – Romans 8:28
4:47 am. Thursday. San Francisco International Airport. Another early morning start and another first-thing-in-the-morning flight. Yesterday had been long, and yeah, I was out a little later with a client dinner than I planned. So my 3 hours of sleep had barely put a dent in the desire to simply crawl back into bed for the rest of the morning.
Approaching the security line, I was greeted not by the typically nonchalant security folks who spend their time dutifully confirming the 7-year old (and 15 pounds lighter) picture on your driver’s license is actually you, but rather, a living, breathing human replica of Tigger.
I’m sure you’ve met them – perhaps you’re one of them! Those infectiously happy and gregarious people who seem to have more enthusiasm than a Green Bay Packers fan on Game Day. Now in full disclosure, I’m usually one of those folks who answers the checkout clerk’s question at the store on how my day is going with an exuberant “Ter-RIF-ic!” and a smile on my face … but not this morning.
No, this morning I simply wanted to get through security, grab a cup of coffee and get on my plane. And there, standing between me and my morning caffeine fix was Officer Giddily Enthusiastic.
Sometimes our faith can be like this encounter. A smiling, ever-perky pastor providing uplifting messages of how God is interested first and foremost in our pursuit of personal happiness; that if we only cast off our cares and worries and really understand scripture we’ll surely see how God never wants us to suffer, never wants us endure hardship. Prosperity awaits just around the next corner because …
#2 GOD WANTS ME TO BE HAPPY
It’s a common belief to some that God is little more than a “personal genie,” that if we just rub Him the right way He won’t merely grant our obligatory three wishes but all of them! We even convince ourselves clearly sinful actions are ok by saying, “It’s fine – God just wants me to be happy.”
What exactly drives this belief? Why are we convinced God serves at our whim? Webster’s defines happiness as “a pleasurable or satisfying experience; a state of well-being and contentment.” Happiness is an emotion of euphoria, a state of mind that can come and go. Today you’re smiling gleefully at the check out counter clerk and the next you’re staring bleary-eyed at an airport security officer.
In this sense, happiness is like a temporarily-quenched thirst – the water always needs to be replenished. Sadly, we often require even more to quench it the next time. And herein lies the heart of the matter.
Nowhere in the Bible – even with the most liberal and progressive reading – do the words “Blessed are the deliriously happy” appear. Rather, we find “Blessed are the pure in heart,” (Matthew 5:8), or “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart,” (Psalm 37:4 – and note, the meaning of this is not that God will give you anything you want, but rather that He will place in your heart the desires He has for you), or “Blessed is the one whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty,” (Job 5:17).
The emotion of happiness is almost always based on circumstances, and circumstances constantly change. God never asks us to pursue being “happy,” nor does He promise us happiness. In fact Jesus himself tells us quite specifically: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me,” (Matthew 16:24).
God’s plan is for us is not to achieve mindless “happiness” in the modern sense of the word. He never assures a blissful, stress-free life in this world filled with comfortable possessions and overflowing abundance regardless of our actions or desires. Rather, He wants us to realize that none of these brings real happiness, just as Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well.
When we attach our happiness to the things of this world we become like the rich young ruler, possessed by our possessions
To be sure, God wants our lives to be filled with hope and joy – this is one of the fundamental messages of the Bible. Jesus himself personified joy and was criticized for it (Luke 7:34). But when we attach our happiness to the things of this world – people, possessions or life circumstances – we become like the rich young ruler, possessed by our possessions.
Scripture tells us the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). We can live into that by cultivating the joy God has planned.
Over the next few days, try mediating on God’s promises to be our protector, our comforter. Declare them out loud (well, probably best not to try that in an airport security line)! Press pause on chasing a fleeting emotional high and focus instead on the never-changing God of creation. You’ll find a serenity and fulfillment surpassing anything of in this world.