The (Non)Pursuit of Happiness

If you google ‘how to be happy’, you’ll get 1, 870, 000, 000 answers in .20 seconds. At least, that’s how many results just appeared at 9:19 this morning. You’ll find ‘secrets’, ‘7 easy steps’, and ‘look within yourself’. You’ll read suggestions about changing your lifestyle, your eating habits, your friends, your job.   

In our culture, happiness is it. It’s what we’re after. It’s what we work for. If we’re not happy, then what’s the point of it all? If we’re not having fun, not feeling good in our circumstances…then something must be wrong with what we’re doing, who we’re around, or maybe how we look. So we keep trying, keep changing, keep hoping to wake up feeling content and peaceful…and, hey, maybe we get there for a moment. But then, inevitably, something goes wrong. Someone we love is sick or even dies…we lose our job or that promotion we’d been aiming for…our husband or wife is unfaithful…and our unhappiness takes control of us. Or maybe, in the routine of all that is supposed to give us what we want…on those days we should feel happy…we still feel empty.

What is it that we’re missing?

I think we’ve been misled. I think the object of our pursuit is way off the mark.

If you go back to the roots of ‘happy’, you’ll find that its root (hap-) means luck. An occuring, an accident, chance. Developing into the word we know today, happy implies favorable circumstances.

I’m not saying that we don’t all like favorable circumstances. I feel absolutely wonderful when the house is quiet, I’m cuddled up with a hot cup of coffee and I have a new book to read. Or when my kids are being sweet and funny and we’re outside pretending to fight dragons. Or when I’m lying on a beach with a warm sun beaming down.  We all have our favorite moments. We all appreciate favorable circumstances.

But we can’t always have the favorable circumstance. We can’t always feel good. And if we focus all of our attention on getting to that next good moment, hoping for that good ‘chance’….I’m afraid we’ll end up disappointed, frustrated, and on unsteady ground. The first big storm that comes our way will knock us right over…and we end up crying to our friends–“I used to be so happy!” (I know this because I have totally said that before.)

And then there’s this talk that Jesus gave to His disciples in Matthew 5, when He gives them advice that is totally contrary to everything we are told by our world. He talks about being blessed…and the blessing comes with words like ‘poor’, ‘mourn’, meek’, and ‘persecution’.  Words that did NOT come up when I googled ‘how to be happy’.

So…what are we looking for? What are we supposed to obtain?

First things first. Is blessed different than happy?

I think so. I know some translations use ‘happy’ in the chapter of ‘beatitudes’, but with no disrespect toward those versions, I feel like that just misses the meaning.

Because ‘blessed’ brings ‘approval’. Blessed means ‘deep inner joy’. Blessed means having the fullness and favor of God.

It has nothing to do with happenstance, accidents, or luck.

If you are blessed by God, your external circumstances can be the best or the worst —they can change with the new day or flip-flop in an instant…and it won’t make a difference to your internal circumstances.

 Because His joy is the kind that doesn’t shift with the weather.  Yes, you will be sad. Yes, you will feel angry, lonely, frustrated…all of those emotions don’t just disappear. But in the midst of those overwhelming feelings, you have the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. And through the Holy Spirit, you can have peace that you don’t understand. Strength to deal with the heart-ache. Faith that this season will pass and all things will work together for your good. With blessing comes hope, and when hard times come along, you have to have hope. Hopeless people just get by. They survive by numbing their pain. Hopeless people end up in heart-breaking crisis.

On the other hand, I’m sure you can think of people who keep their smiles…their light shining….even when circumstances are terribly difficult.  Those are the people who have their foundation on the rock….those are the people who find their joy and gladness in the love of God. Those are the people who know that ‘weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.’ Those are the people who have faith–they are sure of what they hope for and certain of what they can’t see…they believe that God is faithful and that nothing is impossible with Him. No matter what happens in this present life, they are free to rejoice. They are free.

Read what Paul says about our hope in Chapter 8 of Romans (the Message)…

15-17This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!

 18-21That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.

 22-25All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.

 26-28Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

 29-30God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun.

 31-39So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:

   They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.
   We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.

 
None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

Oh, how He loves us! In and out of every situation!

And this is what I want us to get a hold of even before we start looking at the Beatitudes…because I don’t want us to think of it as instructions on how to gain the blessing. I want us to keep these verses in mind for our lives and our hope as we pursue the One who gives the blessing.

It’s not about the pursuit of happiness or the pursuit of blessing.

It’s about the pursuit of Jesus.

It’s about loving Him with all that we are, in every moment of our lives, and finding that His love is sufficient. It’s about being filled with His mind and His purpose so that we shine His light for a broken world to see…so that when others pursue happiness, we can offer them the love of Jesus. And all of their longing, emptiness, and need will be filled in Him.

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2 thoughts on “The (Non)Pursuit of Happiness

  1. I think this is your best article yet!!! So many of us are trying to search for happiness and do anything it takes to get happy. Even those that go to Church, a lot of us come for our own purposes (although their is sometimes no harm in that because it of course will bring joy to us). Yet we forget life is about living for Jesus. It’s not about us. And when we truly follow Christ we will share His heart and His mind. That will bring about such a deep inner joy…1 million times better than happiness!! Keep on writing, I look forward to it.

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