Even though this world is far from perfect, and the state of our lives often reflects that imperfection through illness, poverty, frustration, and unexpected setbacks, God expects us to be happy. He wants us to be content (Philippians 4:11-12). He wants us to be at peace with all people (Romans 12:18). He desires that we live quietly and productively (1 Thessalonians 4:11). The entire concept of Christianity, in fact, is a religion of great joy and exultation:
· “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4).
· “Rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).
· “Rejoicing in hope” (Romans 12:12).
· “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people” (Romans 15:10).
· “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly” (Philippians 4:10).
One of the great misconceptions that Christianity has had to confront is the idea that becoming a Christian means denying all earthly happiness and living a stone cold life. Some see the obedient life as being boring, stoic, and devoid of all joy and excitement. But are Christians boring? Rather than expecting misery from His creation, God truly wants abundant joy! There are countless barriers to our happiness, though, that must be overcome. On a daily basis, Satan is concocting ways of derailing our contentment. While it is God’s desire that we be happy, it is Satan’s desire that we be miserable in this world. Misery, after all, produces discontentment, which leads to doubt in God, which culminates in disobedience and evil.
· Satan knows that unhappiness is easy to achieve given the right circumstances. He makes poor, unhealthy, lonely people unhappy by leading them into covetousness, jealousy, and bitterness. For those who are blessed in this world, Satan convinces the soul to become anxious, proud, or superficial.
· None of those conditions produces true, lasting happiness, though. The poor person who steals may have temporary relief, just as the rich person who takes antidepressants has only superficially answered his life’s emptiness.
· Do we worry about things in this world? If so, we have played right into Satan’s hand. He wants every little bump and bruise to be a “drama”. He wants every amount of debt to be the end of the world. He wants every anxiety to be destructive to the soul. He wants every person to be stressed, nervous, angry, and pushed to the limit. The less happy you are, the more a slave of sin you become.
Commanded To Be Happy
Far from commanding Christians to deny happiness and worldly pleasure, God actually demands it in a certain light. As long as we partake of the enjoyable benefits of this world in the context of righteousness, gratitude, and self-control, there is nothing that we must deny that has been created. “Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). This is an amazing world, so why do so few of us stop and enjoy it? Why do we spend so much concerning ourselves with money, politics, dating problems, stress, and body image? Have you every actually stopped and smelled the roses? Notice that in Matthew 6:28 that we are commanded by Jesus Christ to observe the lilies of the field. He wants us to stop and see His creation – for by observing the beautiful world, we learn valuable lessons about God and His love for us (Matthew 6:30-34). Furthermore, God gives us exhortation in the following verses:
· “Delight yourself in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4).
· “Be glad in the Lord and rejoice you righteous ones. And shout for joy all you who are upright in heart” (Psalm 32:11).
· “Rejoice, young man, during your childhood, and let your heart be pleasant” (Ecclesiastes 11:9).
· We are also told to enjoy life with our spouses (Ecclesiastes 9:9, Proverbs 5:18).
These are all commands, not suggestions. God does not prefer that we be happy, He expects it. Having created such a marvelous planet, with so many good things (Genesis 1:29-31), and having offered us the hope of eternal life, forgiveness of sins, assurance of spiritual blessings, and His constant love, God expects nothing less than total contentment.
“What is stopping me from being happy?”
Many of us must eventually face the reality that we are the reason we are not happy. We choose misery over mirth for many reasons, and never allow ourselves to experience true, lasting joy. Most of the time, we choose to be unhappy because we are not even familiar with the alternative. We spend so much being angry, depressed, or anxious that we do not remember what it was like as a child to just smile, or be happy for no reason at all. So what is stopping you from being happy?
· Do you feel guilty that others are not as blessed as you? Some of us feel unhappy because we do not believe we deserve such a nice home, car, or health. It is okay to feel some degree of this, but it must be tempered by the attitude of accepting our blessings with honest gratitude. God did not allow you to have such a nice life, only to see you derive misery from it. We should be grateful enough to accept our blessings and be happy. Recognizing God’s blessings can lead to happiness if it is accompanied by contentment (1 Timothy 6:6-8).
· It is okay to be a wealthy person, so long as you do not love the wealth (1 Timothy 6:9-10). God gave us our blessings to be enjoyed (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20). Not only that, but if we continue to derive only unhappiness from God’s blessings, He may very well take them away and give them to somebody who will be more grateful (Ecclesiastes 4:8, 6:1-3).
· We also be unhappy because we are hesitant to give in to the goodness all around us. We may believe that the moment we allow ourselves to be happy, disappointment will strike while our guard is down. But do not allow yourself to be miserable over catastrophes that may never happen (Matthew 6:34). Your attitude should not be “Don’t rejoice lest something bad happen”, but rather “Make the most of joyful times, for times of suffering will also come.”
· We need to rejoice in good things, not flee from them, or choose stoicism over happiness. It is okay to be happy, and not rejoicing in good things is directly opposing the commands of God (1 Corinthians 13:6, 2 John 4, 3 John 3).
· Selfishness also prevents us from being happy. The deepest source of contentment in this life is serving others, and if you have not discovered this yet, maybe that is why you go through life in sadness.
· It may take some maturing before you fully realize the joyful path of unselfishness. Children are naturally selfish. They want everything for themselves, and fail (for the most part) to give any notice to the suffering of others. When children are taught at an early age to love service, though, they grow up with a deeper sense of contentment. Help your kids learn the joys of giving rather than taking, serving rather than being served, and loving others even when others do not deserve it.
“I’ll be happy when conditions are perfect”
An even more dangerous attitude that prevents us from being happy is the fallacy that all conditions must be perfect in order for us to be content. Some people spend years being miserable because they may go from life crisis to the next. They say, “Well, I’ll be happy when these problems are resolved” or “When the taxes get paid” or “When this health issue passes.” For some people, life is just one drama after another, and they continually live in misery because conditions are never perfect. We must learn to live without ideal conditions! And if you are not happy because you have some debt, an ongoing health problem, or some other issue, then you are not obeying God. We need to learn to be happy even in the absence of ideal conditions. “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am found. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need” (Philippians 4:11-12).
Our world suffers under the delusion that happiness is achieved through riches, sex, power, and prestige. Instead of learning what true contentment means, people seek it in the cheap counterfeits that Satan passes off. The devil is continually trying to convince us to find happiness in earthly things (Matthew 6:19) and in the passing pleasures of sin (Hebrews 11:25). But keep in mind his great reputation as a deceiver and the father of lies (John 8:44). Consider this story: “When the prosperous man on a dark but starlit night drives comfortably in his carriage and has the lanterns lighted, then he is safe, he fears no difficulty, he carries his light with him, and it is not dark close around him. But precisely because he has lanterns lighted, and has a strong light close to him, precisely for this reason, he cannot see the stars. For his lights obscure the stars, which the poor peasant, driving without lights, can see gloriously in the dark but starry night. So those deceived ones live in the temporal existence, occupied with the necessities of life (Matthew 6:31-32; Mark 4:19), they are too busy to avail themselves of the view, or in their prosperity and the good days they have, as it were, lanterns lighted, and close about them everything is so satisfactory, so pleasant, so comfortable—but the view is lacking, the prospect, the view of the stars” (The Simple Life, V. Eller, p. 12). There needs to be a conscious effort made by all of us to set our sights upon true and lasting happiness in God. “Set your mind on things above, not on things that are on the earth” (Colossians 3:2). If you are waiting for your job to fill the emptiness in your soul, it never will. The same goes for your home, your hobbies, your money, and, in at least some sense, even your families.
God Should Be Our Desire
To find lasting happiness, we must seek God. It should be our daily goal to commune with Him in the deepest way possible, and to model ourselves after Jesus Christ. “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul longs after Thee. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1-2). Desiring God means putting Him first. It means recognizing His blessings and being grateful:
· God has given us a beautiful world with so many great things. If the creation is so grand, how much more so is the Creator (1 Timothy 4:4)?
· Having a relationship with God is lasting. It is not fraught with uncertainties. We know where we stand with Him, and what His expectations are.
· Friendship with God leads to eternal joy. If you really want lasting happiness, what is more lasting than Heaven?
· How can we not be in awe of a God who forgives so faithfully (John 3:16)?
· We have a choice: either we seek happiness here, or we seek it in heaven. “For who can eat and who can have enjoyment apart from Him?” (Ecclesiastes 2:26).