Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Bible Doesn’t Say That: “God Wants Me to Be Happy”

Mike and Jill met each other in college. They began dating and fell in love. After three years of college, they were married. They were attending a Christian university, and one of the reasons their parents sent them to a Christian university was to find a Christian spouse. Success! Only, it wasn’t a success. They were both so young when they made the decision to marry. They were both incredibly immature, they were both incredibly selfish, and from day one, their marriage was a struggle. They went on like this for 15 years, unhappy. They thought having children would help! There is nothing to bring a couple together like staying up all night to feed the baby. They were wrong! So now, they were unhappy with two children! Finally, after 15 years of unhappy marriage, Jill found her way into the preacher’s office. She sat down and shared her story.

We were too young.
We just make each other angry all the time.
We’d be better off without each other.
In fact, we would probably even be better Christians apart (after all, she was talking to the preacher).
And then, finally, she said it: “It’s just like the Bible says: God wants me to be happy.

Jay did not have an unhappy marriage. In fact, he and his wife were very much in love. They just celebrated their 10-year anniversary. They were planning a trip to commemorate the milestone. They had three wonderful children, two boys and one girl. All three were finally in school this fall, which was a bittersweet moment. But their youngest was not the only child starting at a new school this fall. In fact, their other two had entered new schools in three of the previous five years. With each new family move came a new school for the children. You see, Jay and his family had a habit of moving—a lot. Jay had endured (that is the word he used to describe it) six different jobs over the course of their 10-year marriage. Nothing seemed to work out.
His boss didn’t like him.
He was not qualified and felt incompetent.
Or, He was too qualified and felt bored.
One time he just got tired of doing the same thing day after day after day.
So, the couple would be moving yet again. When asked why he changed jobs so often, Jay said—wait for it—“It’s just like the Bible says: God wants me to be happy.”

Well, church, here is the problem. The Bible doesn’t actually say that! In fact, we attribute a lot of things to the Bible that the Bible doesn’t actually say. There are folks all over the world, there are Christian people all over the world who believe that somewhere in the Bible there is a passage that says:

God just wants you to be happy!

But I challenge you to look for that passage. It is not in there. I know what some of you are thinking. “Well sure, God wants us to be happy! I can think of many passages that say just that! What about…?
Delight yourself in the LORD. (Psalm 37:4)
Be glad in the LORD. (Psalm 32:11)
Rejoice in the LORD. (Philippians 3:1)
Rejoice always. (I Thessalonians 5:16)
Do your acts of mercy with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:8)
Serve the LORD with gladness. (Psalm 100:2)
“See, God wants us to be happy!” I agree. But the Bible does not say God’s greatest desire for you is your happiness. And there are some folks in our world, even within our Christian family, who believe that God would allow and support any decision we might make if that decision would result in our happiness.

Now, here is the problem:

If we subscribe to that myth, that God just wants us to be happy, we end up justifying a lot of things in the name of happiness. And sometimes we even baptize our quests for happiness by calling our wants and desires God’s Will. I’ve heard people baptize adultery.
God would never want me to be this unhappy.
I think God put this new person in my life to free me from an unhappy marriage.
I’ve heard folks baptize selfishness and greed.
God understands why I don’t give.
God knows that 10% of my income would totally ruin my life.
God wants me to be happy and enjoy the blessings of this life.
I’ll give when I can, when it’s more convenient.
You see, when our happiness is viewed as the chief virtue, as the ultimate goal for life. When we assume God’s great desire for our lives is our happiness, we can justify just about anything.

But there is a passage in the Bible that reminds us of something much more important to God than our happiness. The writer of I Peter says:
But now, you must be holy in everything you do, just as the God who chose you is holy. (I Peter 1:15)
These words echo the language found over and over again in the book of Leviticus.
Be holy because I, the LORD, am holy!
God has always called His children to be holy. Holiness trumps happiness, and what mature followers of Christ soon learn, as we become more holy, then, we actually become more happy.

True happiness is a byproduct of holiness. Did you know that? When I give more, I am happier. Because I come to realize that more money does not make all of life’s problems go away. And in fact, that constant, insatiable desire for more and more and more, that feeling that I have to hold on to every last cent or I won’t have enough, that actually, in the end, makes my life miserable. When I serve more, I am happier. I come to realize that life is not all about me. It’s like the child who comes home for summer break and on about day three says, “I’m bored!” When life is all about you, you have to constantly be entertained. But when you serve, you realize and experience the fulfillment that comes from lifting someone else up, and that’s happiness. And when I honor my commitments and vows, I am a happier person. Because I realize the pure joy that comes from growing with someone through difficult times. As the old country song says:
There’s a tree out in the backyard
That never has been broken by the wind.
And the reason it’s still standing
It was strong enough to bend.
(Bet you didn’t think I could work Tanya Tucker into a sermon!) The bending in our relationships, storms, they are so difficult. But if we endure through them, we will be stronger and happier. I saw my grandparents share over 60 years of marriage together. I am quite positive there were hard times. But I saw the joy on their faces around the holidays as they watched four generations do life together. They never would have experienced that joy, that happiness, if they had given up. But this is so difficult for most people to understand, because our idea of true happiness is so messed up!

So many of us search for true happiness in things and in situations. But the problem is this: Things wear out and situations change. Clothes, that at one time made us so happy, now hang in the back of our closets, out of style. Situations change all the time. Health insurance premiums go up, children leave home, stock markets crash, job markets change, spouses get sick. So what happens if our happiness was bound up on those situations? The pursuit of happiness through things and situations makes for a miserable life.

In 2014, Microsoft paid $2.5 billion to acquire the Swedish company that created the game Minecraft. You may not know that game, but your kids do! The deal made Markus Persson a billionaire. He now had a personal net worth of about $1.3 billion. Persson promptly outbid Beyoncé and Jay-Z for a Beverly Hills mega-mansion. That $70 million home has been outfitted with incredible amenities: M&M towers, a movie theater, 15 bathrooms, each equipped, we're told, with toilets that cost $5,600 each. But on August 29, 2015, Persson posted a series of tweets to express his unhappiness:
4:48 a.m.: The problem with getting everything is you run out of reasons to keep trying, and human interaction becomes impossible due to imbalance.

4:50 a.m.: Hanging out in Ibiza with a bunch of friends and partying with famous people, able to do whatever I want, and I've never felt more isolated.

4:52 a.m.: When we sold the company, the biggest effort went into making sure the employees got taken care of, and they all hate me now.

4:53 a.m.: Found a great girl, but she's afraid of me and my lifestyle and went with a normal person instead.
True happiness will never come from things or situations. But happiness will come when we learn this lesson from Paul. In Philippians 4:12–13, Paul writes:
I know the experience of being in need and of having more than enough; I have learned the secret to being content in any and every circumstance, whether full or hungry or whether having plenty or being poor. I can do all things through the power of the one who gives me strength.
What God desires for you, it is not happiness that arises from the accumulation of things, or the kind of happiness that comes from getting your way all the time. Rather, God wants you to experience the joy that comes from being content with the life you have, and in realizing just how valuable that life actually is!

In his book, The Two Advocates, Tim Keller encourages us to imagine that we are billionaires. He writes:
Imagine you're a billionaire, and you have three ten-dollar bills in your wallet. You get out of a cab, and you hand the driver one of the bills for an eight-dollar fare. Later in the day you look in and find out there's only one ten-dollar bill there, and you say, "Either I dropped a ten-dollar bill somewhere, or I gave the taxi driver two bills."

What are you going to do? Are you going to get all upset? Are you going to the police and demand they search the city for the cabdriver? No, you are going to shrug. You're a billionaire. You lost ten dollars. So what? You are too rich to be concerned about that kind of loss.

This week, somebody criticized you. Something you bought or invested in turned out to be less valuable than you thought. Something you wanted to happen didn't go the way you wanted it to—these are real losses. But what are you going to do, if you're a Christian? Will this setback disrupt your contentment with life? Will you shake your fist at God? Toss and turn at night? If so, I submit that it's because you don't know how truly rich you are. If you're that upset about your status with other people, if you're constantly lashing out at people for hurting your feelings, you might call it a lack of self-control or a lack of self-esteem, and it is. But more fundamentally, you have totally lost touch with your identity. As a Christian, you're a spiritual billionaire and you're wringing your hands over ten dollars.
Keller has a way with words! I think there are many Christians in this world living completely unhappy lives. Constantly reaching for something else they haven’t quite come to grips with the tremendous wealth they already possess through Jesus.

The Bible doesn’t say, “God just wants you to be happy!” But guess what, God does want you to be happy. Only, God understands true happiness (and where it comes from) more than we do. You know, I think extending grace to us makes God happy. And God has given us the gift of being able to stand in His shoes. To give that grace to those around us, to our children, our spouses, our enemies, even to our Christian brothers and sisters. And when we do, then we will experience the kind of happiness God has longed for us to experience from the beginning.

No comments:

Post a Comment