Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Don’t Worry – Be Happy?

Are we entitled to happiness in this life? Is that to be our goal? After all, it’s in the Declaration of Independence – “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”.

Many of us spend our entire lives trying to find happiness here on earth. “Life is Good” apparel is popular and ubiquitous, smiley-faces greet us in e-mail and instant messages, and battery powered fish are mounted on a plaque and sing “Don’t Worry – Be Happy” to us. Is this what God intends?

Candidly, James 4:4 (NLT) says, “If your aim is to enjoy this world, you can’t be a friend of God.” Some translations clarify this by saying that you can’t be a friend of the world and a friend of God simultaneously. This certainly fights against our daily instinct to please ourselves and reduce our own potential suffering. For most of us, a good deal of time is spent working hard to ensure that we have no needs in this life – this attitude has obviously been taken too far when one observes the amount of “treasure” most of us have crammed into our garage and our basement. And really, does it make us truly happy?

Here is a tough question. Does God want us all to be healthy, rich, and happy? At first glance, the answer might seem to be “Yes”. Jesus healed people who were sick, so health is a clear goal, right? Television evangelists and other media types are constantly telling us that we deserve to be wealthy, and give us ideas about how to make it a reality. Many of us possess health, riches or happiness, but it is not clear to me that this is a guarantee to those who seek Him. Why not?

In the context of the verse in James 4, we see that people were quarreling because of jealousy and the desire for each other’s possessions. Their motive is revealed in verse three – selfish pleasure. James tells us that this motive is wrong. You see, being happy is not wrong. But it is wrong to live in this world for the primary reason of finding a selfish, personal happiness. God does not intend for us to spend our days finding rest and ease, however comfortable and good that may seem.

What, then, should our motive be? The answer is revealed in the surrounding verses. Verse five says “to be faithful”. Verse six tells us “to stand against evil desires”. Verse seven pleads with us to “be humble before God”. And verse 8 implores that we “draw close to God”.

Is it wrong to be happy regarding physical things? Of course not. But our ultimate goal should not be this result. Our real goal should be to glorify God, and to find joy in the cross of Jesus Christ – a paradoxical statement at first glance. It would be nice to say that God promises us all the wealth, health, and happiness we can stand if we just come to this realization – but it is not true. God may choose to give us one or all of these three things. And He may not. He is God, and He holds the plan. But there is a different kind of joy and reward that we can derive from living in God’s presence. Paul told us that he had learned to be content in all circumstances (Philippians 4:11) – and yet, look at the shipwreck, pain, and sorrow that his life contained! Am I prepared to adopt this same attitude?

P.S. – I will be writing more on this subject in the near future as I feel I am on the verge of something important. I’ve been reading John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life, and have found some much-needed motivation in his presentation.

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