An Englishman, a Frenchman and a Russian were discussing happiness. "Happiness," said the Englishman, "is when you return home tired after work and find your slippers warming by the fire." "You English have no romance," said the Frenchman. "Happiness is having dinner with a beautiful woman at a fine restaurant." "You are both wrong," said the Russian. "True happiness is when you are at home in bed, and at 4 a.m. hear a hammering at the door, and there stand the secret police, who say to you, 'Ivan Ivanovitch, you are under arrest,' and you say, 'Sorry, Ivan Ivanovitch lives next door.'"
Different people define happiness different ways, but no matter how you define it, we all want it. Everyone in the world shares one basic desire; we all want to be happy.
Have you ever noticed that no one ever says, "I wish I weren't so happy all the time!"? Some people may not care about being successful, or rich, or good-looking. It doesn't matter to some if they're married or single, or whether or not they have a family, or whether or not they have many friends. Some people don't care about material possessions, or being able to travel, or having enough time and money to do whatever they want whenever they want. None of these things may make a difference to some people, but regardless of the "things" people want in life, I am sure that everyone here wants to be happy. It is an intrinsic human desire - we're built that way. We all want to be happy.
In the seventeenth century, the French mathematician, philosopher, and religious thinker, Blaise Pascal, put it this way:
All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.
Everyone wants to be happy. I want you to understand this morning that seeking one's own happiness is not a sin; it is a simple given in human nature.
C. S. Lewis, in his sermon, "The Weight of Glory," said:
If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
The longing to be happy is a universal human experience, and it is good, not sinful. Does God want us to trust and obey Him? Yes, of course he does. Well, he also wants us to be happy.
Proverbs 16:20 (NKJV) He who heeds the word wisely will find good, And whoever trusts in the LORD, happy is he.
Proverbs 29:18 (NKJV) Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; But happy is he who keeps the law.
God wants us to be happy. And as we trust him and obey His Word, we will be happy. Well, even though everyone wants to be happy, even though God wants everyone to be happy, most people simply aren't. They often think happiness is just around the corner - just a few dollars away, or a new relationship away, or one career achievement away. And as they go through life accumulating these things, they never are quite able to get a lasting grip on happiness.
Madonna has made a career of self-indulgent behavior and is one of the wealthiest people in show business. In an interview a couple of years ago, she was asked if she was happy, and her response was, "I don't even know anybody who is happy!"
Christina Onassis said, "Happiness is not based on money and the greatest proof of that is our family!"
True happiness - the kind that lasts through all of life's ups and downs - eludes most people. If it eludes you, then today's message will hopefully give you a handle on how to find a happiness that isn't dependent on situations and circumstances, or what people say or do, or whether or not your latte is prepared just the way you like it. Simply put, happiness comes from experiencing the fullness of God in your life. Nothing else can bring the joy that a personal relationship with God can bring, and once you learn to base your happiness on your relationship with God, nothing in the world can take it away from you.
Here are three things that will help you get a handle on happiness. First of all, if you want to be happy -
1. STOP MAKING EXCUSES AND START MAKING AN EFFORT.
Most people who are unhappy can give a list of reasons why they're not happy. "How can I be happy when I'm so deeply in debt? How can I be happy when I have to work for my boss? How can I be happy when I'm so busy? How can I be happy when my spouse is so mean to me?" - and on and on. The first step to finding happiness is to realize that whatever excuse you've been giving yourself about why you're not happy is no longer valid. Whatever problems you have, there are people out there with the same problems who are happy anyway. I've known people with cancer who were happy; I know divorced people who are happy; I know poor people who are happy, and so on. You can be happy, too, but you have to stop making excuses. The writer of Proverbs says:
Proverbs 8:34 (NKJV) Blessed is the man who listens to me, Watching daily at my gates, Waiting at the posts of my doors.
James 1:25 (NKJV) But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.
The word "blessed" literally means: "Oh, the happiness." "Blessedness," as the Bible defines it, is the heart condition the whole world is looking for. You see, "blessedness," Biblically defined, is that almost indescribable, but very real: "inner sense of well being." It's an inner feeling of security and contentment, and a positive outlook on life. It's to experience an unusual level of joy. "Blessedness" is a calm assurance of self-worth. It's the vitality of spirit that comes when you know deep down that all is well between you and God.
Both the writer of Proverbs and James are saying, "Stop making excuses and start living in obedience." Whatever you think is holding you back, isn't holding you back. God has eliminated all the barriers in your life to fulfillment, peace and contentment. Make an effort. Don't let your excuses hold you back from experiencing the fullness of God in your life. Stop making excuses and start making an effort. Start listening to God's Word, start being a doer of the Word. If you turn to Him as your source of happiness, he can fill you with joy you never imagined possible.
The problem is that too often we spend all of our energy making excuses for our misery because of what we don't have - and those aren't the things we really need anyway.
In the fifth chapter of John, there is a story of a man who spent 38 years of his life lying beside the Pool of Bethesda, hoping to be healed. There was a belief that occasionally an angel would come to the pool and stir the waters, and the first one in the pool when the water was stirred would be healed. Jesus approached this man and said to him, "Do you want to get well?" Now, this is a simple, yes-or-no question, but instead of answering Jesus, the man made an excuse. He said, "I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred." Jesus didn't ask him if he wanted to get in the pool, he asked him if he wanted to be healed. But the man wasn't really thinking anymore about getting healed, he was just thinking of all the reasons why he couldn't get in the pool. Jesus said, in effect, "Forget about the pool. Get up, pick up your mat, and walk." And the man was healed that very moment.
Many of you today are sitting beside some pool thinking, "If I just get in - if I could just have this thing, or do this thing, or be a certain way, then everything would be wonderful and life would be a dream." Jesus is saying, "Forget about the pool. It's not the pool you need to be happy, it's me. Stop making excuses and start making an effort. Look to me."
Later in the book of John, Jesus said,
John 15:10-11 (NKJV) "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love. 11 "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that YOUR JOY MAY BE FULL.
Becoming happy requires effort on your part. You're not going to wake up one day and realize that all the pieces of your life have fallen together and all your problems have gone away, and now you're suddenly happy. You can't depend on your wife or husband or children or employer to see to it that your life works the way you want it to work. If you want to be happy, you're going to have to stop making excuses and start making an effort to find happiness.
Secondly, if you want to be happy, you will have to -
2. ELIMINATE SOME THINGS FROM YOUR LIFE.
Proverbs 28:14 (NKJV) Happy is the man who is always reverent, But he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity.
Do you know what I've noticed? There are many people who want to be happy, and their strategy for finding happiness is to do things that can only make them miserable. It's like they say, "I want to see the sunset, and I'm going to look to the east until it happens." You will never see the sunset if look only to the east, and you will never find happiness if you look for it in those things which cannot give it. Yet, this is exactly what many people do, day after day, year after year.
This is exactly what the writer of Proverbs is referring to here. Many people live their lives just the way he described - hardening their heart and falling into calamity. There are two ways that people do this.
a. Destructive Behavior.
Some people fill their lives with self-destructive activities that are guaranteed to bring misery - such as abusing alcohol, spending too much money, being promiscuous, taking drugs, and on and on. They do this thinking it will bring them happiness, but it doesn't. It can't. It is hardening their heart - and it leads only to emptiness and isolation. One of the most frustrating things about knowing someone who is caught up in a lifestyle of destructive behavior is that it is obvious to everyone in the world but them that they are ruining their lives.
I read of a woman who was anorexic, but she hadn't yet gotten to the point to where she was ready to deal with it. She weighed about 80 pounds, she had dark circles under her eyes, and her skin was the color of paste. She said, "People keep telling me that I have a problem with food, but they don't understand that the only thing that makes me happy is my ability to not eat." She didn't realize - though it was obvious to everyone else - that she was looking for happiness in a way that could eventually kill her.
Alcoholics think they need a drink to be happy, when the fact is that drinking ultimately makes them miserable. Some people go from affair to affair thinking it will make them happy, when the fact is that affairs can lead only to misery. In order to get a handle on happiness, we need to learn to identify those things we are doing that are destructive, and eliminate them from our lives.
You can never experience the fullness of God until you eliminate destructive behavior from your life, and God has the power to help you do it. His grace is available to you if you will but trust him for it. Paul had a physical problem, and he went to God in prayer for deliverance. Notice what God told him:
2 Corinthians 12:8-10 (NKJV) Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
When we are weak - not trusting in ourselves but dependent upon Him - then we are strong. Our strength comes from trusting Him. Notice that Paul now "takes pleasure" in the things that once brought him pain. He rejoices in his infirmities because they cause him to trust in God's strength.
Psalms 34:8 (NKJV) Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!
Do you know what is just as bad as making yourself miserable with destructive behavior? Making yourself miserable with -
b. Futile Behavior.
There are certain things we do that are not bad in and of themselves, but it is futile to expect them to make us happy. Most people who are unhappy fall into this category. For example, a career is good - and necessary - but no career can bring ultimate happiness. And yet, how many people pour their entire lives in a search for success, and then discover that it doesn't bring the happiness they had hoped for?
Also, being married is good, but no relationship can ever provide the inner peace and contentment that we all need. How many people do you know that think, "If I could just meet the right person everything would be fine"? Or, how many unhappily married couples do you know that think, "If we only had a baby, maybe that would solve our marital problems and bring us the happiness we're looking for"?
A job is good, and marriage is good, and children are wonderful - but why look to these things to give you more than they can possibly give? These can only add to your happiness, they cannot create your happiness for you.
Why look for happiness in things that cannot make you happy? It is futile! The only way to find happiness is to experience the fullness of God through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. If you're not happy right now, then stop making excuses for your unhappiness and make an effort to get closer to God. Decide once and for all to eliminate everything from your life that is keeping you from him, and thirdly -
3. Embrace Your Relationship With God.
I don't know where you are spiritually right now. Maybe some of you here today have never made an effort to walk with Christ. Maybe your spirituality consists of attending church on Sunday and that is all. I want you to know there can be much more to having a relationship with God than what we do here on Sunday morning. Living the Christian life is about more than just "doing good deeds for God." It is about having a spiritual connection with God that lasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
There once was in man a true happiness of which now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present. But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself.
The deepest and most enduring happiness is found only in God. Not from God, but in God.
George Gallup conducted a survey that concluded that fewer than 10 percent of Americans are deeply-committed Christians. But the people who make up this group, according to Gallup, can be categorized as particularly influential and happy. He called them, "a breed apart." He said that they are more tolerant of people of diverse backgrounds, they are more involved in charitable activities, they are more involved in practical Christianity, they are absolutely committed to prayer, and he said, "They are far, far happier than the rest of the population."
We all know of Christians who are grumpy - who are always mad about something. There's an old joke about a guy who went to heaven, and as St. Peter let him through the gates, the first thing he saw was a complaint box. He said, "If everyone is so happy in heaven, why is there a complaint box?" St. Peter said, "We learned a long time ago the only way some people can be happy is if they have something to complain about."
We've all known people like that, but don't mistake what they have for the kind of happiness God offers to you. God offers happiness that is so deep and so dynamic that the Apostle Peter referred to it as "joy unspeakable" - joy beyond words (1 Peter 1:8). That's what God wants each one of us to have.
Psalms 146:5 (NKJV) Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, Whose hope is in the LORD his God,
God is saying that you need not look any further. You don't need anyone else. You don't need anything else. All you need is him. Commit your life to Christ and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. He is saying that he can give you happiness above and beyond anything the world has to offer.
I think you would agree that if the one and only true God has spoken, then people who ignore his Word can have no lasting happiness. If our quest for lasting happiness is to succeed, we must seek it in relationship with our Creator. We can only do that by listening to his Word. This we have in the Bible.
As Christians, the Bible is our life. Moses says:
Deuteronomy 32:46-47 (NKJV) and He said to them: "Set your hearts on all the words which I testify among you today, which you shall command your children to be careful to observe; all the words of this law. 47 "FOR IT IS NOT A FUTILE THING FOR YOU, BECAUSE IT IS YOUR LIFE, and by this word you shall prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to possess."
Our spiritual life begins by the Word of God:
James 1:18 (NKJV) Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.
1 Peter 1:23 (NKJV) having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever,
Not only do we begin our spiritual lives by the Word of God, but we also go on living by God's Word:
Matthew 4:4 (NKJV) But He answered and said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'"
Our spiritual life is quickened and sustained by the Word of God.
How many stories could be told that bear witness to the life-giving power of the Word of God? Consider the story of "Little Bilney," an early English Reformer born in 1495. He studied law and was outwardly rigorous in his efforts at religion. But there was no life within. Then, he happened to receive a Latin translation of Erasmus's Greek New Testament. Here is what happened:
I chanced upon this sentence of St. Paul (O most sweet and comfortable sentence to my soul!) In 1 Timothy 1:15, 'This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be embraced, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am the chief and principle.' This one sentence, through God's instruction and inward working, which I did not then perceive, did so exhilarate my heart, being before wounded with the guilt of my sins, and being almost in despair, that ....immediately I ... felt a marvelous comfort and quietness, in so much that 'my bruised bones leaped for joy."' After this, the Scripture began to be more pleasant to me than the honey or the honeycomb.
The Bible is no "futile thing for you, because it is your life!" The foundation of all happiness is spiritual life. And the creation and preservation of our spiritual life is a result of the power of God's Word. The Word of God begets and sustains spiritual life because it begets and sustains faith.
John 20:31 (NKJV) but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.
And Paul wrote:
Romans 10:17 (NKJV) So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
The faith by which we start our spiritual lives in Christ, and by which we go on living, comes from hearing the Word of God. And there is no happiness or joy without faith.
Romans 15:13 (NKJV) Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
How else can we sustain our joy in the trials of life except by the promises of God's Word that he will work it all together for our good. Faith is born and sustained by the Word of God, and out of faith grows the flower of joy or happiness.
The Scriptures also give us hope. Hope is absolutely essential to Christian happiness. And how do we maintain our hope? Paul put it this way:
Romans 15:4 (NKJV) For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.
It is through the Scriptures that hope comes. The whole Bible has this aim and this power; to create hope in the hearts of God's people. And when hope abounds, the heart is filled with happiness.
So the Bible is the Word of God. And the Word of God is no "futile thing." It is the source of life, and faith, and power, and hope, and wisdom, and comfort. Is it any wonder, then, that those who knew it best said, "The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart" (Psalms 19:8)? "I will delight myself in Your statutes; I will not forget Your word" (Psalms 119:16). "Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day" (Psalms 119:97). "Your testimonies I have taken as a heritage forever, For they are the rejoicing of my heart" (Psalms 119:111). "Your words were found, and I ate them, And Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; For I am called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts" (Jeremiah 15:16).
We are to pursue the happiness that comes from a close and abiding relationship with Christ. We are to daily throw the kindling of God's Word on the fire of happiness.
Psalms 1:1-2 (NKJV) Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night.
Our happiness is the very design of our Lord in speaking to us.
John 15:11 (NKJV) "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.
Not to pursue our joy every day in the Word of God is an abandonment to the revealed will of God.
God wants to fill your life with good things. He wants you to live - not just survive. Jesus said, "I have come that you might have life to the fullest" (John 10:10). And he means it.
Embrace your relationship with God. Follow Jesus. Talk to him. Listen to what he says to you through his word, and put your hope for happiness in nothing but him--and he will give you happiness that cannot be put into words.
The only way to get a handle on happiness is to experience the fullness of God in your life, through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. If you're unhappy right now, stop making excuses for being unhappy, and start making an effort to experience the joy that God has in store for you. Ask him to help you eliminate everything in your life that is keeping you from experiencing his fullness, and embrace your relationship with God. Cling to him as if he is your only hope for happiness in this world--because he is.