For millions of Americans, what they spend their time on is what they think will make them happy. And being happy turns out to be good for you. TIME Magazine reported (10/2/17), “It’s official: happiness really can make you healthier.”
The God-given right of “the pursuit of happiness” is even in our nation’s birth certificate. But many people don’t find happiness and joy. Why not? Perhaps because they are seeking them in all the wrong places.
Indeed, happiness seems to elude a lot of Americans. Jim Carrey, the accomplished comedian and movie star, once said, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”
The Apostle Paul gives an interesting model for true happiness. He encouraged us to “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I say, rejoice.”
There’s a notable quote from Hamlet, “…there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” He wasn’t saying that morality was relative—the whole play is premised on the outrageously wrong murder of the namesake’s father by his brother for royal power. Rather, Hamlet was saying how he thinks about his circumstances is more important than the circumstances themselves.
Christian pastor Chuck Swindoll put it this way: “Life is 10% circumstances, 90% how we react to those circumstances.”
Many people think the source of happiness is eating forbidden fruit. The late Pastor Dave Breese once wrote a book about Satan’s “believable lies.” He notes, “In our time, both the world and the church seem to have conspired to present the gracious Creator of the universe as a tyrant. The image that many have of him is that of a despot in heaven looking down at people having fun, quickly moving to break up the game. Believing this Satanic distortion, modern Adams and Eves quickly turn from grateful appreciation of their wide privileges to a fatal resentment of the few things that are forbidden to them.”
I think a perfect example of finding joy through obeying God versus disobeying Him can be seen in the conversion of St. Augustine. His classic book (written about 400 A.D.), The Confessions of St. Augustine autobiographically chronicles Augustine’s journey, from sinner to saint.
As a young man, Augustine prayed, “Give me chastity and continence, but not yet!” On the subject of lust, Augustine said [speaking to God]: “I broke your laws, but I did not escape your scourges. For what mortal man can do that?”
He goes on, describing his state when we was 16 years old, “Then it was that the madness of lust, licensed by human shamelessness but forbidden by your laws, took me completely under its scepter, and I clutched it with both hands.”
But his mom, Saint Monica, was a woman of prayer who prayed diligently for him. Later in life, he penned how miserable he felt as a slave to sin: “The enemy had control of my will, and out of it he fashioned a chain and fettered me with it. For in truth lust is made out of a perverse will, and when lust is served, it becomes habit, and when habit is not resisted, it becomes necessity. By such links, joined one to another, as it were—for this reason I have called it a chain—a harsh bondage held me fast….Unhappy man that I was! Who would deliver me from the body of this death, unless your grace through Jesus Christ our Lord?”
This all resolved one day while he was in the backyard of a friend: “And lo, I heard from a nearby house, a voice like that of a boy or a girl, I know not which, chanting and repeating over and over, ‘Take up and read. Take up and read.'”
He opened a scroll at hand—Paul’s letter to the Romans (13:34): “I snatched it up, opened it, and read in silence the chapter on which my eyes first fell: ‘Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities, not in strife and envying; but put you on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh in its lusts.’ No further wished I to read, nor was there need to do so. Instantly, in truth, at the end of this sentence, as if before a peaceful light streaming into my heart, all the dark shadows of doubt fled away.”
St. Augustine was converted and discovered true joy, and he affirmed: “You have made us for Yourself, oh God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”
How do you spell JOY? Someone put it this way: Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last. It works every time.