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Happiness

These Things Could Fill You With Joy

board-142741_1280What makes you joyful?

This being the third week of Advent, Joy Sunday, we were naturally talking about joy. It’s one of those things that the Apostle Paul talks about as “The Fruit of the Spirit.” That is to say, when the Spirit of God is in us one of the things that should be produced in us is joy.

So we tried something different on a Sunday morning and split into groups (2 men’s groups and 1 women’s group) to come up with the top 5 things we think would bring us joy (being a small church, breaking into groups wasn’t very difficult – I don’t think I would have tried this in a large church).

What about you? If you had to pick 5, what would you think the average person would say?

Here’s what our younger men came up with:

  1. a good job. The idea of having a job that both provides abundantly AND fills you with a sense of accomplishment/achievement was a big factor in people’s ideal of a joy-filled life.
  2. a new truck. I’m not sure which young man came up with this one, but I agree – a new truck would make me pretty happy, too!
  3. having the family together. Perhaps the Christmas season makes people long for family and community. Perhaps it’s being part of a military community where we are separated from family more than other communities. Either way, having our loved ones around is important.
  4. being able to play my instrument whenever I want. I think we had one young man who would rather be rocking out than attending class, but that’s not unusual. 😉
  5. success. I think this is really connected to #1, but it goes beyond a job and into an attitude that encompasses all of life.

Here’s what our older men came up with:

  1. the birth of Jesus – yes, I got Jesus-juked by the men in chapel (if you don’t know what a Jesus-juke is, read about it here).
  2. our kids’ laughter. I agree, nothing delights me quite like hearing my own kids laughing when they don’t know I can hear them.
  3. a healthy family. We live in a world with so much sickness and disease, sometimes it feels as though it will never end. A healthy family can be a real joy to those of us with sickos in the family. Wait…that didn’t come out right…
  4. a relationship with God – okay, another Jesus-juke, and they were trying to jump into my sermon notes.
  5. healthy mothers – I think this one was spawned from one dad who was at church with his sons and mom was home recovering. Being a single parent is always tough – add on the responsibility of being a care-giver for a spouse or adult parent and the burden multiplies.

And here’s what our women came up with:

  1. making others happy. I think the women are much more altruistic than we are (at least that’s how it is in my marriage!).
  2. being more involved in church. These ladies really know how to push all the right buttons for the pastor. I see some new ministries and leaders developing here! 😉
  3. good weather. If you’re the kind of person who is affected by weenjoy-the-little-things-906291_1920ather changes, this could be a BIG deal for your sense of joy.
  4. exercising. I’m not sure if exercise would give ME joy, but I sure do enjoy the benefits of it 🙂
  5. the little things in life. The ladies wouldn’t get specific about WHICH little things, but apparently it’s these little things that bring them joy.

Were these close to what you came up with?

The problem with most of these answers we come up with that our idea of joy is often connected to temporary things. None of them is permanent. Cold weather, bills, people, health, and good feelings all come and go. If we look to these things for our joy then we’re always going to be chasing.

That kind of joy is a pipe dream.

It’s not the kind of joy we see in the Bible when Peter writes:

He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you…. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while…you have been grieved by various trials. (1 Peter 1:3-6)

Finding joy in the middle of trials and tough time feels impossible, yet time and time again the Bible talks about joy in the midst of suffering. You see, from the Bible’s perspective, joy isn’t based on temporary things and events. Though such things might give us joy for a bit they will eventually fade. It is when we are able to shift focus and take our eyes off of this world and focus on what’s coming for us later that we can know joy no matter what we face in this life.

Real joy is rooted not in our circumstances but in GOD and his activity. He has worked in the past, he works in our lives now, and he has promised us a better tomorrow. We may not see that better tomorrow in this life, but the Christian faith realizes that there is more to life than this flesh and blood.

Joy is about holding on to our eternal circumstances over our temporary trials.

I might not know what you’re going through. It may be excruciating. But we know and believe that one day we will rest easy in the presence of Yahweh. All the wrongs will be made right. All the hurts will be healed. We will know a permanent and lasting joy unlike anything we have ever experienced.

Until that day, that hope anchors us here and now. May we learn to say with the Apostle Paul:

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. (Philippians 4:11)

Amen.

Related Posts:
Discover Your Key to Happiness

Recovering Your Joy: An Advent Devotion

Joy!

Everybody WANTS to be happy. Everybody WANTS joy. It’s the number one reason the little book The Secret has sold more than 19 million copies worldwide and has been translated into 46 languages.

The Secret

In a nutshell the secret comes down to this – if you want good things to come to you then you have to put good things out into the universe. If you want happiness and joy you’ve got to put good vibes out there. But it’s bunk. It’s garbage. There is no universal return on good vibes.

But we want happiness SO badly!

So we play this “if only” game in which we tell ourselves, “If only I had ______ then that would make me happy….” Yet for all of our “unhappiness” we’ve really got a ton of stuff.

Did you ever wonder how we can be so blessed and so unhappy at the same time?

There are four lies we tell ourselves when it comes to our pursuit of happiness. See if you recognize any that you’ve told yourself.

1. God is withholding from me – this was Adam and Eve’s big problem; they thought that God was holding out something better – they compared the life they had with what they thought they could have if God wasn’t holding out…

2. God owes me – I put in my time, I’m in church, I tithe, I do my best to forgive people when they are rude to me…. I’ve done my bit – why doesn’t God reward me?

3. If I get it, I’ll be happy (this is that game we talked about a minute ago). But this is a flawed way of thinking. Prosperity and contentment don’t always go together. Rich people are unhappy, too. I’m reminded of an old joke:

They say money can’t buy happiness, but I’d rather cry in a mansion…

But many times when our circumstances change our discontent changes along with them! We are unhappy at one level and unhappy at the next level (and on and on it goes).

4. I know what is best for me – this is one of the biggest lies most of us use, even if we don’t realize it. We get into trouble when we try to plot our own course to happiness rather than following God’s course to contentment. But contentment isn’t about controlling ourselves. Self-denial doesn’t equal contentment – contentment is inward and cannot be touched by circumstances, can’t be stolen by sickness or poverty, cannot be ruined by the loss of a job, friends, or house. Though I HATE the cliché, this is one of those areas where we need to “let go and let God.”

So then where can we find true contentment?

In Philippians 4:4-13 the Apostle Paul writes:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that once again you renewed your care for me. You were, in fact, concerned about me but lacked the opportunity to show it. I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Paul isn’t crazy; he says it twice – rejoice! But notice this; what gives Paul joy is not things or circumstances. It’s Paul’s relationship with God gave him a sense of contentment that transcended his immediate circumstances. He was a man who knew what it was like to be in the pits. He “walked through the valley of the shadow of death.” Shipwrecked, imprisoned, beaten, and on and on – still he maintains contentedness because of his relationship with God.

The book of Isaiah tells us that we were made with a purpose – for God’s glory! Discontentment begins when we put ourselves at the center of the universe and remove God. It’s a big view of me and a very little view of God. Christian joy, on the other hand, is independent of all things on earth BECAUSE it has its source in the continual presence of Christ – not on temporary things or circumstances.

No matter what your circumstance this holiday season you can recover your joy – but we need a commitment to contentment. Contentment is a disposition of the heart that freely and joyfully submits to God’s will, whatever that will may be. It’s easy to submit when God’s will involves large amounts of cash, perfect health, exotic vacations, or unlimited vanilla chai lattes. But a commitment to contentment embraces both prosperity and pain as from the hand of God.

Finally, here are four practical tips you can start using right now to start recovering your joy:

1. Ignore the lies of pursuing happiness.
2. Live with a “Jesus is enough” mentality.
3. Count your blessings (really, write them down).
4. Focus on helping others who are even less fortunate than you.

How about you? I’d love to hear your stories about how God helped you recover your joy! Feel free to comment below. If you’re still struggling with the recovery and need prayer, let me know and I’ll start praying for you.

May you have a blessed holiday season.

Adolf Hitler Takes On Joel Osteen…and Wins!

Hitler

In all honesty I’m friends with a lot more people on Social Media than I could ever REALLY keep up with. That being said, I see a lot of comments and quotations flit by the screen as I scroll merrily along. The other day I saw this:

Did you know that the only person keeping you from your best life is you?

I’ll be honest, it sounded a lot like a Joel Osteen quotation (the whole “best life” wording), but the person didn’t attribute it. I also don’t know the entire context of the quotation – I just got the snippet she decided to share with the world. Those caveats aside, let’s progress with the quotation at hand.

It’s ridiculous.

My initial reaction was to imagine Adolf Hitler standing before a boxcar of Jews about to ship out to a death camp telling his prisoners, “Zee only person keeping you from your best life eez you!” – yes you must always read Hitler quotes with a Schultz (from Hogan’s Heroes) accent.

Can you picture it? Ludicrous, right?

Can anyone deny that sometimes garbage happens to us because of other people? Recently having gone through (and still going through) a tough time I had someone say to me, “It blows my mind that you refuse to take any responsibility about…!”

And I still won’t take it.

Don’t misunderstand me – I believe we ought to own up to our choices and consequences. Still, sometimes things happen TO us that go beyond our own behavior. Sometimes bad stuff comes our way without being a consequence of our actions. This is one of the major themes in the story of Job.

When all the horrible things happened to Job (lost his livelihood, his children died, he became very ill…) his friends gathered around him to support him. Eventually they came to the point of telling Job, “Something you did brought this calamity upon you. What was it?”

Job’s answer time and again was: I HAVE DONE NOTHING TO BRING THIS UPON MYSELF!!!

Regardless of what cheery Osteen-ism you want to read and believe, sometimes life sucks no matter what you try to do. You can’t always control things to get a happy and delightful outcome. You don’t always get to have a “best life now.” Just ask the countless Christian martyrs who have died for their beliefs. Ask the countless Christians in developing nations who live in abject poverty. Ask the Christians in our own neighborhoods who struggle and suffer with gut-wrenching problems.

It’s not because they don’t believe. It’s not because they haven’t tried.

Sometimes life just sucks.

Jesus never promises it won’t suck. Sometimes our “best life now” means hanging on by a thread and praying for God to deliver us. Maybe he will. Maybe he won’t. Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said, “We know that our God CAN deliver us, but even if he doesn’t we will not worship another god.”

Sometimes you’ll go through stuff you didn’t cause or deserve. I feel your pain. Shoot me a message sometime and we’ll commiserate. Sometimes it’s all we can do just to get by. I pray I have the fortitude of men like “Rach, Shach, and Bennie – men like Job – who can hold fast to their faith and say:

“Even in this dark hour I KNOW that my God has not abandoned me.”

Are You Unhappy? Here are 5 Things People Do to Find Joy

Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What makes you joyful?

At my church’s Wednesday night adult group once we were talking about joy. It’s one of those things that the Apostle Paul talks about as “The Fruit of the Spirit.” That is to say, when the Spirit of God is in us one of the things that should be produced in us is joy.

So we split into two groups (men and women) to come up with the top 5 things we think the average person in America thinks would bring them joy. If you had to pick 5, what would you think the average person would say?

Here’s what our men came up with:

1. Propane – yes, we lived in the Midwest. If you weren’t aware there was a propane shortage there. Go ahead, read all about it. It was leaving many people without heat (or paying exorbitant prices). Yes, having propane would make many joyful.

2. Financial windfall/winning the lottery. I’ve got 100 problems and 90 of them would be resolved if I had more money. That would definitely make me joyful!

3. Romance/significant other. I just want someone to share my life with. That would make me joyful.

4. Good health. I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. I would be so much happier if I had good health.

5. Helping others. I get such a good feeling when I help others.

Were these close to what you came up with?

The problem with all of these answers is that they are connected to temporary things. None of them is permanent. Cold weather, bills, people, health, and good feelings all come and go. If we look to these things for our joy then we’re always going to be chasing.

That kind of joy is a pipe dream.

It’s not the kind of joy we see in the Bible when Peter writes:

He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you…. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while…you have been grieved by various trials. (1 Peter 1:3-6)

Finding joy in the middle of trials and tough time feels impossible, yet time and time again the Bible talks about joy in the midst of suffering. You see, from the Bible’s perspective, joy isn’t based on temporary things and events. Though such things might give us joy for a bit they will eventually fade. It is when we are able to shift focus and take our eyes off of this world and focus on what’s coming for us later that we can know joy no matter what we face in this life.

It’s about holding on to our eternal circumstances over our temporary trials.

I might not know what you’re going through. It may be excruciating. But we know and believe that one day we will rest easy in the presence of Yahweh. All the wrongs will be made right. All the hurts will be healed. We will know a permanent and lasting joy unlike anything we have ever experienced.

Until that day, that hope anchors us here and now. May we learn to say with the Apostle Paul:

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. (Philippians 4:11)

Amen.

Related Posts:
Discover Your Key to Happiness

Discover Your Key to Happiness

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Secret – sold more than 19 million copies worldwide and has been translated into 46 languages. We seem to love the idea of being able to control our own happiness and prosperity. (**note – The Secret does not work. Putting positive thoughts into the world does not mean that good things are going to happen. There is no cause and effect that will make The Secret actually work. I will concede that positive people are more likely to have positive interactions with others, making people more likely to be around you or to help you out, but it’s not about your positive energy – it’s your attitude. Who wants to hang around someone who has a crappy attitude?)

We live our lives talking to ourselves about “If only” – If only I had this that would make me happy. If only I could do that then I would be happy. In the Western world it is amazing that we can be so blessed and so unhappy at the same time. We start to believe some major lies about what would make us happy and why we are unhappy.

The Lies

God is withholding from me – this was Adam and Eve’s big problem; they thought that God was holding out something better – they compared the life they had with what they thought they could have if God wasn’t holding out. Comparison robs many of us of our potential happiness. I’m not satisfied with my 32 inch beast of a tv because my friend just got a 46 inch flatscreen LCD. Before I started thinking about what I could have I was perfectly content with my tv, but when I start comparing my life to other possibilities I start to become unhappy.

God owes me – I put in my time, I’m in church, I tithe, I do my best to forgive people when they are rude to me… I’ve done my bit – why doesn’t God reward me? This is the person who does something in order to get something. But God isn’t like that. You don’t get rewarded for being good. You don’t get punished for being bad. Sometimes bad things happen to people who don’t deserve it. Sometimes good things happen to horrible people. God doesn’t owe any of us anything. If this is how you think about religion, it might be time to move on. God’s blessing and favor is not a commodity.

If I get it, I’ll be happy – Prosperity and contentment don’t always go together. Rich people are unhappy, too. “They say money can’t buy happiness, but I’d rather cry in a mansion…” When your circumstances change, your discontent will change along with them! (see above about God owing me…)

I know what is best for me – We get into trouble when we try to plot our own course to happiness. No matter how much you try to navigate your own course you don’t ultimately know what’s best. We really have very little control over this world. Some people try to control through accumulation. Some try to control through asceticism (denying themselves.) But contentment isn’t about controlling ourselves. Self-denial doesn’t equal contentment – contentment is inward and cannot be touched by circumstances, can’t be stolen by sickness or poverty, cannot be ruined by the loss of a job, friends, or house.

The Bible does talk about contentment, though. In Philippians 4:4-13 Paul writes:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Paul isn’t crazy; he says it twice – Rejoice! What gives Paul joy is not things or circumstances. Paul’s relationship with God gave him a sense of contentment that transcended his immediate circumstances

The prophet Isaiah says

Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by my name,  whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” (Isaiah 43:6-7)

You were made for one purpose – for God’s glory! Discontentment begins when we put ourselves at the center of the universe and remove God. It’s a big view of me and a very little view of God. Christian joy is independent of all things on earth because it has its source in the continual presence of Christ – not on temporary things or circumstances.

We can recover our joy – we need a commitment to contentment. Contentment is a disposition of the heart that freely and joyfully submits to God’s will, whatever that will may be. It’s easy to submit when God’s will involves large amounts of cash, perfect health, exotic vacations, or unlimited vanilla chai lattes. But a commitment to contentment embraces both prosperity and pain as from the hand of God.

So ignore the lies and, like Paul, understand that Jesus is enough – even in the tough times. Then count your blessings – it’s amazing what blessings and grace we have in our lives that we simply ignore or gloss over. Find them. Look for them. Thank God for them. Finally, focus on helping others. Practically speaking, if we get our mind off of our own troubles and try to find ways to help others then our own suffering diminishes and we can focus on the good things in life.

I believe God wants us to live joyful lives. That does not mean he’ll give us all luxury cars and full bank accounts. We can learn to live lives of joy no matter what our worldly situation may be.

So clap your hands…

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