God's Happiness

“Willie had been a star athlete, and outstanding quarterback on his high school football team.  He was ready to go to a major college on a full scholarship.  Then he was involved in a serious car accident, and his legs were injured.  The doctor said Willie would never walk again.  By the time he got to class, Willie was walking, but very slowly.  He had made an excellent recovery, although he certainly wasn't the great athlete that he had once been.  One of the subjects we cover in class is how to grow in self-confidence.  Among some 15 suggestions for growth, one I always make is that students learn to walk faster, to put some excitement and energy into their lives—to get a little get-up-and-go in their get-along.  After offering these suggestions in Willie's class, I went around the room and asked each student which one they needed to work on.  When I got to Willie, he simply said, “Walk faster.”  Everyone got a good chuckle out of that, but we also got an example of a healthy, positive attitude” (Tate).  Here was a young man who experienced a tragic event, but he didn't curse God, continued to love life, and could even joke about his own situation.

Sometimes a person will ask a minister: “Does God want me to be happy.”  That simple question has an interesting answer when we look at the New Testament.  The answer is both “No” and “Yes”. That may sound like a strange answer, so let me explain.  The Greeks seemed to have a word for almost everything, and they had three for happiness.  One literally meant “goodly demon,” and it might be akin to our idea of good fortune that brings satisfaction. Interestingly, this word is never used in the New Testament, and this may be the case because demons in the New Testament were always uniformly evil (Harrison).  The next word meant a good feeling based on outward circumstances.  This is still how many people think about happiness today.  If I can make a passing grade, or have this particular job, or have this amount in my bank account, or have this toy, or achieve this goal, or have this family situation, then I will be happy.  You see their circumstances control their happiness.  Interestingly, this word is never used in the New Testament either (Braley).  So does God want you to be happy? Well, happiness in the sense of good fortune or in the sense of perfect circumstances is not found in the New Testament.  So, for these kinds of happiness, the answer would be “No”.  God did not allow this kind of happiness in the New Testament.  There was a third word, however, that the Greeks had for happiness which meant joy based on an inner quality of peace and contentment (Braley).  This kind of happiness is a deep-down happiness which does not depend upon externals; it is happiness from the inside out (Anderson).  In fact, the word used in the New Testament for this kind of happiness is “joyful” or “blessed”, and it is based on a person's relationship with the divine or the supernatural (Harrison).  So, for this kind of happiness that does not depend on the externals, the answer would be “Yes”.  In fact, let's look quickly at several passages which show us 8 components of God's happiness.

The first passage is John 13:13-17: “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet.  For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.  Most assuredly I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.  If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”  You will be blessed or happy when you learn to serve one another. Those disciples must have been somewhat shocked and humiliated when Jesus took up the water bowl and the towel and began the customary washing of the feet that was a slave's job.  His words must have made a real impact when He told them that He was their Teacher and Master, and if He Himself had washed their feet, then they should learn to be humble enough to wash each other's feet!  So often, they had been arguing and fussing about who would be greatest in Jesus' new kingdom, trying to get the top seats and the highest positions.  But Jesus showed them that service is what makes for true greatness.  We think of the great and powerful person at the top of the pyramid, don't we?  But Jesus just inverts that pyramid and shows us that greatest and most powerful leaders in His kingdom must serve from the bottom up!  Happiness is not found in lording it over others and giving orders, but it is found in serving others and doing your best to meet their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.  You yourselves have told me the wonderful joy that you experience when you teach others the Gospel, or when you rebuild after a disaster, or when you help others get through an illness, or when you repair someone's property, when your advice helps someone to keep their marriage together, or when you take children in this congregation on an outing, or when you offer comfort to another member during the loss of a loved one.  Truly, happiness is serving others.

The next passage is John 20:29: “Jesus said to him, 'Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe in Christ as God's divine Son, Israel's powerful King, and the Gentiles' holy Rescuer.  Let's not be too hard on Thomas for his unbelief.  Hadn't Jesus Himself warned that others would follow Him claiming to be Israel's Messiah?  Thomas was well aware of the beating, the hammering, and the spearing at the cross and the burial of Jesus in a sealed and guarded tomb. Despite Jesus' repeated predictions and various reports by others, Thomas wanted to see for himself firsthand that Jesus was really alive.  Jesus appears before him and challenges his disbelief! Thomas then believes and confesses Jesus to be his Lord.  Then Jesus makes the statement that others who have not seen Him will be blessed or happy when they will also believe in Him.  Do you believe this morning that Jesus is God's gift to bring salvation, righteousness, and reconciliation with God to all mankind?  Have you investigated His claims to divinity, the prophecies pointing to His kingship, and the events in the Gospels that show His grace offered to the Gentiles as well?  The apostle Paul affirms that Jesus was made sin so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21), and the apostle Peter affirms that by His stripes we have been spiritually healed (1 Pet. 2:24).  Happiness is believing in Christ as your hope for both an abundant life here and an eternal life in the hereafter!

The next passage is Acts 20:35: “And remember the words of the Lord Jesus that He said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.” The apostle is not just mouthing pious platitudes here.  Paul had given generously as he worked with the church in Ephesus for about 3 years.  He reminded the elders to whom he made this statement that he had worked tirelessly not only to edify the members there but also to pay for his own expenses.  He had generously given both his time and his money.  Jesus' lifestyle was one of generous giving as well, culminating in the very giving of His blood to ratify a new covenant, to atone for sins, and to purchase the church.  Generous giving will lead to greater happiness than selfish hoarding.  A college boy once asked, “What's wrong with being greedy?”  His teacher replied: “I have never met or known of a greedy person who was truly happy.  Greed by its very nature is always seeking more.  The greedy person is never satisfied, never fulfilled, never happy.”  This same teacher also promotes the idea of becoming a “ten-fiver” in order not to become greedy.  A “ten-fiver” is a Christian who devotes at least 10% of their income to the church and five hours out of their week to doing voluntary work or community service.  “Larry Stewart worked as a door to door salesman when his company went out business.  He hadn't eaten in two days and went into the Dixie Diner where he ordered a breakfast that he couldn't pay for.  The owner had compassion upon him and acted like he had found a $20 bill saying to Stewart: 'Son, you must have dropped this.’ Stewart said if felt like a fortune to him, and he vowed to God that if he would bless him financially, he would help others as well.  The Lord did bless him in a business, and Stewart became the secret Santa who ended up giving away $1.3 million in 100 bills over a 26 year period to those in need.  He later remarked: ‘After all, isn't that what we're put here on earth for—to help others’” (Larson-Elshof)?  An elder once made a statement similar to this: “A Christian who holds is a member who molds, but a Christian who gives is a member who lives!”  Happiness is giving generously.

The next passage is Romans 4:5-8: “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: 'Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.”  The apostle Paul makes some very interesting statements here.  After showing that all mankind has sinned and fallen short of God's glory in chapters 1-3, Paul starts showing how the Gospel is God's power to salvation.  He uses Abraham as an example to show how one is made righteous in God's eyes by their faith, and not their works.  One commentator puts it this way: “[Paul's] main point is that Gentiles ... come in by faith to covenant membership, exactly as Abraham did himself. ... To have one's sin forgiven, not reckoned up or calculated against one's name, is precisely what God intended when He called Abraham in the first place.  Among the many glorious things about being Christian, this will always come near the top of the list: that one's sins have been forgiven, covered over, not calculated.  David celebrated those 1000 years before Calvary ... How much more should we celebrate it today” (Wright)!  Happiness is receiving righteousness and experiencing forgiveness!

The next passage is James 1:2-4: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.  But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”  One commentator rightly noted: “The aim of [God's] testing is not to destroy or afflict, but to purge and refine. ... The meaning of patience transcends the idea of bearing affliction; it includes the idea of standing fast under pressure, with a staying power that turns adversities into opportunities” (Nelson Study Bible].  A Christian teacher in one of our brotherhood schools gave these good pieces of advice: “If anyone could tell you the shortest, surest way to happiness and all perfection, he must tell you to thank and praise God for everything that happens to you.  For it is sure whatever seeming calamity happens to you, if you thank and praise God for it, you turn it into a blessing. ... You could not do more for yourself than by this thankful spirit, for it turns all that it touches into happiness,” [and then he also adds another idea]: “My wife Bobbie once made a statement after we'd lost some money in a business deal, and it stayed with me because it's so simple and yet so profound. 'If you can count your losses in money,' she said, 'you haven't lost much.'  How very true that is!  And if we can keep this in mind, we'll have a far easier time being grateful to God” (Tate). Trials and testing usually involve some discomfort and anguish, but their trauma often helps us to see clearly what really is important in life and in our own personal spiritual growth.  Happiness is being refined through God's testing.

The next passage is James 1:22-25: “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only deceiving yourselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, an immediately forgets what kind of man he was.  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 word, this one will be blessed in what he does.”  Don't we like James' practicality and reminding us that meditation is not enough​?  We need application too!  Happy are those who are doers of the Word and not hearers only.  Someone has said, “We need to turn our meditations into shoe leather, work gloves, encouraging words, and pats on others' backs.”  James would commend us on our reading of God's word this year, but he would be quick to ask: “How have you been applying what you've read?”  Happiness is doing and applying God's Word.

The next passage is Revelation 14:13: “Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, 'Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on'. 'Yes,' says the Spirit, 'that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them'.” One brother wrote this good thought: “Jesus never looks better than He does at [one's] deathbed. ... I've heard of atheists who recanted on the deathbeds, but I've never heard of a Christian who [cursed] his service to Christ. ... There are only two places to die—in the Lord or out of Him” (McGugiggan).  Another commentator adds: “They are blessed because their works follow them.  God will not forget all they have endured in loyalty to the faith. ... Their works follow them in the sense that there can be no separation between what a [Christian] is and what a [Christian] does.”  You know, none of us knows how we are going to die, but the how is not nearly as important as the who. Those who die in the Lord have the promise that their loyalty to Christ and their good deeds will never be lost before God. Happiness is dying in our Lord.

The last passage is Revelation 16:15: “Behold, I am coming as a thief.  Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walks naked and they see his shame.”  Someone has said, “The best way to prepare for the coming of Christ is to remember always the presence of Christ as you live” (Barclay in Rowell).  Someone else noted that the kind of preparedness that Jesus requires must cut through the deceptive propaganda of Satan that would lull us into focusing only on the here and now (Mounce).  The story is told about a German prison camp in World War 2 where there was one barracks for the Americans and another for the British and both were separated by fence.  Unknown to the guards, the Americans had a little homemade radio that would get news from the outside. A prisoner in each barrack knew the ancient Gaelic language, and the one from the American barracks would share a few headlines at the fence with the other prisoner from the British barracks.  One day, the news came that the German high command had surrendered and the war was over!  After the British barracks got that news, there was a roar of celebration!  Life in the camp was transformed.  Prisoners walked around singing and shouting, they waved at the guards, and laughed at the dogs.  When the Germans finally heard the news three days later, they fled into the dark, leaving the gates unlocked.  The next morning Americans and British soldiers walked out of the camp as free men.  Yet, they had really been set free three days earlier when they heard the news that the war was over” (Bakke in Rowell).  When Jesus comes again, our war with Satan and his forces will end, they will try to flee, but Jesus will judge them, and then all the saints will fly to the Lord as people freed from any further battle!  Happiness is watching for His return and keeping our garments or living godly lives.

In 1985 a book came out written by five people called Habits of the Heart.  The writers interviewed over 200 people in a five year period to try to understand and to describe American culture.  Here are some insights they gave from the book's last chapter: “But we [Americans] have never before faced a situation that called our deepest assumptions so radically into question.  Our problems today are not just political.  They are moral and have to do with the meaning of life. ... Perhaps common worship ... is the most important thing of all. ... Our material belongings have not brought us happiness” (Bella et. al.).  Isn't that amazing?  These sociologists are saying that we need morals!  And we need worship!  And we need to realize that happiness is not in material belongings!  Twenty years later, there conclusions still ring true.  God's happiness is what we need: serving others, believing in His Son, giving generously, receiving righteousness and experiencing forgiveness, being refined, applying His word, dying in our Lord, watching for His return, and living godly lives.  God wants you to have a happiness that is beyond just good fortune and external circumstances.  Jesus offers you that deep-down happiness from the inside out.  The Holy Spirit invites you to a joyful and blessed life. Take your focus off of politics and things!  Put your focus on God's happiness with its worship and morals!  Let the eternal help you with the here and now!  Have you experienced His forgiveness?  Would you be dying outside of Jesus or in Jesus?  Would Jesus' return cause you shame or praise?  Won't you begin “walking faster” as you seek God's happiness?