This morning, we’re finishing a very brief series called, “God Never Said That.” We’re thinking a little bit about the common things we might believe that seem so right, well of course, they must be in the Bible.
“Everything happens for a reason.” Not in the Bible. This seems to imply that God is manipulating every detail of our lives for a purpose. Everything that happens does happen for a reason – there is a cause and an effect with things that happen. And God may know everything (God is omniscient). But that does not mean God is involved in everything that happens, and there is a lot of life that happens because of the choices we make. If I text while driving and crash, God didn’t make that happen.
Last week, we looked at a little proverb: “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Not in the Bible. God never said that. God will get you through the times when you are overwhelmed and will walk with you through the “dark valley.” (Psalm 23:4) God answers prayer and God does good things in our lives, but scripture is full of stories of people with more than they could handle. God was with them and will be with you.
These are sayings that give a little bit of “feel-good” truth, maybe even a little bit of wisdom. The problem comes when you give words the authority or meaning they were never meant to have. You think they are from the Bible and they are not. God might have a different kind of truth or wisdom and might have more to say.
Today, we’re going to look at the idea that “God wants you to be happy.” Not in the Bible. God never said that.
Are you happy right now? Is there something that’s caused you to feel that way? Did you feel that way yesterday? We really need to get a handle on what happiness is, and you realize that being in a state of bliss, or happiness is different for everyone. Think about a time when you were happy. Whom were you with? Would you have had the same experience if you were by yourself? How long did it last? Were you thinking of a happy event, or a happy time of life? Have you ever needed to do something “artificial” to be happier? Something from a bottle? Hard question.
Let me give you a sense of how complicated this can be. Think of that moment when you were really content, when things were good. You were happy. Lock into that picture. Your mind might go to some event, like a wedding, or a graduation, or a birth. Are you there? It was awesome, right? Felt pretty good. Oh, yeah.
Now think about the hours, or days, or weeks on either side of that moment. I was brought to tears when our kids were born – I was there, thanking God in a major way. In the moment, I think Kathy was brought to tears for other reasons. Her happiness came a little later. It’s possible that your happy moment was the product of a little suffering and you wouldn’t have gotten to the happy place without walking through that valley. Last week, we looked at how God can use a time of suffering to build up faith. It’s hard to know it at the time, but the unhappy experiences help us lean on God more than the happy moments. You can’t call that experience happy; it’s deeply meaningful in other ways. The valley did lead to a mountaintop, if you know what I mean.
Or, your mind might go to a period of time. Maybe it was a time when things were relatively peaceful, stable, predictable. When you think back on it now, you were happy, even though you might not have felt that way then. Have you had a time like that? What was going on before that time. If it came to an end, how did that happen?
The Declaration of Independence says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Let’s think about how we pursue happiness.
Over the years, God has given my family and I the opportunity to travel to some wonderful places. That beach was in Puerto Rico. We were the only ones there. The water was warm, and that beautiful turquoise color. The air was just the right temperature. The sunscreen smelled good. Ahhhh. Perfect.
My family was in the water just off to the left. I sat on the beach watching, being a lifeguard. A few years before, while traveling in a place just like this, we had had a near-drowning incident.
So now, whenever we go to a beach like the one in that picture, or if I go with a mission group to that kind of place, I sit on the beach and watch a little nervously. I don’t go in the water and there are happier places for me. My family is sitting here thinking, “You really need to get over this.” And that’s true. I need to face it. We are still going to plan beach trips.
This is all to say that your “happy place,” your idea of happiness, might not translate well for other people. It’s all relative, and God doesn’t have much control over how happy you are at any given moment. God chooses not to control your happiness. You have a free will when it comes to happiness, and God cannot force you or cause you to be happy.
We all have had those times when we were talking to God, or maybe talking to someone else, or to ourselves, and saying, “I wish I were happier, more content, more joyful.
We’ll look at some scriptures to see what God has to say about being in a happy place.
1 John 2:15-17. Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh [temporary, material things], the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.
I’m thinking back to that opening video, and the idea that buying a car can make you happy. Pretty funny, right? Well… the new car smell was nice. The new gadgets that weren’t in the old car. And how long did it take for the happy feeling to go away? Hopefully, our kids learn this at some early age.
What are the “things of the world? The world and its desire are passing away. Have you ever loved something that “passed away?” On the other side of that love is “those who do the will of God live forever.” Doing the will of God.
I was sitting with some of our high school students over breakfast yesterday and one of the questions in their devotional time was, “Would you rather have fame or fortune?” There are advantages and disadvantages to both fame and fortune. And they talked about the story Jesus told about the guy who needed to build bigger barns (Luke 12:16-21). When he died, his stuff couldn’t save him.
Jesus asks: “And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’ (Luke 12:20-21)
And we talked about being rich toward God. I think there are a bunch of ways to be rich toward God. Think about those things that give you a sense of contentment that you never could have paid money for. I challenge you to find ways to share those things.
The students talked about serving other people, about intentionally bringing happiness to strangers. They said that mission experiences were treasures for them. They had great meaning. The church did that. God used St. Paul’s to build up that treasure for them.
And I’m sure that God has given you opportunities to build up treasure that added to your happiness.
Those who do the will of God live forever. Living forever – God’s “happy place” – has a connection to doing.
Here’s what Paul has to say:
Philippians 4:4-7. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Have you heard those words before? “Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, Rejoice!” And those words about the peace of God that passes understanding. Powerful stuff.
When you’re looking at these readings, does your mind ever wander and you find yourself reading other words on the page? I want to encourage you to do that now. Right before Paul says those awesome words, he says, “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.” (v. 4:2)
This rejoicing Paul talks about came out of a problem! There was tension between two women in Philippi: two women named Euodia and Syntyche. Paul never says exactly what the problem was, and maybe he didn’t know himself. But the fact that he’s talking to these two women, and about these two women, must mean that their problems were everybody else’s problems too.
In his care for them, Paul needs do what he can to see that the problem reaches some kind of resolution. He knows that Christians can also give great happiness to each other, and that’s there he wants to lead this situation.
Don’t most of our problems, our unhappiness, come from other people? And wouldn’t we love to find some resolution? And wouldn’t we all like to find some peace of mind – “peace that passes understanding?” That sounds a lot like happiness.
I believe it starts in a relationship with God that eliminates the need to worry. This is where a Christian’s peace comes from. It’s a deep knowing that God has the future under control. I believe it’s a practice, this peace. Giving yourself to God, giving yourself to the living Christ, and allowing God to fill that inner void. I believe this also allows us to have access to God’s wisdom when relationships need to be worked out. Enough calmness to get through a hard moment.
This is the peace what allows us to “be of the same mind in the Lord” (as Paul says). In the conflict, in the unhappiness, you don’t have to react. In fact, wild as it sounds, you can “Rejoice in the Lord.” Lock into that knowledge that you don’t have to worry. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (v. 7)
A few years ago, I read a book called, The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner. He’s a traveling journalist who began to notice that people in some countries were much happier than others. People in Bhutan (eastern Asia) didn’t have much compared to people in Qatar (on the other side of Asia near Saudi Arabia). But they are much happier. You might have seen this somewhere yourself.
In surveys, you’ll find that people in the Dominican Republic are much happier than people in the United States. Most of the people in the Dominican Republic live in poverty compared to us. But they are happy. It has much to do with things you can’t buy. For me, I always leave those places thinking about the things I’ve bought that occupy my “heart and mind” and leave me unhappy.
And I wonder: Can you actually move to a place that will make you happier? A little story…
A farmer was working in a field when a stranger approached on the country road that bordered his farm. The traveler asked, “What kind of people live in the next town?”
Without even looking up from his work, the farmer asked, “What kind of people lived in the town you just left?”
“Oh, they were horrible.” The traveler began making hand gestures for emphasis. “People were dishonest, selfish, and inconsiderate. I couldn’t wait to leave!”
Now looking up, the farmer shook his head and said, “I’m sorry to say that’s probably what you’ll find in this town too.”
The stranger moaned and walked away.
Later that day, another stranger came walking down that same road. When he saw the farmer, he called out, “What kind of people live in this next town?”
Without looking up, the farmer asked his own question: “What kind of people lived in the town you just left?”
The traveler said, “They were thoughtful, friendly, and kind. I hated to leave them. They made me a better person.”
Now the farmer put down his hoe, extended his hand and smiled. He said, “I’m pleased to say that is about how you’ll find the folks here.”
The traveler smiled back and then headed toward his new home.
God, we would like to be that kind of home, and many of us would like to be happier. Take us to the new place. Open our eyes. Knowing what you want for us, give us opportunities to bring happiness to others. Through your Spirit, help us be sensitive to justice and injustice; help us break cycles of violence. Let the peace that passes understanding flow through us. Make us the examples of healthy relationships. Give us the courage to love in sacrificing ways, for the sake of Christ, who gave himself for us so that we might have the amazing joy of knowing you. Amen.