Don’t I have the right to be happy?

Don't I have the right to be happy?

I couldn’t help but notice her sitting on the couch, continually shifting from side to side with a look on her face that simply said, “I really can’t stand my life…”

It’s ironic because she actually has a pretty good life. She makes a more than decent living, drives a gorgeous European sports car and seems to have a very solid relationship with God;  the quintessential recipe that most of us are looking for in life. And the vast majority of people that look at her would say, “She’s got it made.” But why does she see it so differently?

I’ve been on a journey over the past ten years and have come to realize that there is a distinct difference between happiness and joy. The girl I’m referring to above is a real person. She’s also a really wonderful person that certainly has her moments of joy. But she lives most of her life chasing happiness; like a dog chasing its tail, never able to find the satisfaction of a catch.

So you might be asking, what is happiness? What is joy? And what makes them so unique? Great questions…

Happiness can be best defined when put into the context of your environment.

I’m happy because…

~ I’m finally getting to go to Disneyland.
~ I just got the new car of my dreams.
~ I received that promotion I’ve always wanted.
~ My kid has finally gotten his act together.
~ My husband is treating me like he should.

Every one of those statements of happiness are defined by an environmental impact. “A” happened, therefore I’m happy! The problem with this type of happiness is that it’s fleeting and it can never be sustained.

~ You’ll show up to Disneyland and your two favorite rides will be closed.
~ That new car smell will fade and you’ll find a lovely new dent in the side of the door.
~ That new job will get old and the next promotion will be in your sights.
~ Your kid will fail again…and again…and again…
~ Your husband will prove to be human and slip back into his old, uncaring ways.

Happiness is elusive! It can never be satisfied and it’s always contingent on our circumstances. But what if there was a better way? What if you and I could live life outside of our circumstances and live in a state of joy that isn’t dependent on what happens around us?

Friends this can actually happen…

Have you ever met someone that is almost always filled with joy? Search your memory banks for just a moment. Who do you know that always seems to be happy, no matter what’s going on in their life? I can think of several people. Yes, they still have their concerns and their circumstances can still rattle them at times. After all, they are human. But they seem to have this happiness (or joy) that never seems to leave their side. AND YOU WANT IT!!! I do too! I want that happiness (or what I would define as the joy that never seems to empty from the tank). But how do I get it?

Joy isn’t a pursuit, it’s a way of life. Joy doesn’t look around and see what’s going on and then responds. Joy simply IS. But that’s where the mystery comes in. And this is where some of you might part company with my beliefs, my theology.

I have been a follower of Jesus for most of my life. When I wasn’t following Jesus, my life was driven by the winds of this world. If there was a tornado of circumstances blowing in my life, I was a mess. I was scattered. I was tossed around emotionally. If there was a calm, cool breeze in my life (in other words life was pretty good), then I found myself to be in a fairly good state of happiness. Point being, my life was driven by my circumstances.

CS Lewis is probably the most profound post-modern writer on living a life for God. He made a great observation about elusive happiness in his book Mere Christianity.

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”

I love this! He points directly to the fact that we aren’t in a place where we will be completely satisfied. The earth is a bus stop along the way to our final destination. We get off the bus, grab a Starbucks, meet a few people on the street corner, and hopefully get back on the bus and finalize our journey home. And home is heaven.

But along that journey we face the fact that happiness can never be quenched. Our life must be dependent on something entirely different than fleeting happiness and that’s where joy comes in.

Joy IS. And it’s dependent on one thing and one thing only, our relationship with God. And that’s really the first step to true joy. But you might be asking, Jon, I’m a follower of Jesus and I’m STILL not filled with joy, why?

The answer may be difficult to understand. Earlier I had mentioned that we all know people that seem to always be content. In almost every case for me, those people are followers of Jesus. Yes, I know some non-Christians that seem to be happy, but the happiness I see in them seems much shallower and dependent on their circumstances than it does with those I know that follow Jesus. But Jesus isn’t a magic pill, He’s a way of life.

The bible talks quite a bit about joy. First and foremost, the bible says that joy is a “fruit of the Spirit.” What that means is that ONLY a follower of Jesus can produce true joy. If real joy only comes by way of the Spirit, then the Spirit must be within me in order for that joy to take hold of my life. But being a follower of Jesus doesn’t mean we always live in the Spirit.

The apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 5:16a, “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives…”

If Paul is instructing us to “let the Spirit guide our lives,” that means we actually have a choice in NOT allowing the Spirit to guide our lives. We can be a follower of Jesus, but not live in the Spirit of God. And what happens when we don’t live in the Spirit? We live in the flesh.

Living in the flesh simply means living our lives selfishly and in a worldly manner. We are driven by what feels good and what makes us “happy.” Living in the Spirit is much different. We are living for God and for what makes Him pleased.

When we are living in the Spirit, our lives are consumed with loving God and putting others first in our life. We are living to ultimately love others in a manner that Jesus has called us to. And friends, when we live this way, WE FIND JOY!

Do you remember the girl I referred to in the beginning of this blog? She would be the first to admit that she wants something more. And the amazing thing is that she’s beginning to find it. Sure, it’s still a struggle. She finds life to be very difficult sometimes, but she’s beginning to loosen her grip on happiness and allow joy to fill her spirit. And as she serves her friends and her family, and allows God to crowd her heart, you can see a real change. Her smile comes from a deeper well that’s filled with living water. A water that can never be emptied.

So, do you want to live with Joy? Do you want to experience life where you get a “glimpse” of heaven and experience a resident sense of fulfillment and “Joy” that can only come from God? Then live for Him! Sacrifice yourself for Him! Make God first in your life and in EVERYTHING you do! Does this mean being perfect? Of course not. But continually pursue loving God with all your heart, soul and mind and love others as you love yourself. If you do these two very simple things, you will find a Joy that you never thought was possible. But yes, it takes work, it takes sacrifice, but you have a God that loves you tremendously and wants you to experience a Joy that only He can give.

I’m convinced that God wants to hurt me. Sometimes I just hate Him!

Businessman waiting with luggage, head in hands

I love stories.  Those that talk straight to the heart. And there’s this rather interesting story of a guy named Joseph found in the very first book of the bible, Genesis. It’s a bit of a lengthy story, so we’ll jump through it quickly as their is an incredible truth waiting for us at the end…

Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, was falsely accused of rape and left in prison for 13 years probably wondering where God was his whole life.  You might wonder where God is too at times…

– Maybe you’ve been looking for the perfect mate only to be let down over and over again…

– Waiting for the “perfect job” and it always seems to slip through your fingers… and it just did again…

– Looking to land that big business deal and it never seems to happen…and you just lost another one…

– You’re having a hard time paying your rent…and you just got served a notice to vacate…

Why do all these terrible things happen?  The bigger questions is this, “Where the heck is God when we cry out to Him over and over and over and over???”

There was a terrible famine in the land and although Joseph was stuck in a very dark place, God still spoke to him.  He was led by God to tell Pharaoh to build storehouses of grain as a great famine was about to hit the region in seven short years.  Because Joseph listened to God and spoke with Pharaoh of the impending doom, Joseph rose to great prominence and became the governor over all of Egypt.

Joseph’s brothers made their way to Egypt as their family was starving due to the famine. They had no idea that their brother Joseph was the head over all of Egypt. As far as they knew, he was dead at this point in time. As they approached the palace, Joseph recognized his brothers and was in absolute anguish over seeing them again. The emotions must have been a roller-coaster ride. Anger, sadness, bitterness, the list is probably endless.  It’s the kind of emotions that tell you what could have been.  Seeing his brothers is like you…

– Looking into the face of the person that just took your job…

– Watching the people move into the home you just foreclosed on…

– Seeing the drunk driver that killed your son having coffee with a friend and laughing away as if nothing ever happened…

They are painful reminders that never seem to take the edge off , much less deal a death blow to our hurtful circumstances.  None the less, we are left holding this bitter luggage of pain and emptiness wondering where God is and why He’s completely abandoned us.  But the story goes on…

Joseph was ultimately able to free his family from the famine and reconcile their broken relationship, but it came at a cost.  The cost of realizing something that most of us don’t like to face.  Let’s see what happened in the end.

“But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years, and there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. So it was God who sent me here, not you! And he is the one who made me an adviser to Pharaoh—the manager of his entire palace and the governor of all Egypt.” ~Genesis 45:5-8

Is that not crazy?  God sent him to the prison.  God allowed him to be falsely accused.  God let him suffer for 13 years before giving him any sort of hope for a future.  And yes, God ordained Joseph’s entire life for the sole purpose of saving the family line of Abraham.

Friends, God has some great plans for you and I, but in our shortsightedness and frankly our downright selfishness, we often pass over the great blessings headed our way because we’re stuck in believing that where we are at is exactly where God had planned for us to be.  Let me say that in another way.  Your current situation may be exactly what God intended for your life.  Think deeply about that for a moment.

Where are you at right now?  What struggles or difficulties are you in the midst of at this very moment?  Are you willing to endure patiently for 13 years and serve God faithfully even if your pain increases?

Those are tough questions and a tall order to follow.  Sounds to me like what it might look like to “take up your cross.”

Be patient friends.  Allow God to be God in your situation.  Look eternally at things, not temporally.  God might just be waiting for you to wait on Him.  He’s got incredible plans and, He loves you…