Does God Want Us To Be Happy?

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” (C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses).

Tonight at Kairos, Chris Brooks asked the age-old question, “Does God really want us to be happy?”

I admit that for years the answer has always been a knee-jerk version of “No, God doesn’t want us to be happy. He wants us to be holy.”

Maybe happiness and holiness aren’t mutually exclusive. Maybe holiness doesn’t have to mean a dour demeanor and grumpy face. Perhaps there is happiness in enjoying God and His good gifts.

The problem isn’t in seeking happiness but that we seek for it in the wrong places. We seek to find fulfillment and joy in the created rather than in the Creator, and in the gifts rather than in the Giver.

It’s not that we desire too much but that we desire too little. We can glorify and make an idol out of just about anything (or anyone). Careers, possessions, relationships, children, morality, and even worship (more accurately, the worship of worship and the adrenaline rush it brings).

We can’t seek happiness and joy outside of God because it doesn’t really exist. At least not true happiness and joy. We often end up over-stimulated and under-satisfied. Nothing apart from God brings a lasting gratification.

That’s why there’s always the push to do more, buy more, consume more, and be more. It will never be enough.

God is enough and in Him are joys and pleasures and happiness that will never end.

 

More Quotes I Love

“But God will look to every soul like its first love because He is its first love. Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it—made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand” (C. S. Lewis).

“What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves—be their own masters—invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.

God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing” (C. S. Lewis).

“Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ. If we do, we shall then be sharing a life which was begotten, not made, which always has existed and always will exist. Christ is the Son of God. If we share in this kind of life we also shall be sons of God. We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us. He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has—by what I call ‘good infection’. Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else” (C. S. Lewis).

I started out to write something original, but I decided I didn’t like what I had written so I borrowed a little from some writing I did like. You can’t go far wrong with Mr. Lewis.

I promise tomorrow that I will be back with my own words.

 

What’s It Worth?

“Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, ‘Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?'” (Mark 8:34-37).

God is not your co-pilot. If He is, it’s time to switch seats.

But enough of cliches. This is the gospel. It’s not about prosperity and happiness. It’s about following Jesus, no matter what, even if it hurts.

Sometimes where Jesus leads is pleasant, but not always.

Sometimes, it feels good to follow Jesus, but sometimes it feels like swimming against the current.

Sometimes, you’ll really feel like saying yes to whatever Jesus asks of you, but sometimes you will have to say yes when your feelings are saying no.

It’s about letting Jesus lead, wherever He takes you and through whatever He brings you.

As much as I love my comfort and convenience, that’s not the road that Jesus took.

His road was marked with suffering and pain.

His road was definitely the road less traveled, the narrow road that few find that leads to life eternal.

His road was the road that led to you and me in our worst moments, where He invited us to follow and find out what a different and better life could look like.

What good would it do me to get everything I’ve ever wanted and dreamed about, everything on my Amazon wish list, everything on my bucket list, and lose my soul in the process?

If I have everything else and no Jesus, I have nothing. If I have nothing else but Jesus, I have everything.

The end.

 

ISO One Magical Wardrobe

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I’m re-reading The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. I can’t express enough how much I love this book. I also can’t express enough how much I’d like one of those magical wardrobes that you climb inside and wind up in a different world.

I’d love to be able to visit Narnia from time to time and see all those wonderful characters.

I do realize that wardrobes don’t work that way all the time. I also get that Narnia exists only in the world of fiction. Or does it?

There’s a little bit of Narnia in the best of my dreams. There’s a little bit of Narnia in those moments when I am truly and freely myself, when I really don’t care what anyone else, when fear absolutely ceases to exist for a moment.

These books were written for kids, but even as a grown-up, I still find so much that makes me pause and think. There’s really so much depth in the simplicity of these stories.

I love that Aslan isn’t safe, but He’s good. That’s true of God. We want Him safe and predictable, never asking anything unexpected of us. But that’s not the God I read about in the Bible. The God I read about isn’t safe, but He truly is good.

God’s primary concern isn’t our safety. It’s us looking and behaving like Jesus, even if we go through some harrowing places to get there. God doesn’t want us happy as much as He wants us holy (which probably goes against most of the feel-good theology that comes out of most pulpits these days).

I even love that Mr. Tumnus who started out to do a very bad thing, but repented and stuck to his word, even if it meant being turned into stone. And even Edmund became a decent fellow in the end.

I just love these books!

 

Keep Calm and Choose Joy

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“When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight” (Khalil Gibran).

“…the secret to joy is to keep seeking God where we doubt He is” (Ann Voskamp).

The difference between happiness and joy is this: happiness requires the right circumstances while joy can be found anywhere at any time.

The Apostle Paul could indeed count it all joy even when he was imprisoned or beaten or shipwrecked. He could sing hymns of joy when locked in a dungeon with little hope of his circumstances improving any time soon.

You can’t depend on happiness because you never know from one moment to the next what will happen. You can’t say for sure that everything will turn out the way you want to produce the happiness you desire.

But joy is knowing that the future belongs to Jesus. For Jesus, the future is now. For you, that means that you can count on that future coming to pass as surely as you can count on Jesus.

But joy is still a choice you and I must make every single day. Sometimes, you won’t feel like choosing joy because it seems unnatural in the face of what you’re going through. I know many times I’d rather choose anything but joy because feeling sorry for myself makes me feel good. For a little while.

So when people disappoint you– and they will– choose joy.

When you lose your job, choose joy.

When the rain clouds cover the sky and you can’t find the sun, choose joy.

Trust me. It’s always worth it.

 

 

In One Week

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Yes, sports fans. Christmas Eve is but seven days away. That’s exactly one week.

In other words, if you’re like me and haven’t even started your Christmas shopping, it’s time to get crackin’.

I recommend online shopping and avoiding any malls like the plague. I also recommend partaking of a cheg-nog (chai tea + egg nog) from Starbucks at least once during the week.

And on a side note, I’ll take a “Merry Christmas” or a “Happy Holidays” in stride. I’d rather hear a “Happy Holidays” spoken with warmth and good cheer any day of December over a “Merry Christmas” spoken with belligerence and hostility.

It’s not as much about keeping CHRIST in CHRISTmas as it is keeping His love and joy in your heart and sharing it with everyone, regardless of whether they say the right season’s greetings.

Rant over.

More than anything this Christmas, I want all my family together happy and healthy, to see my friend who’s in town for the holidays at LEAST once, to have more cheg-nogg, and to finally have time to read my new Ann Voskamp book.

I want Jesus to be at home in my heart and for people to want to meet Him after meeting me.

I want one day to be able to sleep in with no alarm set for a 5 am wake-up call.

I want each of you to have a very blessed and merry Christmas AND a happy 2014!

Falling into Autumn

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Officially, today, September 22, is the first day of autumn. Thus commences yet again my very favorite season, filled with colorful leaves, cool breezes, hot cider, hayrides, bonfires, and crisp nights.

For some reason, autumn makes me most nostalgic. Something about the combinations of smells peculiar to fall triggers happy childhood memories of places and people long since gone.

Most of my favorite movies are set during autumn, or at least have memorable scenes set amidst the riot of changing leaves (think When Harry Met Sally or A Beautiful Mind).

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Some friends and I took lunches out to Granny White Park. I took my ever-so-yummy burrito from Chipotle’s and drank water like a healthy boss. We threw the frisbee around and had a great time. Later, we played sand volleyball on the courts at Fellowship Bible Church. It was picturesque.

The part of living in Tennessee that is both good and bad is the unpredictability of the weather. In other words, I can’t count on every day until December 21 being this postcard perfect. I’ve learned to appreciate these idyllic days and enjoy each one.

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I’m learning to appreciate each day as a blessing from God. Too many people I know who are my age and younger won’t get to see their tomorrows (at least not on this side of eternity). Truly the old saying is true: today is a gift– that’s why they call it the present.

I’m also learning to see God in each and every day. That comes with seeing through eyes of gratitude and thanksgiving and joy. Even those blessings that come disguised in suffering and hardship.

I believe the weather will be hot and muggy later in the week, but I’ll still have the treasure of remembering this day when I’m sweating like the turkey that’s about to be Thanksgiving dinner.

That’s truly enough for me.

Translating My Prayers

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I had a friend from Romania who attended Kairos with her new husband of four months. Since he’s not quite as adept at English as she is, she interpreted most of the Kairos service for him. It was a beautiful thing to see.

Then a light bulb went off in my head. That’s what the Holy Spirit does for me when I pray. I don’t mean that God needs an interpreter to understand my Southern dialect of English, but sometimes my prayers don’t even have words. Sometimes all I have are sighs and groans that are too deep for words, raw emotions that I can’t figure out, much less give voice to.

That’s where the Holy Spirit takes over. Even when I’m praying what I think God wants to hear, the Holy Spirit is inside me praying what’s really in my heart and on my mind. Even if that is anger toward God or frustration with how I think he’s guiding me.

Sometimes in prayer, thoughts come unbidden to my mind that I’m afraid to pray. Or at least I’m tempted to spiritualize so that they sound more Christian. Through the Holy Spirit, God sees beyond my Christian-ese and my thees and thous to the real words I can’t (or won’t) pray.

As I’ve said before, I’m so glad God didn’t give me 90% of what I asked for. He may not have caused that certain girl to fall in love with me, but he gave me something much better. He gave me Himself and an overwhelming sense of a more perfect Love that no human could ever give me.

He may not  have given me riches, but He’s helped me to see how richly blessed I am and how much I have to be truly thankful for.

Sometimes, I go to The Book of Common Prayer when I don’t have words of my own. I’ve used The Liturgy of the Hours recently as well. Some of Henri Nouwen’s prayers have felt like they were my own prayers said better than I could ever say them. Sometimes, all I have is “Lord, help” and “Thank you, Lord.” Even my silence before God is a form of prayer for that is often when I can finally hear Him speaking to me.

So if all you fail to get anything else out of all I’ve written, get this. God wants to hear from you. He doesn’t want pretty words or perfect theology or even coherent sentences. He wants you, all of you. Every bit of joy and pain, hurt and triumph, sorrow and happiness. He wants everything that’s on your heart and on your mind.

This comes from one ragamuffin trying to tell all the other ragamuffins out there where to find the best Bread out there. That’s all.

Choosing Joy

Maybe you’ve already heard this. If you have, skip to the next paragraph. If not, then allow me to illustrate the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is based on circumstances, or on what happens. Happiness is a feeling that comes and goes, as do all feelings, and can be affected by any number of things, including the weather, bad burritos, headaches, etc. Joy is a state of mind that can exist regardless of what’s going on around you. But you have to choose it.

So I choose joy. I choose to be joyful. I choose to see that I am blessed. I choose to see that I’m not entitled to anything and that no one owes me anything. Any good in my life is strictly a byproduct of God’s grace.

Joy doesn’t gloss over difficulties and pretend that hardships don’exist. Joy sees beyond those obstacles to the great future God has promised to those who love him and are called according to his promises. Joy knows that while the problem looks big, God is bigger than the problem. Joy rests in the ultimate certainty that God wins in the end and everything wrong will be put right.

It really isn’t my joy. The verse says “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” I take that to mean that God’s perfect joy, that joy that is limitless and boundless, can be mine. It can sustain me when my willpower is gone, when I’m weakest, when I am powerless to do anything for myself.

So I’m choosing the joy of the Lord every single day, hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second. In other words, in every waking moment I make the conscious effort to take hold of that joy and make it mine. I hope you will, too.

 

It Is Well

“When the man of God saw her at a distance, he said to Gehazi his servant, ‘Behold, there is the Shunammite. 26 Please run now to meet her and say to her, ‘Is it well with you? Is it well with your husband? Is it well with the child?’’ And she [o]answered, ‘It is well.'” (2 Kings 4:25-26).

I was reminded of a great truth today. The context is a story about Elisha and a Shunammite woman in whose house he had stayed. She had given birth to a son late in life, probably the only child she would ever bear, only to watch him die in her arms. His body was still warm when she spoke those words.

How could she say, “It is well,” after losing her only son? I don’t think I could. I might be raging and cursing and lashing out at God and everybody else, but “It is well” would be the last words out of my mouth.

Those words she spoke are a perfect picture of the difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is circumstantial, depending on what happens. Joy is not. You can be supremely unhappy and still have joy, because joy is grounded in the knowledge that God will make every thing right one day.

In her case, God worked through Elisha to bring her son back to life. Sometimes he makes things right in this life. But not always.

I was also reminded of the story of Horatio Spafford, a man who wrote a very famous hymn. He had send his wife and three daughters across the sea to England, but was unable to accompany them due to some business he had to attend to. On the way back, the ship collided with another vessel and sank and his three daughters drowned. His wife sent the infamous telegram that read “Saved alone.”

When he was on his way to meet his wife in England, he passed the spot where the horrific accident had occurred and penned these words:

“When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul”

I pray for that kind of faith that can bring me joy even in the worst of circumstances, knowing that even in those times God is still in control. May your joy never waver and your faith in God only grow stronger in the days to come.