What makes you happy? Being with your friends? Eating your favourite food? Watching a good movie? The theme of being happy dominates our society. Do whatever you like, when you like, where you like! If anyone gets in your way, then you can rain on that person’s parade for getting in your way. How dare they stop you from being happy? But, what about when God draws the line in the sand?
There is a higher priority than being just being happy. I like to be happy, I love it when my sports teams win and don’t like it when they lose, for example. However, whether they win or lose, or whether I get to eat my favourite flavour of ice cream is irrelevant to God’s goals for my life. This is where the proverbial ‘rub’ comes in life. Many people, including some who profess faith in Christ, stop living the way God wants them to live because He gets in the way of their good times.
God’s priority is to develop our character to reflect His own. He takes us from being self-centered people who are all about the good time and moulds us into people who are all about Him. The apostle Paul talks about this in his first letter to the Corinthians. Specifically, he deals with that enculturated right that people had to make themselves happy by eating meat that had just been offered as a sacrifice to a pagan idol. Just look at that meat, it is almost talking to us, “Eat me! I am delicious barbecued!” But Paul says that is something more important than enjoying a tasty steak. The thing that was more important was that some people’s conscience would not allow them to eat that same meat. So if you put yourself first and not think about that person, you would actually be sinning against Christ! These younger Christians had not yet come to the place of a proper understanding that the idol was nothing and therefore they could be free to eat the meat. Paul’s point was that their Christian lives were not about making themselves happy!
This ‘right’ we think we have to be happy extends to the church as well. People get upset in church because their type of music was not played, someone sat in their spot, and the preacher was too long or too personal or too boring, just to mention a few! Our consumer mentality to become happy seems to be unaffected by the fact that God calls us to be united in Christ, to serve one another, care for one another, and love one another. Leaders have a hard time leading because people in the pew won’t allow them to use their spiritual gifts to their maximum potential. Yes, at times leaders do lead to make themselves happy because of their drive for power and success. But the majority of those whom God has called are people who seek to please God and honour Him!
Happiness should be a by-product of living for God, not a central foundational experience. Let’s not forget that the majority of the Disciples that Jesus called to serve Him and His people had their lives ended at the hands of those who sought to extinguish their message from the planet. We in the Western world know very little about that kind of suffering. But the one characteristic of each of those followers of Christ who gave up their lives for their Lord was joy! Joy is the state of being content with life and with what God has given. Paul said, “But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”
There is joy in serving Jesus, a joy that no happy, fleeting circumstance could ever match!