by Rev. Christopher Lewis,
Nothing is Impossible Ministries
The Declaration of Independence states that we have all been endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, “that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The right to pursue happiness is one that Americans have passionately claimed, and as a result we have a society that puts a great deal of emphasis on entertainment, personal fulfillment and any number of other avenues that are meant to carry us toward this illusive goal.
At the same time, however, the sale of antidepressants is on the rise, families are falling apart everywhere we look, and happiness turns out to many to be like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. As soon as they get close, the rainbow moves away, taking its pot of gold along with it.
I do believe, however, that a certain measure of happiness is possible in this life, but in order to find it we need to understand a couple of very important principles. These, in my opinion, are two of the most important keys to happiness:
First of all, let’s consider number 1:
The first key to happiness is the acceptance of the fact that we can’t always be happy.
Does that sound like a contradiction? Probably, but it’s not. It’s just a paradox, and it’s a biblical one at that.
Jesus said it this way, “In this world you will have trouble.”
It’s funny to me how many people think that followers of Jesus are escapists when, in reality, the one we follow is the greatest Realist of all. He never promised that we would always have life easy.
The Bible actually talks a lot about problems and how to deal with them. For example, 1 Peter 4:12 says, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though strange things were happening to you.” (NIV)
One great cause of unhappiness in the world is the gap between where we are and where we want to be. Maybe we’re in Reedley and we want to be in Europe … so we get unhappy. We want to be well, and we’re not. We want to be better people, and we fall short. We want to have a perfect family, and our family isn’t perfect. We want to have a perfect friendship, and a friend lets us down. We want life to be trouble-free, and it’s not … so we become unhappy people.
It’s amazing to me how many of us are surprised when trouble comes our way, especially when the Bible tells us not to be surprised. We live in a broken world. Things don’t always turn out the way we want them to. As long as we are unwilling to accept that, we will never stay happy for long. We might have moments of happiness, but as soon as trouble comes we will be crushed.
Alcoholics Anonymous has the right idea when it encourages people to learn the beginning of the Serenity Prayer, which was originally written by Reinhold Niebuhr:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
The Buddhists get this part right too when they teach that the road to peace starts with understanding that “life is suffering.”
It’s funny to me how many Christians, on the other hand, convince themselves that they should be able to get through life without suffering. Maybe we’re more influenced by the Declaration of Independence than the Bible when we make that false assumption. We begin to convince ourselves that we have a right to happiness, when even the Declaration of Independence only claims the right to the pursuit of that goal.
“In this world, you will have trouble.” Don’t be so surprised when Jesus’ words come true in your life. You will never find lasting contentment until you come to accept this reality.
However, thankfully, that is only the first of the two keys I want to think about today. The second is this:
Remember the part where Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble?” Well, thankfully, that is not all he said. Here’s the whole verse:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NIV)
He understood that the way to have peace was to get a balance of these two realities clearly in one’s mind. Yes, you will have trouble in this world, but take heart because I have overcome the world!
Through all of our troubles, Jesus promised to be with us if we will trust him. The Psalmist understood this same balance many years before when he wrote in the 23rd Psalm:
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil. For You are with me!” – Psalm 23:4 (NASB)
We ALL have trouble in life, but we have two choices:
a) we face our troubles in our own strength
b) we face them with God’s help
If we trust our lives into God’s hands, he promises to be with us even in the most difficult of times. He can give us an inward joy even when the world around us is not as it should be, and he can give us hope because he assures us that our momentary afflictions are “producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” 2 Corinthians 4:17 (NIV)
Once we accept that not all troubles are avoidable and that not even God is surprised by them, we are called by God to learn to trust him in the midst of those troubles. We can trust him that:
a) he will bring us through them as more than conquerors – Romans 8:37
b) he will use them to produce a better character in ourselves – James 1:2-4
c) he will take even the worst of our current circumstances and bring something good out of them one day – Romans 8:28 (NIV)
I think the last of these is the hardest one for us to believe sometimes.
How can God bring good out of the situation when our loved-one dies young of cancer?
How can God bring good out of the situation when a marriage falls apart or the people we thought we could trust betray us?
These are tough questions, and I don’t know the answers to the “how.” However, that’s where the trust comes in. Romans 8:28 promises “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (NIV)
Basically, what we need to trust God about is this: that God has a plan for our lives, and that nothing we face today surprises him or has the power to derail the ultimate plan that he has for our lives. He knows what He is doing, and he will bring good out of our lives if we will refuse to give up and trust him.
He will lead us through the valleys. He will hold our hands through the dark nights. And he promises us this as well:
“that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” – Romans 8:18 (NIV)
Keep your perspective in order. You will have trouble, but in Christ you are an overcomer. Put your trust in him and he will lead you through to victory.
In this balance lie the keys to happiness.