Spiritual formation – a question of happiness?

Happiness and joy go hand in hand and for many it will be about having the right people around them or about having the right things, or perhaps the prospect of a better job, a wage rise, getting married, a new house, etc..

It comes back to the question of happiness, what is it, and should we pursue it, or is it a byproduct of something else?

Now some think God doesn’t want us to be happy, or if he does its in eternity when all is made new, but that’s not what the Bible says. Scripture tells us that God made Adam and Eve supremely happy, happy in Him, happy in their environment, and happy in his purposes, for He was supremely happy to create the world and humanity in His image, and declare it very good.

Sadly it was lost when the enemy snuck in and fooled them by twisting God’s word, suggesting God was not as good as he appeared to be as he was holding something back that would really make them happy and fulfilled.

Thank God that’s not the end of the story! Scripture is about happiness created, lost, and restored – and not just at the end, in eternity, but in the present. Scripture has more than 100 verses that use the words joy and happiness together. We were indeed created to be happy, and we function best when we are, for “the joy of the Lord is our strength.”

The first book of the Psalms (1-41) is all about such happiness or blessedness, and begins, “O the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night.” Psalm 32 is about the joy, the blessedness, of being forgiven. The Christmas story comes with great joy! Jesus begins his ministry with what have come to be called the beatitudes, though the word beatitudes is wrong as it makes it a to-do list. They are in fact statements of blessing, not statements of action, statements relating to true happiness. Scripture also says that Jesus was anointed with the oil of gladness beyond anyone else, and that, for the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross and dispised its shame. A quick turning of the pages brings us to the epistle of joy, Philippians.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism says in answer to the question, “What is the chief end of man?” that it is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever,” not as something that will just take place in eternity, when all the trial and tribulation of this world is over, but as part of our experience in the midst of it here and now.

If our focus is on people, events, or things, as the source of happiness/blessedness, at some point we are going to find ourselves disappointed – people let us down, even the best of them, and events don’t always go as planned, something unexpected, unplanned, happens, and things wear out.

Not only that, we live on a battlefield, and find ourselves up against the World, the Flesh and the Devil – battles that are real, and sometimes intense, Paul calls them, “the evil day”. And let’s be sure, the devil has no interest in your happiness, he hates you with avengence and has no interest in your Christian life going well, and will do everything to rob you of your joy – he knows the benefit and power of it. Then there’s the Flesh that still rears its head, perhaps even aspects that you hadn’t thought were there… and lastly, the World, which wants you to join it in its approach to life, wants you to lie, be deceitful, be caught up in its materialism, to join it in its lust for illicit sex, for power, etc… to join it in its sin – all that leads to loss of true joy, to unhappiness.

Scripture focuses our happiness, our joy (which is happiness) on/in God, centering our lives in him and for his glory. It is neither a sentimental thing, or superficial, as in the song “Don’t worry, be happy.”

A glance at history reveals many men and women of God who knew joy and happiness in spite of their situations and circumstances. The Athenian philosopher Aristides writing to the Emperor Hadrian (c. 117-138 AD) said of the early church: “Every morning and all hours on account of the goodness of God toward them, they render praise and laud Him over their food and their drink; they render Him thanks. And if any righteous person of their number passes away from this world, they rejoice and give thanks to God and they follow his body as though he were moving from one place to another. And when a child is born to them, they praise God, and if again it chances to die in its infancy, they praise God mightily, as for one who has passed through the world without sins.”

David Murray (professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology), identifies six different kinds of happiness which are found in God’s common grace available to all: nature happiness, social happiness, vocational happiness, physical happiness, intellectual happiness, and humour happiness, but there is another one which he calls “spiritual happiness,” which he says is a joy that at times contains more pleasure and delight than the other six put together – that’s saying something!

Jonathan Edwards (the American pastor of a bygone age) said, “The happiness Christ gives to his people is a participation of his own happiness.” God is supremely happy in the fellowship of his being, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Christ is supremely happy. Christ wants us to participate in his happiness! Wow!

The ordering of our affections.
For joy to be effective in our loves there must be the proper recognition, and ‘ordering of our affections’ as the old saints put it, so that they don’t rule us. The quicker we return to joy the better.

We are told in scripture that, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” When we lose our joy we are weak, vulnerable. It is ‘Joy strength’ that lays the foundation for all maturity and growth. We were made for joy, our bodies and brains function better when we are joy full. The brains ‘joy centre’ they say is the only part of the brain that never loses the capacity to grow.

Sorrow and sadness should not define the Christian because in the words of Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” The lives we live are to be framed not by our present experience but what is to come – the fact that God is sovereign, the commander of our destiny, and the One who will make all things well.

We may experience anger, or fear, or anxiety, or discouragement, etc. but there is real danger in camping on them. We mustn’t, we don’t, camp on them. We cannot afford to live in them, to allow them to govern our lives – think the film, Inside Out – otherwise we allow the enemy opportunity to seed things in our lives.

Joy is a choice! Paul says, “Rejoice (re-joy) in the Lord….”

If we will be happy in God, we will be happy in life.

Choose joy, draw water from the wells of salvation…

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