Monday, August 20, 2007

The Pursuit of Happiness

A brief break from missions postings. This is the monthly column I write for Temple City Life, our local Chamber of Commerce publication.


Lately I've been thinking a lot about happiness. What is happiness? How do you get it? How do you keep it?

A few months ago, my wife Lynann and I saw the DVD of “The Pursuit of Happyness” with Will Smith. (The misspelling is intentional and is part of the story.) It's the inspiring story of Chris Gardner, a man who broke through barriers of race and poverty by dogged hard work to become a stockbroker with E.F. Hutton in San Francisco.

No one could doubt that when Gardner “made it” he was a lot happier than when he and his son was sleeping in a shelter—or a locked public bathroom, or even a BART train running all night.

At the same time, his material success is no guarantee of real happiness. Name ten celebrities, chances are that nine are miserable. Happiness cannot be guaranteed via a bank account.

So what is happiness? As Dallas Willard, professor of philosophy at UCLA points out, every great thinker must give his account of “the good life”--we might say, the happy life. Jesus of Nazareth is no exception. His description of the good—the happy—life is called The Sermon on the Mount.

He turned the pursuit of happiness upside down. He launched His explanation of the Good Life with a series of statements we've come to call the Beatitudes. Here they are in The Message translation:

“You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

"You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

"You're blessed when you're content with just who you are—no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought.

"You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God. He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat.

"You're blessed when you care. At the moment of being 'care-full,' you find yourselves cared for.

"You're blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

"You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family.

"You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God's kingdom.” (Gospel of Matthew 5:3-10)

Until Jesus, everyone assumed that real blessedness (which is just an inch away from the meaning of real happiness) meant freedom from insecurity, the accumulation of things, self-confidence and triumph over circumstances. Jesus' vision is very different: He says that real blessedness/happiness is found when we are entirely centered in God.

So for Jesus (and in the rest of the Bible for that matter) happiness can be defined as a loving, joyful contentment in God and in God's Kingdom. For example, in Isaiah 26:3, we read, “You [God] will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” Perfect peace—real happiness—is found in a heart that is fully set upon God—His love, character, deeds and purposes.

In Philippians 4:12-13, Paul echoes this theme of perfect peace through a whole-hearted love and focus and commitment to God: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

The pursuit of happiness: I know where real happiness is to be found. It is in a vital, real, loving, worshipful, delightful, joyful connection of my life to God through Jesus. Are you happy too?

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