God Wants you Happy? (August 26, 2018)
Galatians 4: 4-7
God Wants You Happy?
Thank you to our actors and actresses for that. So we’re beginning a series on the things in the Bible or in Christianity that sound good in theory, but which, when taking to their realistic limits, can cause some problems in theology. Some things that sound true, but in reality are half-truths or completely false. And we’re starting off with the phrase “God wants you happy.”
That phrase, “God wants you happy,” can lead us to some very bad places in several different ways. For starters, we’re not always happy. I mean I just had this vision of someone who’s worked for 30 years at a job and that company goes bankrupt and they’re laid off; and all of a sudden this person is out of a job for the first time in 30 years, and they’re 58 years old, and they’re trying to go into a job search that is completely different than the last time they were trying to do a job search in the ‘80s. I don’t think the person is going to be happy in that moment. What are they to think when we say “God wants you happy?”
Or I think of a person who’s just lost their spouse or child. They’re not happy in that moment. They’re in pain, they’re in grief, everything around them reminds them of the person they just lost and they’re not happy. Of course they begin to feel guilty because, after all, “God wants us to be happy” and we’re not happy.
And what does that say about us and our standing with God? In that moment friends try to be helpful, and they try and get us happy (prematurely sometimes). And so they’ll take us out to the mall, or they’ll take us to our favorite restaurant or whatever else, just to try and get us happy because not only does God want us to be happy, but it’s uncomfortable for the friend to be around someone who is unhappy as well. We don’t like it.
Sometimes this leads to us not believing that God might want to work through the situation, that God might be there with us in the mist of our own unhappiness, trying to love us in the mist of that unhappiness, trying to hold us in our pain. Not understanding that can cause a major problem, and has before left people losing their faith because of one bad event that happens.
Of course, even without that there is a problem with just pursuing happiness as a goal. One of those problems is that happiness is situational and is highly dependent upon what is happening to us. Taking that to it’s ultimate conclusion: if God wants us happy, and God is not stopping these things that are happening to us that are making us unhappy, what does that tell us about God? It tells us that God is either: a) not powerful enough to stop those events or b) that God doesn’t love us enough to stop this events that are making us unhappy. And that’s yet another bad place that we can get to: believing that God doesn’t love us enough because God is allowing us to be unhappy and, after all, God wants us happy.
The pursuit of happiness itself is something that we in America have codified in one of our founding documents as something to be strived for, as some good in the world. The pursuit of happiness itself has the power to become an idolatry that would enslave us as much as the law the Paul is talking about in the Scripture. And society wants us to pursue happiness because society tells us that we can be happy with this one product that I just so happen to be selling to you for only three wonderful payments of $19.99 (and you can get free shipping on that).
And what winds up happening is that we begin to run to things for happiness and we run to anything but God in the midst of our troubles; and that is idolatry. We become dependent upon a new thing, upon a new experience, upon seeking that out, and then we begin to be enslaved to excitement and to getting a new thing or getting a new experience. God wants us to run to God in times of trouble. God wants us to seek out Jesus in the times of our distress; because God knows that things enslave but God will never enslave us in Jesus.
You might be thinking “wait, doesn’t Paul say that the law that came from God enslaved us?” And that is true; Paul is saying that. But that was not the intention for the law. That was simply because the law had been misused. The law is supposed to be something that would encourage us to live as children of God, but it had been warped into something that could be used to earn the status of a child of God. And in that it was enslaving.
Paul says in this passage that God doesn’t necessarily want happiness for us, but rather God wants us to have those benefits and the blessings that are associated with being an adopted child of God. I come to this conclusion because this passage doesn’t say “nothing bad will ever happen to you because Jesus has fulfilled the law,” it doesn’t say that “now you will be happy, now everything will be OK for you, because Jesus has fulfilled the law” even though it could. That would make as much sense as what is actually said if it were true. Rather what it says is that “now, because Jesus has fulfilled the law, you are a recipient of the blessings of a child of God.”
Those blessings are not always happiness. If you need proof of that, look to the people who were described as a person of God in Scripture. Look to the prophets of the Old Testament. Elijah is run into the desert by the Queen. Jeremiah is thrown into a pit and left die by the king. I don’t think they were happy in those moments. The apostles, all of them, were thrown in jail. Most of them were ultimately killed because they were following God. Paul puts it like this in 2 Corinthians:
“Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters;[e] 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.”
But we see in the scriptures as well is what the blessings of being a child of God are. When those apostles are in jail, chained to the wall, they are singing praises to God. When Christians are praising God on the way to the lions, like Daniel so many years ago. They had found something. They had found what God truly wants for a disciple. God does not necessarily want you to be happy in every moment, rather God is more focused about creating a mindset of joy within you. And God does want you to be joyful.
There is a difference between those two words. Happiness is a situational; it is in the moment. Joy is a state of being that is outside of the current situation. Perhaps a better way of putting that is: happiness is effected by the current situation; joy affects the current situation. Both of these things come from outside ourselves, but happiness comes from outside our lives, while joy comes from the Spirit. And the Spirit is inside us. The Spirit can go with us.
Joy serves to make our highs higher and our lows not quite as low, and certainly the valleys are shorter. You can rebound faster from the lows because your mindset is on joy; your perspective on the world is different. I’m reminded of Jesus’s parable where he talks about being afraid of God, who can impact both our physical and or spiritual, but not being afraid of any of this outside stuff that can only impact the physical. That word spoke to persecuted group of people in the first century, but it also is to us in our gorgeous building with stained-glass windows in the 21st century as well. This is not to say that God wants you unhappy, but is say that if you are unhappy, that doesn’t make you a bad Christian.
If God wants you to be joyful the next question is: how do you obtain joy? In my devotions this week I came upon a reflection in the Upper Room. This is actually for next week, so spoilers for Wednesday if you’re doing these, which I recommend. But on Wednesday a pastor named Ian Bailey said this:
“When I worked for a sales company, one of my co-workers was a man who was always smiling, laughing, and pleasant to be around. Everyone loved him for his spirit. One day while I was making a sales call, the person on the phone was disrespectful to me. As I voiced my answer nad frustration after the call, my colleague came into my office and said, ‘I’ve had calls like that before. When I do, I quickly pray to Jesus, smile, then make another call!’…[This man] was bearing the fruit of a deep relationship with Christ, and many of us were hungry for this kind of spiritual strength.”
The man had a joy that was contagious in an office that often brought unhappiness, even though the man had periods of unhappiness too. And the others wanted that which they struggled to have, including a pastor! So what lessons can be learned? First off, this is something that we are in a lifetime long process of doing. So if you don’t feel joyful in the moment, pray to God for it, but know that you’re also not a bad Christian in that moment either. Second, find joy by trusting in Jesus: trusting in Jesus that we are freed from a state of being forced to earn our security of spirit, and we have moved to a state of being, by default, loved.
This is truly what Paul is focused on here in this passage. This new state of no longer having to earn our love, no longer having to earn our status as a child of God, but rather having that given to us by default; that new status should inspire joy. Specifically, it should inspire the kind of joy that comes from relief after a long and stressful situation. The shoe or the hammer is no longer hanging over your head waiting for you to make a mistake, rather you’re free to live. And hopefully, if you’re in Jesus with the Spirit speaking inside of you, to live as Jesus would have you live.
Perhaps it is best described with these quotes: Joy is described as saying “everything is OK no matter what is happening around me because God is God.” Happiness is described as, “everything is OK because things look good right now. But that might change.” You’re only happy until the next event, but you’re joyful for longer, and maybe forever. This week I want you to find joy by letting go of your life, letting go of control, handing the wheel back over to Jesus, however you want to look at it, and focusing on the fact that God loves you because you are you, and you are a child of God through the action of Jesus Christ alone. I want you to find joy in focusing on that, whether you’re happy or not. Amen.