Monday, October 26, 2015

God Wants Us to Be Happy!


            Does God want us to be joyful and happy? In my last post, I confided to you that I think He does, and I promised to support my beliefs in this post. So let’s get right to it with some passages from the Old Testament.

            The Old Testament is full of “joy” passages. The Book of Psalms is loaded with them. In Psalm 5:11 we read:

But let all those rejoice who put their
            trust in You;
Let them ever shout for joy, because
            You defend them;
Let those also who love Your name
Be joyful in You.

            In this passage, the psalmist sings that those who trust in God should be always and forever shouting for joy. Shouting for joy. Not just smiling, but SHOUTING! The word joy in this passage is glee or exceeding gladness, mirth, pleasure, rejoicing. And the “joyful” can be translated as “jumping for joy.”
            This is an ecstatic kind of joy. And what is the reason for it?
            God. We are giddy and celebratory, because God is our defender.
            Can you imagine what the world would think if all believers in God walked around celebrating, shouting and rejoicing about Him!? I think they’d be stunned, because right now the world sees us as judgmental, argumentative, narrow-minded, and definitely not much more joyful than the rest of the world. In some instances, many of us maybe even act more severe and morose than the general population. We really need to seriously ask ourselves: If God is for us, why are we not ecstatic?

In Psalm 16:11 we read:

You will show me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
At your right hand are pleasures


            Again we see that when we are “practicing the presence of God,” as Brother Lawrence so beautifully worded it, our communing with God makes it impossible not to be joyful! Fully joyful. If that is true, then I think all we have to do is enter into His presence to experience that kind of joy. And if we’re not experiencing it, maybe we need to ask ourselves if we lack joy because we have not asked and we have not been spending critical time that we need with Him to be filled up with that joy. And why wouldn’t we be driven to spend that kind of time with Him if His right hand extends eternal pleasures to us?

In Psalm 21:1, King David says:

The king shall have joy in Your
            strength, O LORD:
            And in Your salvation how greatly shall he rejoice!

            Joy in this passage means to “brighten up, cheer up, be made glad, making merry.” And why does David make merry? He’s reveling in God’s strength (not his own); and he rejoices in God’s salvation. Knowing that we have salvation, and being secure in that knowledge, should be a cause for celebrating! And how do you rejoice? The definition of rejoice in this passage evokes quite a word picture. It stems from the root word that means to spin around, the way you would when you are “under the influence of any violent emotion.” I’ve seen thousands of sports fans do that when their beloved athletic team wins big, but I don’t see too many believers spinning around, shouting and carrying on about God and His salvation. People would probably think we were not quite right.
            For me, it brings back memories of the Jesus movement in the late sixties and early seventies, when young Christians in the United States gathered together as a hippie countercultural movement, in an effort to draw believers back to the early church model. The movement started on the West Coast. Those passionate, rejoicing, giddy, exuberant and vocal followers of Jesus were dubbed “Jesus freaks.” They stood out for their passion, love, purpose and focus. They carted their Bibles around with them and weren’t afraid to identify with their Savior. They were “sold out” for Jesus, and they let everyone know about it. As a high school junior, I attended one of those revival meetings in a tent in California, where Pastor Chuck Smith—the founder of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California—drew thousands of California teens. (My Chemistry class lab partner, Georgia, invited me to attend with her.) While I didn’t have enough guts to venture down front so everyone could see me, it changed my life. After that, I couldn’t get enough of Jesus and His word, and I was HAPPY!! JOYFUL! Changed. In a heartbeat. I’ve berated myself a thousand times for letting others “steal” that joy from me. For giving it away so easily. How could I forfeit something so precious?

            Moving on to Psalm 26:7, we find David once again talking about joy. And this time he’s offering sacrifices of it.

And now my head shall be lifted
            up above my enemies all
            around me.
Therefore I will offer sacrifices of joy
            in His tabernacle;
I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to
            the LORD.

            Joy. A "battle cry, an alarm, a clamor of trumpets, a shout." Nothing silent here. It’s another jubilee moment for David, when he wants everyone to hear his happiness and understand why he’s so joyful. While it’s true that the sacrifices in this passage involved the Old Testament animal sacrifices, we don’t need to offer those anymore. Jesus took care of that on the cross. He was the eternal and final sacrifice for which we now offer to Him our joy. So now we can offer different sacrifices of joy. Have you ever considered your joyful worship and celebration something that God considers a sacrifice? Something that He finds immensely pleasing?
            When I read this passage, I imagine David offering sacrifices of joy for two reasons: First, because of what He knows God is going to do for him in the future; and then after what God ends up doing for him. There is joy both before and after the event. Joy. Always joy!
            We’ll end it right there today. We’ll cover more passages in the next several weeks, leading right up to the United States’ holiday of Thanksgiving. When this entire nation responds with joy and thanksgiving. The first Thanksgiving in America was initiated by my ancestors, who were members of the sect of Pilgrims who left England due to religious persecution. And they organized this Thanksgiving celebration for one purpose: To thank God for His blessings and harvest, for the new Native American friends they had met, learned to live with, and with whom they had established a covenant.           
            Did they overflow with joy because life was easy, and because after sailing to the New World everything went perfectly and all of the immigrants had made it safely through the first year? No. They celebrated in spite of heavy losses. (Many, including my great, great, great, great….grandparents and uncle died in that first winter due to bitter cold, lack of food, and disease.) They celebrated in spite of their struggles and frustrations because they knew that the only reason any of them survived, and were able to become established in this new land and reap any kind of edible harvest, was due to God’s goodness, mercy, blessings, and His defense.
           Yes, God does want us to be happy. And we have so much for which to be joyful and celebrate!

            So as we go through this week, take heart, and be joyful, because you know:
            1) God is your defense.
            2) He is strong and provides you with salvation.
            3) He does lift up your head when life seems as dark as it can possibly get.

            Joy! It’s our battle cry! Join the celebration parade. Be happy, be giddy, rejoice, for that demeanor and emotion is a pleasing sacrifice to God!

Until next week,

Thanks for joining me!

With great joy,


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Monday, October 19, 2015

Does God Want Us to Be Happy?

           There seems to be a perennial debate in Christian circles that revolves around this question: Does God want us to be happy?
            In the “Name It and Claim It” (otherwise known as the Prosperity Gospel) corner, you hear the resounding answer “Yes! And not only does God want you to be happy, but He also wants you to be wealthy, comfortable and successful, and generally have life altogether.
            In the other corner, you have the more morose group that says, “No, God doesn’t want you to be happy; He wants you to be content.” Which implies, of course, that mature Christians have moved passed that pipe dream of feeling as though they need to walk around with grins plastered on their faces and take a holier, pious outlook on life. To them, happiness seems to be an evasive allusion, an emotion not worth the paper it’s written on and immensely overrated.
            Finally, you have the people in the middle who are sometimes happy and sometimes not, and waffle back and forth between the two corners. They’re not sure if God wants you to be happy or not, and they don’t worry about it too much. They just live life day-to-day, making pragmatic decisions.
            I apologize if I sound cynical, but the subject has been nagging my conscious a lot lately. (Maybe because I seem to have been having so many days tinged with feelings of unhappiness.) Are we supposed to be happy, or are we not supposed to pursue that goal or live in expectation of it? Why are some Christians just oozing happiness and joy while others seem to mope through life? Are they really that happy or just faking it for the rest of us?
            I hear people say you can lose your joy and happiness, but I’m not convinced that’s correct, either. Certainly you can feel pain and grief at the loss of a loved one, a job, a wandering prodigal son or daughter, or a friend’s rejection. But do you have to lose your joy or happiness in the process?
            Saying you “lost” something implies that you misplaced it. According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, it encompasses some of the following:

1. unable to be found;
2. not knowing where you are or how to get to where you want to go: unable to find your way;
3. no longer held, owned, or possessed; and even
4. hopelessly unattainable.

            Let me back up and refresh your memory with the definitions of joy and happiness I gave you last week, per Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Joy is the: “feeling of great happiness.” And happiness is the: feeling pleasure and enjoyment because of your life, situation, etc.; or showing or causing feelings of pleasure and enjoyment.”
         Given those definitions, my belief is that if you are a Christian, it is impossible to “lose” joy. And if you can’t lose your joy, then I think it’s hard to lose your happiness. I mean true happiness. Not the fly-by-night kind of happiness.
            Why do I say that? Because if you are a Christian, you know the Lord, He has taken up residence in your heart, and, because of these truths: You know the source of the joy and you know where to find the joy and happiness. While you might not know the way to go, He does, and you can trust that He will lead you there. As for the third definition, I’m not in the camp that believes you can lose it, because He promises never to leave us or forsake use. So, if He’s with us always, we always have joy.
            So if we’re not feeling so joyful or happy right now, and we aren’t in the middle of profound grief, then I think we can identify some reasons why we find ourselves without joy or happiness in our lives:

1. We spend too much time listening to advertisers tell us what we need, and, worse yet, what we deserve.

2. We’re easily bored, and, as a result, we’re dissatisfied with our lives.

3. We make too many not well-thought-out and knee-jerk decisions based on what someone else says we should do with our lives; or decisions based on our fragile, unreliable emotions. The end result is often not doing what God designed and gave us the talent to do. We’re “kicking against the goad,’ as Jesus put it. And He says that’s hard to do.

4. We spend too much time comparing ourselves to others, especially the more successful.

5. We’re just plain weak and double-minded and let our fleshly desires (and, often, our misguided hearts) drive us to make poor choices. And those poor choices can lead to disastrous results.

6. We arrogantly reject sound advice and then suffer.

7. We spend a lot of time complaining and pointing fingers of blame at others. (It’s tough to be happy with that kind of attitude. And as the old adage goes, When you’re pointing your finger, take a look at how many fingers are actually pointed back toward you.)

8. We focus on our human limitations rather than on His power and love.

            The more I ask myself why I’m unhappy, or feel just blah and flat, the more often I come to the conclusion that it’s because I’m letting my ego and human flesh take control and allowing someone—or something—to rob me of my happiness. No. Let me change that. To be honest, I’m probably pointing fingers and giving too much credit to someone else; or spending too much time thinking about how someone else has robbed me of my joy.
            In reality, I’m actually giving my joy and happiness away, or deliberately laying them down and setting them aside. That’s what you do when you lose something. You lay it down and forget where you put it. And then I end up reveling in a one-woman pity party. (Let me clarify that I’m not talking about losing a loved one to death. In that sense, perhaps we don’t use the term lose properly.)
            So, after thinking these deep thoughts, asking questions, and, yes, hunting through God’s word on the matter, I’ve arrived at the conclusion that the Christian teachers who tell us that God doesn’t want us to be happy (and talk about it as though it’s a flimsy, overrated and fleeting feeling) tell us that because they aren’t too happy and they don’t know how to be.
            So, yes, I believe God does want us to take His joy and be happy! And if that’s the conclusion, other questions naturally arise: If God does want us to be happy, what kind of happy does He mean? Self-indulgent happy? I just got a great new dress at a great price happy? Everything’s going my way happy?
            Or: Does being happy, or full or joy, mean an absence of frustration or grief? Can happiness and frustration co-exist?
            Before we answer those questions, let’s return to the fourth definition of lost being something hopeless or unattainable. I think it will become obvious during the next several posts that joy and happiness are not hopeless endeavors. They are not something unattainable. If we are believers in Jesus Christ, we already have them, they are ours to keep, ours to pursue, ours to grasp. They are ours to handle and care for as precious commodities that most of the world finds elusive.
            Ultimately, they are ours to share and to give.

            Perhaps I’m wrong, but I hope not (and I don’t think I am).

            Join me over the next couple of posts, and I’ll give you supporting answers that helped me arrive at my conclusion. And we’ll answer the questions I’ve asked here.

            Join the discussion. And if you think I’m way off base and just plain wrong, let me know why you feel that way!

So, until next week,

Thanks for joining me!



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Monday, October 12, 2015

Restoring Your Joy

            Joy. What goes through your mind when you read that word? Did you nod your head and smile with the thought of the overflowing joy you have in your heart and life? Or did you shake your head and say to yourself, I wish had some of that!
            Joy. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as a “feeling of great happiness.” Not just your usual happiness, mind you, but “great” happiness. And they define happy as “feeling pleasure and enjoyment because of your life, situation, etc.; or showing or causing feelings of pleasure and enjoyment.” It’s something we seem to long for and often find evasive. If we find it, we want to hang onto it, which evidently isn’t easy to do. Even King David cried out to God to restore to him the joy of his salvation. The kind of joy that makes you breathless and giddy. The kind of joy that prompted my cousin to say, “Even the air smells different!” at the moment she surrendered to God and He penetrated her heart.
            But, eventually, life, your circumstances or others can suck the joy right out of you. Or is it you letting those circumstances and people steal it from you? Certainly heart-crushing grief can deplete and smother it. That’s understandable. But a lot of us, especially in the developed Western world—where we really do have life too easy and often have too much time on our hands and waste time sitting around comparing ourselves to others, wishing we had what they had, and convincing ourselves that no one has ever had it as bad as we do and that nobody understands our pain, etc.—find joy elusive, even though we’ve had it before and know how to get it back.  (How’s that for a run-on sentence of complaints?)
            But it’s not necessarily just joy recovery that I want to address today, although that is a by-product of following through on the advice another writer gives in a post I’ll be providing a link to.
            What I want to address today is the effect our joyless lives, attitudes and demeanors have on our family and friends, or even those we just happen to come into contact with on a daily basis. They can become the collateral damage of your joyless attitude.
            I have a friend who is angry about life. I can tell this person is angry and joyless just from the attitude they have toward everyone—family members, and even strangers. And that attitude threatens to suck the joy out of everyone who comes in contact with them.
            In this post I’ve linked to, you’ll read about how one woman’s lack of joy affected her children. Sadly, I can relate. I remember the time my older son (who was probably ten at the time) bounced happily out to the kitchen one morning to bless me with a cheery good morning and a beatific smile. He had always been a smiley, “Wow-it’s-a-new-day-and-isn’t-life-great” kind of kid, even from birth, and that morning was no different.
            And how did I respond? I greeted him with some ridiculously harsh, snappy comment like “Did you make your bed yet?” I can only imagine the look on my face when I spat out the question. And I can still hear and see his response. His smile withered in a split second, and was replaced by a pained expression. His shoulders slumped, and I can still hear the words he mumbled as he turned and started back toward his bedroom: “Why did I even get out of bed this morning!?”
            That vision of my son still breaks my heart. I was suffering from frustration and joylessness in my life at that time, and I took it out on him. And, I’m sure, nearly everyone around me, which certainly didn’t do anything to help my joyless life become more joyful. It just made everyone want to avoid me. It would take gratitude, a lot of prayer and a change of attitude to correct it.
            And it still takes a change of attitude—and behavior—because I still struggle with moments of joyless living. But, after years of experience, there are two things I do when joylessness strikes: First, I look to the heavens and say, “Oh, Lord, restore unto me the joy of my salvation. And then I smile in gratitude, because I know He’s faithful, and He’ll answer that prayer.
            Because a joyful life is part of His plan for his children. And in His presence, there is a fullness of it!

Next week: Does God want you to be happy?

You bet He does!

Until next week,

Thanks for joining me!



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