by Steven Gledhill for FREEdom from MEdom Project
“What can this incessant craving, and this impotence of attainment mean unless there was once a happiness belonging to man, of which only the faintest of traces remain, in that void which he attempts to fill with everything within his reach?” —Pascal (Pensées)
Why is it that the our efforts to be happy too often produce greater unhappiness and dissatisfaction? Why is it that in our pursuit of happiness we settle for attractions connected to that which removes us further from what we really want that, well… would truly make us happy? Why does it comes so easy to buy what temptation is selling, even though we know better? Oops… I did it, again.
“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists… If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” —C.S. Lewis
Happiness is a polarizing subject. While discussing the topic of happiness, it can be easy to feel uneasy about it. Talking about happiness can raise questions. It can also elevate some anxiety and stress; especially if you feel you’re supposed to be happy, but you’re not so sure that you are. Just talking about it can lead a person to feeling less happy.
How often does a happy experience lead to disappointment, heartache, and pain? How often does fortune lead to misfortune… favor to disfavor, and so on? What goes up, must come down. At least, that’s how it seems to be… that the pursuit of happiness is a kind of bipolar experience.
Author’s note: The term “bipolar” applied to this article does not refer in any way to the mental health diagnosis or symptoms of bipolar disorder.
It’s too often the case that the harder we go after what we want, what we get takes us farther away from what we want. Why is that? Could it be that what we end up chasing is connected in some way to things that are in direct opposition to what we truly desire? How can we be so blind to it? Are we that naive? Unaware? Outfoxed?
The polarizing reality regarding the pursuit of happiness, is the natural trend toward seeking, or should I say chasing, happiness in so many of the wrong places. There is so much that appears gratifying, and perhaps is for a little while, but turns out to be connected to something quite discomforting; even painful. Then, the more we seek to remedy our discomfort in the pursuit of happiness, the remedy is connected ultimately to something even more painful. The harder we pursue it, the more it hurts. The more we seek to shake loose from the discomfort that entangles us, the more tangled and twisted it all gets until we’re caught and it feels as though there is no way out. What a mess!
We all want to be happy… truly happy. We all want peace… to truly be at peace. We all want to be free… truly free. Free from anxiety, stress, sadness, disappointment, and fear.
Freedom might be the most valued of all human experience. When I have asked people what it means for them to be happy, it is a challenging question to answer. When they struggle to respond to the question, I ask, “When was the last time you were happy?”
Still, a challenging question.
What is happiness? What does happy look like?
I recently asked someone in her late 70s, who I know quite well, what happiness looked like for her? I had already had a lengthy discussion with her about this topic of happiness and joy. This is a woman who loves God. Both of her husbands have passed from this life into the presence of the Lord. Her children have grown into their 40s and 50s, and she has grandchildren and great grandchildren.
My mother responded by talking about the security in her life. She is provided for. She has a roof over her head. She has food on the table when she is hungry. She spoke of being satisfied that she has the “sustenance” for living what hopefully is another couple of decades. She is comfortable. She is useful. She is involved in ministry at her church. She volunteers mentoring young grade-school children with their reading at the school my mother up in. She is loved by so many. She has so much to be happy about in these latter years of her life.
I asked her about the most challenging and difficult times in her life. We both knew what those times were like for her. There was severe physical affliction, along with emotional, psychological, and even spiritual hardship. She has been quite forthright with me about how miserable she was during those seasons of pain and struggle.
So I asked her about the things both she and I mentioned in the above paragraph regarding the “sustenance” she spoke of. I asked her if she indeed had most of those things while going through the hardest of times when she hurt so badly, and she agrees she was not happy?”
My mother understood the question and agreed that the “sustenance” she feels describes her happiness now, hardly evoked feelings of happiness during those darkest of days. When discussing with her the difference—contrast—as subtle as it is between happiness and joy (which I describe in-depth shortly), she could light up and recall the joy she knew existed in her life even in the worst of times. I will get to that.
When I counseled inmates in prison, I often asked what happy looked like to them. They typically responded, “FREEDOM!” They spoke of being at home loving their mate and enjoying their children; those happiest of times with family and friends; free to enjoy it for all it was worth.
My next question: Why are you in prison, or for most of the men, back in prison? You had your freedom. You had the love of your family. If you were truly happy—satisfied—why wasn’t it enough for you? Heads slumped toward the floor by then as they pondered, regrettably, that truth. I wasn’t meaning to be cruel; you know… kicking the man while he’s down. But I was intentional about poking the bear. Did he finally hurt enough to change course?
Even when in the company of what brings the man happiness, he would take off on some wayward and reckless path, chasing after things that would cost him his freedom and separate him from what he wanted and valued most; that which felt happy. Most of the time, it was motivation to return to some sensibility about what the man valued most about his life. It was time to commit to some changes, and rearrange his perspective about what brings him happiness, and what being truly happy looks like.
What about you?
Are you happy? What does happiness look like for you? Looking back, how have you experienced happiness?
I work as a counselor with people who really… I mean, really… struggle with this. Most of the people I work with have considered, or even attempted, suicide. They are patients in a behavioral (mental) health setting. We go deep into the reality of happiness and how it is experienced. Most who contemplate or attempt suicide do so due to perceived hopelessness, carrying the stringent belief that happiness is not at all possible for them.
When asking patients what happiness is and what it looks like, they typically respond by telling me what happiness is not.
To be happy is to not be feeling sad, feeling anxious, or stressed. To be happy is to not be riddled with regret and burdened by shame. To be happy is to not hold on to anger or carry resentment. To be happy is to not feel so much pressure to live up to expectations. To be happy is to not feel judged. To be happy is to be able to trust and be trusted. To be happy is to love and be loved; free from betrayal, rejection, and loss.
To be or not to be? That is the question.
It does appear to be far less challenging to respond to the question of happiness by deferring to what happiness is not. Happiness is not feeling held captive. Happiness is not feeling bound by anything. Happiness must involve feeling free from adversity; free from attack; free from pain. Therefore, happiness and freedom are synonymous— symbiotic, if you will—with one another.
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:6-9 (NKJV)
So, the Apostle Peter is suggesting that when troubled, tested, and grieved, we can experience inexpressible joy, full of glory. Talk about a weighted statement.
Another apostle, James, explained it another way, when he wrote…
When troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. James 1:2-4 (NLT)
How many of you consider the arduous challenges and times of grief and hardship in your life as a golden opportunity to persevere, grow, and revel in your joy?
Happiness and Joy: A Subtle Contrast
What is joy, anyway? How might it be the same as, and/or different than, happiness?
I’m not altogether sure how to answer that. I know there have been times in my life when I thought it was suspect whether or not I was happy. Even now, I am not always certain how to describe the happiness I experience.
Happiness seems to be too closely tethered to circumstances. I looked up the word ‘happy’ in the dictionary, and Merriam-Webster suggests that happy has to do with favorable fortune, experiencing contentment, effectively well-adapted, expression and reflection of feeling pleased, and enthusiasm about something to the point of obsession. Dictionary.com sited pleasure as a source of happiness.
Joy, according to Merriam-Webster, is obtaining and/or experiencing what one desires, or realizing the prospect of what one desires and expects, experiencing favor and fortune, a source or cause of delight, and then finally, happiness and felicity, which is defined as great happiness that peeks or cuts through feeling sullen and gloom. Dictionary.com associates joy as keen, or piercing pleasure and delight, exceptionally good, appreciated, and satisfying, exceptionally valuable and worthwhile.
Is their a difference or contrast between happiness and joy? Maybe, maybe not. But what I see is a subtle, but significant contrast between them.
Happiness appears to be more tied into circumstances associated with pleasure and being well able to adapt, while joy appears to be more intrinsic, running deeper into the nature of a person. Happiness it seems is experienced more from the outside in, while joy seems to have a more profound effect on who we are in our experience from the inside out.
Joy cuts through our circumstances. Joy may elicit more positivity and optimism in the face of adverse circumstances. Joyful people may be more willing to tap into the source of their intrinsic delight while tested by challenging circumstances. Joyful people may be less suspect upon periencing loss, and instead seek wisdom to continue on and persevere.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled. Matthew 5:6 (NKJV)
I suppose it can be pointed out that the word ‘happy’ in the Bible tends to be translated, ‘blessed.’ The Beattitudes in the Gospel of Matthew use the same word for ‘blessed’ that is typically translated from the original Greek language as the word for happy. If you’ll indulge me for a bit, I would like to share with you something I found in my study on this.
What I found are some remarks from Brian Stoffregen, writing for CrossMarks. He wrote:
Who wants to be a lowly person? Who wants to be stooped down? Most of us spend a good part of our lives trying to pull ourselves up. We want to walk tall in society. But, according to this rabbi, it is the lowly – those stooped low – who see the face of God. According to Jesus in the Beatitudes, it is the lowly – those stooped low – who are blessed by God. This runs counter to the normal uses of that word for blessed, makarios.
What does it mean to be blessed? The Greek word for “blessed” used in the Beatitudes is makarios (plural: makaroioi). The following is a study of how this word has been used (mostly taken from the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament).
In ancient Greek times, makarios referred to the gods. The blessed ones were the gods. They had achieved a state of happiness and contentment in life that was beyond all cares, labors, and even death. The blessed ones were beings who lived in some other world away from the cares and problems and worries of ordinary people. To be blessed, you had to be a god.
Makarios took on a second meaning. It referred to the “dead”. The blessed ones were humans, who, through death, had reached the other world of the gods. They were now beyond the cares and problems and worries of earthly life. To be blessed, you had to be dead. That is the origin of the different saints days — they are remembered on the dates of their deaths. All Saints Day was for all the people who had died in the faith whose names we didn’t know.
Finally, in Greek usage, makarios came to refer to the elite, the upper crust of society, the wealthy people. It referred to people whose riches and power put them above the normal cares and problems and worries of the lesser folk — the peons, who constantly struggle and worry and labor in life. To be blessed, you had to be very rich and powerful.
When this word, makarios was used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, it took on another meaning. It referred to the results of right living or righteousness. If you lived right, you were blessed. Being blessed meant you received earthly, material things: a good wife, many children, abundant crops, riches, honor, wisdom, beauty, good health, etc. A blessed person had more things and better things than an ordinary person. To be blessed, you had to have big and beautiful things.
In all of these meanings, the “blessed” ones lived in a higher plane than the rest of us. They were gods. They were humans who had gone to the world of the gods. They were the wealthy, upper crust. They were those with many possessions. The blessed were those people and beings who lived above the normal cares, problems, and worries of normal people.
Matthew (reflecting Jesus’ thoughts) uses this word in a totally different way. It is not the elite who are blessed. It is not the rich and powerful who are blessed. It is not the high and mighty who are blessed. It is not the people living in huge mansions or expensive penthouses who are blessed. Rather, Jesus pronounces God’s blessings on the lowly: the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the meek, the mourning. Throughout the history of this word, it had always been the other people who were considered blessed: the rich, the filled up, the powerful. Jesus turns it all upside-down. The elite in God’s kingdom, the blessed ones in God’s kingdom, are those who are at the bottom of the heap of humanity.
So, even at the time when Matthew applied the word blessed to the words of Jesus from the Beattitudes, he used a word that was typically known for referring to earthly favor and fortune in the similar way that most typically assimilate the word ‘happy’ in our cultural language today. That’s fine with me. Happy is good! Happy is good when we consider the only viable source in our pursuit of happiness. Anything else, and we come up short, and likely suffer unintended consequences.
If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. James 1:6-7 (NLT)
Joyful people expect to receive from the source of their joy. As challenges as circumstances can be, joyful people may be more likely to reach out to both extend to others the joy they’ve realized from within from a curious confidence that cuts through their adversity; and, to reach out to receive from others whom they know have realized from deep within the same experience from the same source of their joy. So in a sense, joyful folks mayhave a tendency to sort of revel in their joy in the face of intense challenges, knowing that the source of their joy in life is generous, without holding anything back.
Joy seems to be experienced in relationship with the source of their joy, while happy tends to be fleeting as circumstances ebb and flow; inflate and deflate. Friendships and marriages that are healthy are authentic in their commitment to the relationship experience. There is joy in the life of those hearty relationships. Parents find joy in the love they experience with their children. Children are especially joyful in the presence of, and their dependence on their parents. Loyal, committed friendships share in the experience of joy. They trust in and draw unabashed confidence in those relationships. It’s a joy that breaks through hardship, which having endured it, produces bonds in relationship that are even stronger, more trustworthy, and more reliable when tested.
Having established that joy may be deeper and profoundly experienced, cutting through pain and struggle, perhaps transcending happiness, it raises another question:
How is joy fully realized and experienced?
Problem of Dissatisfaction
The whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one. 1 John 5:17 (NKJV)
We live in a self-destructive world. Living in a culture of entitlement, everyone wants their fair share. I absolutely believe in a capitalist society. But capitalism in most of the civilized world is steeped so deeply in lust and greed that it is terribly corrupt and polluted. It is capitalism gone mad. Capitalism isn’t at fault. People are. If you are educated, employed, and especially if you’re privileged, you get to… (fill in the blank here). So when we have set up an incredibly dysfunctional system of haves and have-nots, the screams of injustice are heard everywhere.
People who have earned what they have are still dissatisfied, and so often are jealous of those that have more, whether they’ve earned what they have or not. Those that don’t have what they believe is their fair share are angry that the system is rigged, so they are at a disadvantage in their effort to earn. So the have-nots feel they have to attack the system. Whatever side of the prosperity/poverty fence someone dwells, it’s never quite enough. There is always more. There is always better that stands in the way of happiness.
The haves can live with a selfish sense of entitlement, but so can the have-nots. Why shouldn’t I be able to have and enjoy what you have? Why not? What makes you better than me? Your money? Your stuff?
What about the cries of injustice, and the desperate need for justice in most civilized cultures? There is no doubt injustice and inequality all around us. But there are so many out there that covet the privilege of the wealthy, and feel entitled to their fair share. Rather than enjoying what they have, they crave what they don’t (and may never) have.
31 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
33 “But we are descendants of Abraham,” they said. “We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?”
34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. 35 A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. John 8:31-36 (NLT)
It is our preoccupation with satisfaction that is the bane of our quality of life, hampering our ability to experience joy. Why? Because we are slaves to what we want that we sense is missing from our experience. We are so easily consumed by what dissatisfies, leaving us with that lingering—even static—feeling that something is missing.
“I was so obsessed with me and the reasons I might be dissatisfied that I couldn’t focus on other people.” —Barack Obama
What really is the issue, satisfied or dissatisfied?
Just as attempting to break down what happy looks and feels like, breaking down what satisfied looks and feels like is equally challenging. So, rather than focus attention on what satisfaction looks and feels like, it’s much simpler and obvious to break down what dissatisfaction looks and feels like. The same could be said about feeling content or discontent… feeling fulfilled or unfulfilled.
The Apostle Paul wrote…
4 Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! 5 Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.
6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
11 Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Philippians 4:4-7, 11-13 (NLT)
How did Paul get there? What potion was he drinking?
Everything you have read until now about happiness, I suppose can be said about satisfaction. If satisfaction is having all that you want and believe you need, and no longer feeling want or need, it could be said that no one ever has experienced feeling fully satisfied. However, I suppose any one of us could go on and on about what feeling unsatisfied feels like. We all know what want and need feels like, regardless of whether we are wealthy or poor. The poor work to survive and the wealthy work to obtain more wealth.
I write a great deal about want and need because it is central to our livelihood. We don’t do anything we don’t want to do. Whether what we do is to gain something or to avoid losing something, we do what we want to experience what we want, and to experience not what we don’t want.
What is want, a thought or a feeling? What is need, a thought or a feeling? What is motivation, a thought or a feeling? What is willingness, a thought or a feeling? What is resistance, a thought or a feeling? What is fear, a thought or a feeling?
What about jealousy, resentment, stress, anxiety, optimism, pessimism, superior and inferior, confidence and doubt, trust and distrust, the sense of responsibility, hopeless and helpless?
The list goes on, right?
For most of what I listed, you might say they are thoughts and feelings. That’s fair. But let me suggest to you that what is happening to us in our brain is that the emotional component of our brain that drives feeling is influencing, manipulating, and may even be controlling the rational (reasonable, logical, sensible) component of the way the brain functions. Our feelings feed our thoughts, that fuel behavioral choices, that drive action and reaction, leading to reasonable experiences, like it or not.
I understand that I have put a great deal of energy into identifying this problem in order to consider a solution. I do so because as naturally self-centered humans, we tend not to care enough about a problem until we hurt enough to care enough to acknowledge that we even have a problem in the first place.
His disciples during the time of his ministry had been riding the wave. It was chocked full of ups and downs, ebbs and flows. One minute they were atop the crest of the wave, and the next, feeling like they’d sink into the depths of the sea. But all the while they were with Jesus, with whom they had very little doubt. But having ridden the wave of faith in the presence of their savior, what would happen should they be on their own? Would they rise to the occasion of their next challenge, or would they weaken and succumb to their vulnerabilities?
Jesus, by the time he’d reached the last day of his ministry, shared his concern for his friends living in what he understood to be a culture of entitlement at that time in history. His disciples had been with him in ministry for three years. They had seen the healings and miracles, resurrections, and one of them even walked on water with Jesus. These friends of Christ had realized their hope for something so much bigger than they were, yet Jesus knew they were still so vulnerable to temptations that, should his friends surrender to them, could have their joy stolen from them.
Now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by your truth. Your word is truth. John 17:13-17 (NKJV)
This is the polarizing reality of both happiness and joy. More than anything, we value our freedom: freedom from dissatisfaction; freedom from anxiety and stress; freedom from discomfort and pain; freedom from guilt and shame; freedom from anger and resentment; freedom from loss; and ultimately, freedom from fear.
You might ask, “Don’t we value love most?”
Good question. When love is perfect, love is free of fear. Our problem is that so long as we are not perfect, we are incapable of entirely selfless love, and therefore our experience of love typically involves a degree of conflict, anxiety, stress, pain, loss, and fear. Unfortunately, love for us is on many levels discomforting. When love is experienced purely in the spirit (attitude) rendered unto us by God, it is both selfless and fearless. However, only those surrendered daily to a servant’s heart through relationship with Christ, experience anything close to exchanging selfless, fearless love.
What impedes our ability to experience joy is when we seek our “happiness” in the offerings of the world; meaning via the carnality of the flesh. Jesus spoke directly to that when he expressed his desire to his Father on that last night in front of his friends that they embrace and experience the fulfillment of the joy that only he can provide.
Jesus understood as a man who had experienced real temptation (meaning there was the possibility Jesus could give in to temptation, otherwise he wasn’t truly tempted), that the pursuit of happiness is flirtation with the evil one. Jesus knew by experience the temptation to give in to selfish pride. Jesus was no doubt tempted in his anger, justified or not. Jesus was certainly tempted to sin in his relationships to cross the line to get what he wanted and needed as a human being in the likeness of sinful flesh (Romans 8:3). If not the case, then Jesus was not really tempted at all.
How close did Jesus come to having sinned in the face of formidable challenges? We don’t have to be honest in our discussion about that. We can choose to believe that Jesus was above it all as the son of God. But having emptied himself of divine standing and privilege (Philippians 2:5-7), Jesus was not the same as God the Father, and needed to depend on God to be and do what he was called to be and do (John 5:30).
While the evil one Jesus is talking about is the devil and demonic forces, the evil one is sin and selfishness and our vulnerability because of our insatiable desire for satisfaction.
14 So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. 15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. 17 So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Romans 7:14-24 (NLT)
As a counselor, whether I am addressing a group of children, adolescents or adults, the primary issue is the same. It’s all about getting what we want when we want it. The issue is the same for you as well. You might be a lot more subtle and patient about it, but when you’re honest, you have desires you believe to be needs. Maybe you need what you want, maybe you don’t. Maybe you believe you deserve what you want and believe you need, maybe you don’t.
To believe you are selfless and pure in your feeling of humility toward those you love the most, you are lying to yourself, and are in fact, wrong about it. You just read the Scripture. It is what it is. As soon as we’re honest about what we want more than anything, the sooner we make behavioral choices from a reasonably knowledgeable place, rather than impulsive behavioral choices that can prove harmful and destructive.
What do you want more than anything? To love and be loved? To be successful in some way, however success is measured in the context of what you hope for? Does what you want more than anything have more to do with what you don’t want? Do you want to be free from stress… pain… heartache… division… loss?
I stated earlier that we tend to measure our happiness according to what we are experiencing that is burdensome. Our lives are full of hardships that are difficult to endure. We find the stress to be distressing. Discomfort requires a remedy, driving us to reach for something to make us less unhappy. Even if freedom isn’t realistic in the storm of our circumstances, we feed our need to be freer than we are in our pain. We need healing when we hurt. So to be less unhappy we feel the need to do what we have to do. We are starving to experience some semblance of freedom; to feel better than we do. So we’ll settle for less and call it… oh, what should we call it?
What is happening, however, is self-sabotage. We feel better for a minute, but then what we settled for is the opposite of what we want because of the pain it’s connected to. We’re worse off than we were. We are less free. Instead, we find ourselves wanting to feel less bad than pursuing any logical path to authentic happiness and joy.
To Settle is Unsettling
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:21 (NKJV)
What I value most I will pursue with my whole heart. What I value most is not so easy to get my hands on. What I value most I treasure, so I must try. Not to sound too cliche, but the thing about treasure is that it just might be buried and hidden. It feels like a great mystery. The thing about going on a search for this buried treasure is that I have found the map that shows me where to find it. The marvelous mystery has been unveiled. When I find it, I anticipate I will have to do some digging. But the map has shown me where to dig and how deep I need to be willing to dig. The earth above the treasure is loose. The digging will not be particularly difficult but will require some sacrifice on my part.
Here lies the problem.
There is what I want and believe I need, and there is I am willing to settle for when what I want appears to be out of my reach; especially when I have been misinformed along the way. If what I want and ultimately and need is to be free from discomfort, then I ought to be in pursuit of that freedom. But life being what it is, it’s going to cost me something.
If it costs too much, and what it costs causes me some discomfort, why would I add to my discomfort to be set free from it? How does that make sense? So what I do, is lower my expectations a bit and pay for something cheaper. The reality is that I get what I pay for. If what I really want is going to cost me enough effort that it may involve a degree of pain, then it only makes sense to me that I settle for something cheaper. So I do. I own what I purchased, but then it breaks down until costs me more to restore it than the price I paid in the first place.
Allow me to share a story. This here is a little ditty about Liddle Jimmy.
Liddle Jimmy ran to the door to greet his friends, with mom not far behind. He could see his friends through the bank of windows on either side of the front door. He opened the front door with anticipation with his mother at his side.
Liddle Jimmy’s friends were polite and respectful and knew to ask little Jimmy’s mom, “Can Jimmy com out to play?”
“Of course,” Liddle Jimmie’s mother responded. “As soon as Liddle Jimmy makes his bed.”
The countenance on Liddle Jimmy’s face instantly changed to that sort of pouty expression. A wrench in the grand scheme of things. A change in plans. Oh no! Liddle Jimmy was going to have to make his bed. How long would that take? A minute or two? Mom’s standards aren’t all that high for what a made bed needs to look like, but…
“But, I don’t have time for that!” Liddle Jimmy thought.
“Can I make it later, mom?” Liddle Jimmy asked. “I wanna go play!”
“You know the drill, Liddle Jimmy,” Mom replied. “It’ll take you two minutes of your day to make your bed. Hurry up, so you can play.”
“Come on, mom. Just let me go!”
Liddle Jimmy’s mother knew where this was headed so she said to Liddle Jimmy’s friends, “Can you boys wait a couple of minutes, Liddle Jimmy will be right out.” Anticipating this might become a thing with her boy, mom closed the front door.
Muffled through the glass, one of Liddle Jimmy’s friends could be heard yelling through cupped hands against the glass, “Hurry up and make your bed!” Another friend yelled, “It’ll take you two minutes!” And a third friend, yelled, “We’ll wait!”
“Come on, mom. Just let me go play!”
Mom replied, “I want you to be able to play with your friends, right after making your bed.”
“Making my bed is stupid, mom!” said Liddle Jimmy. ” I’m just gonna wreck it when I sleep it in tonight, anyway. So what’s the point? It’s so dumb!”
Once it got going, Liddle Jimmy had a big mouth.
Liddle Jimmy’s mother was respectful of her son’s need for a logical explanation, so she obliged.
“Liddle Jimmy, I wouldn’t be a good mother if I didn’t teach you some responsibility. Everyone needs a little structure in their life. So really, that’s all this is. A little structure. Please go make your bed. It’ll take you two minutes. Your friends are waiting.”
“I’m not doing it!” Liddle Jimmy spouted back as he planted himself onto a chair not far from the front door.
By now Liddle Jimmy’s friends had gone to play without him. You could hear them on the other side of the closed door muttering to themselves as they were preparing to take off without their friend. They had some not-so-kind words for their friend. Probably because they had already made their beds.
“Now look what you did!” said Liddle Jimmy. “Why do you have to be so mean, mom?”
“I love you, son.” Liddle Jimmy’s mother replied. “A little obedience from your end and you’d be out there with your friends, right now. But you made a choice. Is this what you wanted? To be sitting on this chair, when you could be out there? Your choice, dear.”
Settling has a Price Tag
Did Liddle Jimmy get what he wanted? He finally made his bed so he could play alone with a few toys, but what did little Jimmy really want? What did he want most?
Liddle Jimmy settled for what felt like a win for a few minutes in the dispute he had with his mother. But when he wouldn’t even be play with his toys in the yard, Liddle Jimmy finally surrendered, and made his bed. It only took him two minutes and a little effort.
Liddle Jimmy didn’t obtain the treasure he sought. At least not today. But tomorrow’s another day. Maybe tomorrow, Liddle Jimmy will take the time to dig for his treasure so he can go outside and play with his friends.
Or maybe he won’t. Time will tell.
Here’s the thing about choices: You make a choice… You act on that choice… Now you have to live with your choice.
So be it.
One thing is true: once experiencing the best, to settle for less than the best has little to no value at all. Nothing else truly satisfies.
So, why do we so often settle for less than the best of what we value most? Could it be because we seldom, if ever, actually experience the best of what we value most? Could it be because we have not really ever known the real thing, when it comes to satisfaction or happiness? So, in our pursuit of happiness and satisfaction, why do we settle for anything better than our current experience—what we are feeling right now—if it is causing us discomfort?
Our reality is that so much of what we pursue along the way to happiness is actually connected to, or associated with, that which takes us further from the happiness we long to realize in our experience. When equating happiness and satisfaction with the authentic experience of being set free from all that burdens us, we find that what we settle for along the way is connected to bondage; captivity. So the harder we try, and the further—and deeper—we go to be free, the tighter we’re bound by our chains.
Self-destructive behavioral choices may involve alcohol, drugs, unhealthy diet, self-injury, gambling, irresponsible sexual behavior, irresponsible spending, rage, violence and vengeful behavior, physically and verbally aggressive confrontation, lying, stealing, cheating, manipulation and exploitation, hateful behavior, criminal behavior, and the list goes on. All that is listed here (and anything else you can think of), is permitting feelings to betray rational thought in the pursuit of freedom from anxiety and stress; to lighten the load of what burdens us. Instead, the natural course of self-destructive behavior is that our discomfort increases until we might my hurt just bad enough to change course.
So, now what?
I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word… that you should keep them from the evil one. John 17:13 (NKJV)
Jesus implored his heavenly father to keep his word—his promise—that those that he had been entrusted to build up to do the work in the world he started with them. Jesus prayed in earnest that in order to fulfill the mission, God would fill these friends with the joy that Jesus knew would sustain them through troubled times; the fullness of joy that would break through the burden and overwhelming stress that came with the calling on their lives.
So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. Romans 8:1 (NLT)
Stepping into the Experience
Step One in the pursuit of genuine happiness and satisfaction is coming to the sensible realization that on your own you do not possess the ability, or even the willingness, to do what makes the most sense to experience freedom from the unmanageability of your life. In time, you can seemingly lose your mind in the pursuit of happiness the way it’s been going so far. Temptation on the road to happiness can divert our attention. Once fixed on what it is that is tempting, we lose focus and follow temptation right into a ditch; or worse, a telephone poll.
But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. James 1:14-15 (NKJV)
They (people, places and things in the world) promise freedom, but they themselves are slaves of sin and corruption. For you are a slave to whatever controls you. 2 Peter 2:19 (NLT)
It is essential to recognize that on our own, we make trouble for ourselves. And then, to get out of the trouble we’re in, we’re distracted by something else appearing attractive and compelling, so we chase after it. All we did is spin our wheels deeper into the hole we’ve made for ourselves. This is the mismanagement of life on our own without sufficient support.
Step One is to pay attention and recognize that until it hurts bad enough, we’re less likely to change a thing. It is time to own that you are powerless on your own to sufficiently manage your way through this unpredictable life, set up for failure.
Step Two in the pursuit of genuine happiness and satisfaction is relationship with Jesus Christ, the only source for authentic, fulfilling joy, peace, and rest. It is the presence of the life-giving Spirit of God, in relationship with Jesus, that you can and will experience restoration from the insanity of pursuing happiness from any other source.
28 Have you never heard?
Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
29 He gives power to the weak
and strength to the powerless.
30 Even youths will become weak and tired,
and young men will fall in exhaustion.
31 But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:28-31 (NLT)
Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)
Step Three in the pursuit of genuine happiness and joy is to let go of my will that leads me down the wrong road, and surrender my life into the life-giving relationship with Christ that affords me the chance to be changed entirely; transformed in a way that restores every part of me into what God created me to be in the first place.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world (age), but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:1-2 (NIV)
God is indeed merciful and gracious to forgive us for our selfish pursuits that have proven harmful on some level to ourselves and others. God has extended his favor to us. He has offered the sacrifice of his son, Jesus. We might not understand why the sacrifice of his son at the cross and beyond was necessary to be reconciled back into right relationship with him. It doesn’t matter, really, whether we understand it or not. We just best be on the right side of it, receptive of this gift of forgiveness for our sin, having been outside of the best of what God intended for us.
Here’s the thing about real relationship with God by way of his son, Jesus Christ, our savior and deliverer. This might sound like religious mumbo jumbo to someone who has never experienced the redemptive compassion and power; that undeniable power surge that pierces through the darkest of hours and delivers a person from the darkness of their circumstances into the light of something new and better. Having experienced it, there is no turning back… ever.
I should be clear about something, here. I will never doubt that my recovery—my salvation—is solely in my relationship with Jesus Christ. However, I am still a flawed human being as long as I am still the one choosing for myself. I need to surrender my will and my life over to the will of God, literally, moment by moment, or on my own I will still make behavioral choices, often impulsively, outside of God’s best for me.
It’s confusing that I am often resistant, with some degree of reservation, to completely trust God with total dependence on him, like a child depending on a parent for provision and sustenance and freedom from discomfort and fear. There is still this battle between freedom from sin and engaging sinfully in selfish pursuits, that wage war with my mind. The decision daily, hourly, moment by moment, must be to trust in my relationship with Christ. Not for his sake, but for mine. Jesus doesn’t become less God when I give in to temptation and indulge in sinful behavior. I am less anytime I go on my own, independent of the will of God, which is simply to trust him always.
So, why Jesus?
So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. Hebrews 4:14-16 (NLT)
Jesus was fully God, fully divine, when the Bible tells us that Jesus emptied himself of all divine standing and privilege (Philippians 2:5-8) and lived on earth as a human being in the likeness of a sinful human being (Romans 8:3). Scripture informs us that Jesus went through with the experience all the way to the cross and beyond until he was resurrected from the dead by his his heavenly father, God, into new life.
So, guess what Jesus did while flesh on earth, to secure his joy while resisting temptation. Jesus lived according to the three steps I just described.
Check this out…
I can do nothing on my own. I judge as God tells me. Therefore, my judgment is just, because I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will. John 5:30 (NLT)
There is no disguising that Jesus used spiritually divine judgment in the choices he made. Depending on God, Jesus—God’s own son—relied on fatherly wisdom in all that he did. Not only did Jesus make his bed before he went out and had any fun (yes, Jesus had fun), he did his homework with his dad before taking on the bigger challenges he faced. He took time to get alone with his dad to discuss and process how to best prepare for and carry out the task at hand.
Jesus trusted in the relationship he had with God. If Jesus lived out his time as a human being so principled with such discipline in a submissive relationship with his father, who am I to live my life each day any different?
We, who have experienced the wonder of being restored into new life want to be controlled by the Spirit of the living God in relationship with Jesus. We get to experience the compassionate, generous favor of God, who loves us so much that he sent his only son as a sacrifice for our selfish pursuit of happiness in this world; sin that has led to outcomes taking us further from the freedom that we so treasure.
But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. Romans 8:9 (NLT)
So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Romans 8:15 (NLT)
It is important to understand that the use of the word slavery here does suggest a master-slave relationship, which often is taken out of context by those in opposition to anything regarding faith, Jesus, church, and so on. But what this text from Romans is talking about is the dependence a son or daughter naturally experiences with a parent. The text goes on to say that we call on the master like the children call out to their daddy. As his kids, we make more than our fair share of mistakes; often costly mistakes.
It is important to recognize that the relationship between parents and their children is best when the children want nothing more than the favor of their mother and father. Dependent children relying on their parents for what’s good for them, revel in the joy of what is best in the relationship that is foundational of their happiness.
Then they grow up into independent thinkers and come to believe they know better. They want to make up their own mind and do their own thing. Still living with that attitude of entitlement, “grown up” children make hasty, impulsive decisions often rooted in some kind of folly. They make harmful mistakes. Their mistakes hurt them. When their unhealthy selfish choices drive behavior that leads to adverse outcomes, having paid the price, they may finally hurt bad enough to come to their senses. Rational thought reclaims its stake in the decision-making process (emotive impulses had been steering the ship), and a mindful choice is made to return home to their parents for wisdom, guidance, and resources. It this kind of dependence on our father in heaven necessary to be restored into the fullness of the joy that improves our quality of life.
Upon returning home, a daughter or a son will begin the interaction by communicating regret for behavioral choices that have proved to be harmful and destructive. They will express humility and ask forgiveness for their wayward mistakes, how their errors in judgement cost them, and how the mistreatment of the relationship they have with their parents has been hurtful to them (their parents).
The apologetic nature of this encounter is honest but not altogether genuine. They want something. They want back they lost. They want restoration into the generous favor they had knowingly stepped out of. They remember the joy they grew up with before neglecting the relationship. They want back in. They know that being restored into favor requires reconciliation and redemption. So, it is then time to confess their sin and ask for forgiveness; hoping to tap into the compassion and mercy they had taken for granted.
But like a father forgives his son or daughter, God is merciful and gracious to his children.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (NKJV)
We live in a world that is so much bigger than we are. And with the global exchange of information on a moment-by-moment basis, we are more aware than ever about how dangerous this big, bad world is. The reality of evil is ever-present. There is no escaping it. We need something—someone—bigger than of all of it. So why not the creator of worlds? Why not trust in the only one that is trustworthy and capable? Relationship with God then makes the most sense; for our best.
“So don’t worry and don’t keep saying, ‘What shall we eat, what shall we drink or what shall we wear?’ That is what pagans are always looking for; your Heavenly Father knows that you need them all. Set your heart on the kingdom and his goodness (his best), and all these things will come to you as a matter of course.
“Don’t worry at all then about tomorrow. Tomorrow can take care of itself! One day’s trouble is enough for one day.” Matthew 6:31-34 (Phillips New Testament)
Lost to Found; Dead to Alive
In the story Jesus told of the prodigal son in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus speaks of a man—a son—who had left his father with the inheritance his father had alloted to him to go on his own. But the man lost his way. He chose a lifestyle in his selfish pursuit of happiness, independent of the best that his father had for him.
You might ask, “Didn’t his father give him his inheritance? Why would he do that; especially knowing the mind of his son?”
Yes, he did, and I don’t know. But what the son had walked away from was the relationship he had with his dad. His father’s best was not in the stuff he walked away with. The best was what he walked away from. The son rejected the life he had with his father. In relationship with his dad, the source of his joy would never run out. It was a continuous stream flowing from his father into his life, and through his life. The son left with a boatload of wealth, but the wealth ran out a lot faster than he could have ever imagined. He wasted the gifts bestowed on him by his father on things that perished and left him empty. In relationship with his father, living in the company of his family, this young man had it all; a life in the fullness of his father’s joy. AND, living with his dad, the son also enjoyed the stuff that comes with living with dad—“and all these things will come (be added) to you as a matter of course.”
It all comes with the territory. We need to get that.
I have done essentially the same thing this wayward son did; taken the talents and gifts afforded to me by God, and gone my own way, outside and independent from the best of what I can experience living in relationship with God. In doing so, I have willingly (though not always knowingly) accepted the terms of the evil one. So, instead of the abundant, fulfilled life I could be living surrendered to the terms that guarantee joy, I have learned the hard way on my own; wasting the blessing.
What’s so great about the story Jesus told is that the young man finally came to understand the mess he had made for himself once he ran out of the stuff he bought with his inheritance. In his pursuit of outside-in happiness, he blew through his inheritance and found himself broke, empty, hungry, lonely and very tired. Hitting bottom meant figuring some things out. The young man found himself utterly helpless. He likely felt hopeless. He may have experienced despair to the point of feeling suicidal. I don’t know.
Returning to sensibility, though, led to the realization of how good his life was under his father’s roof. He felt so bad about what he had done, and how his choices broke his father’s heart (we don’t hear about his mother in the story as Jesus told it), that he thought to himself that he would beg his father for a low-end, grunt job, should he head back there. So head back home he did.
Scared, humiliated, starving and desperate, the young man made the turn, and headed back home.
“Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.” —C.S. Lewis
The son never had to beg for a job. His father ran out to him, embraced him with great compassion, brought him home, and restored his son once again as full heir to his resources. This young man was back in line to inherit everything… again. The father told anyone listening that this son who was lost is found, and it was though he’d come back from the dead. Relationship was fully restored through compassion, mercy, and reconciliation.
How about that?
Even as a believer, redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, I have so often done my own thing and paid the price. Reconciled back into right relationship with God, I am known to step outside of the best—the fullness of joy—of what God wants and has for me. And in my folly, I am the sorriest of fools. I know with certainty that all that is required of me is that I fully embrace the life-giver, and yet I am too often wanting more than I have in my daily experience, not having trusted with confidence what I claim to believe in.
Once I have come to understand and agree that sound reason for my life letting go of all that takes me further from what I want, how is that I still hold on to what I know jeopardizes my opportunity to experience joy in relationship with God? How does that make any sense?
Paul answered that question when he wrote that he too, struggles not understand why he still does what he doesn’t want to do. As we are human, we are slaves to our selfishness and will continue to sin, regardless of the cost. The only chance we have to experience joy and contentment is to do what we do in an attitude of repentance, with a willingness to turn from sin, and depend on the strength we draw from in our relationship with Jesus. Paul wrote of the need to have the same attitude that Jesus did (Philippians 2:5-7), to humble ourselves as servants willing and motivated to please our master—our father. Only then will we still find joy during times of trouble and challenge; the joy that pierces through our hardships.
Relationship with Jesus Christ is the only shot we have at happiness, his joy made full in us. It’s in the fullness of that joy that we experience true freedom. Relationship with Jesus means that the Spirit of the living God is alive in us; his presence dwelling from within the core of our being… our soul… who we are in our deepest places.
A Little Testimony
I am working with a group of teenagers who believe that Jesus is alive and involved in their circumstances. They are in the hospital where I work burdened with overwhelming stress in their homes full of dysfunctional family members, at school dealing with both social and academic stress, and still working through the pain of unhealed wounds of the past. These are teenagers diagnosed with mental health disorders.
Do you know how I assessed that their faith in God is legit? When their countenance changed when I gave them the much, much shorter version of what you have been reading here. I held a group session with them the other day, while in the midst my study that’s gone into this article. These were four girls whose expressions changed entirely before my eyes while discussing the contrast between outside-in happiness and inside-out joy.
Their human spirit was in agreement with what the Spirit of God had already installed into their minds by faith. The joy they knew in the Lord that had been buried under their feelings of severe discomfort ranging from anger and resentment, to sadness and depression, to shame and regret, to failure and fear. They had each engaged in various behaviors of self-harm, since initiating pain on the outside allows them to numb the pain they feel on the inside, which is far worse. They may have considered suicide, but whether or not they’d follow through with it, their actions were perceived as being suicidal.
When considering the former joy that they knew and had experienced in their relationship with Jesus, they reconsidered the inside-out joy that they sensed could cut through their hardship. It was obvious how refreshing it was to each of them to ponder how their faith is a real weapon in their treatment to combat depression and anxiety. These discussions are not common in my therapy groups, but so long as this group was in agreement, spiritually, this grew into a lengthy conversation, which frankly was pretty awesome.
It was amazing to witness a surge in hope, realizing once again what these girls each understood about their relationships with God. The joy that is experienced from within is not something manufactured, manipulated, or contrived through human effort. It is truly spiritual from the divine favor that comes in fellowship with God.
The inner joy experienced in the company of friends and family in God’s presence is also sustaining. It isn’t fleeting like the ebbs and flows of ocean currents against the shore. Happiness and gratification in the pursuit of our own happiness outside of God’s best will not last. That kind of happiness is fleeting as it ebbs and flows with the circumstances of our lives. The joy we can fully realize in the experience of living in God’s best is satisfying and full to the point that, as Jesus said, we will never thirst again.
Perhaps you have heard or read the Psalm to delight in the Lord to receive the desires of your heart. Consider this promise in the context of what I have written here concerning the contrast between the worldly pursuit of happiness from the outside in and the pursuit of joy in relationship with Jesus Christ from the inside out.
What else is going on with that promise when you consider it in proper context?
3 Trust in the Lord, and do good;
Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.
4 Delight yourself also in the Lord,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him,
And He shall bring it to pass.
6 He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light,
And your justice as the noonday.
7 Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him;
Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass.
8 Cease from anger, and forsake wrath;
Do not fret—it only causes harm.
9 For evildoers shall be cut off;
But those who wait on the Lord,
They shall inherit the earth.
10 For yet a little while and the wicked shall be no more;
Indeed, you will look carefully for his place,
But it shall be no more.
11 But the meek shall inherit the earth,
And shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace. Psalms 37:3-11 (NKJV)
Notice that there is a stark contrast between those who selfishly pursue happiness in the social culture of pleasing the flesh, and pursuing the fullness of authentic joy that is found in relationship with God. Dwelling in the land and feeding on the faithfulness of God means simply to embrace everything God wants and has for you in exceeding abundance. It keeps coming, this joy. Just like a flooding river that has crested and cannot be stopped; so is this joy, truly living in relationship with Jesus.
It’s not complicated until we make it complicated with our ongoing selfish pursuits in earthly (carnal) matters that we seemingly cannot leave well enough alone. Trust me, I am speaking firmly to myself at least as much as I am saying this to anyone else. It frustrates me that I hold onto things and pursue matters that take me the wrong direction, further from the freedom in Jesus that I claim to value most. When doing that, the joy I long to experience in my soul is diminished.
Once I surrender and turn my will over to God in relationship with Christ, I get to dwell in the land of God’s best and feed on the faithfulness of everything promised in that place.
To be consumed at the table of this feast, according to the psalmist, is righteousness, the best of everything that is to be experienced in relationship with the maker of all things. God is the source of all that is right and best and wants so much for us to indulge in this experience together with him. We only understand what we think we’re missing by our experience in the land we presently live in. We have know idea, really, what we are missing until our joy is full.
Also that this feast is justice, being declared innocent in the eyes of God, redeemed and reconciled back into his favor through relationship with his son. All is right and perfect in that place.
Rest is understanding that the battle has been won and the fight is over. There is no conflict at this feast. There is no tension; no stress or anxiety, no anger or fear. Only the entire bounty of all that is joyful.
We are entirely free to dwell in the experience of true freedom. Evil has been cut off; defeated. Hostilities have ceased. There is nothing and no one left to provoke and cause disturbance. No more disharmony; only the fellowship of a united community… family. We are free to live without looking over our shoulder or have a sense that something unsettling is lurking. It is complete and utter freedom.
There is only the inheritance that is guaranteed as heirs to all that is given in relationship with Jesus. How much? All of it, that’s all. What is so awesome and amazing about this is that it is experienced from the inside out. The Bible speaks of joy unspeakable. It’s like when you can’t explain what it is that you have, but you know absolutely that you have it, and it’s wonderful. There is joy in knowing that it’s indeed coming, even though I have no words, really, to describe what it is that’s coming.
In this place, there is no longer any evidence left of those worldly things that I used to think had value. They don’t even exist at the feast of faithfulness. Why would I consider pursuing anything that no longer exists? I am free from carnally selfish desire, influence, and temptation, and free to live and dwell in the abundance of peace that is within and throughout the land of God’s best.
Hope as been realized and experienced to the point that it is no longer relevant. How do I not delight in that?
Jesus was obviously deeply concerned for his friends the night of their last meal that what his friends had enjoyed in the company of their savior, might be compromised in the land of the evil one. Jesus prayed to God that evening that God would protect us and keep us from the influence and provocation of even the subtlest of temptation that can rob us of the fullness of the joy experienced only in relationship with him.
Of course, Jesus was praying for his disciples that night. Just twelve of them? I don’t think so. I believe that Jesus was praying for the thousands then, and the billions more since then; including you and me.
So moving forward, from now on, how would you describe your pursuit of happiness? Is it directional, going one way? Or is it a bipolar experience… a bouncy ride… up and then down… over and then under… beginning and then ending?
When is enough enough? Can you let go? Are you ready to give up the pursuit of what is impossible to attain… to turn and pursue the promise of inside-out joy in your relationship with Christ?
I hope so!
There is a difference between what feels right, and what you rationally know is right. There is a difference between what feels good and what you rationally know is good. There is what feels best, and then there is what you know (when your honest) is best. Be careful about trusting your feelings. Trust in what you know, and then allow your feelings to enjoy the ride.
Experience the joy.