Happiness, The Christian Faith, and Why We Insist on Hurting Ourselves

Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.

Would you say that purpose of the Christian life to ultimately achieve happiness?  Is God ultimately concerned with making us happy?  Think about it like this:  Many Christians will say, “I was unhappy, but when I came to Jesus He brought me joy.” Or, “I have found happiness because I have found Christ.”  I have even heard, “Come to Jesus if you want to find happiness.”  These statements aren’t bad in and of themselves, but, the purpose of following Jesus isn’t to make ourselves happy.  They are means to an end, not an end in and of themselves.  C.S. Lewis, the English writer once quipped that a man can be made happy by alcoholic beverage; he doesn’t need God for this.  If our only reason for coming to God is to find happiness, this is a worship that is based in hedonism.  If we are fixed ultimately on serving ourselves, this is a form of idolatry.

Could you imagine this situation?

Let’s supposing, I have been away for a while on a trip, and when I come home, I stop at a local floral store.  I buy my wife her favorite arrangement of flowers, a card, and chocolates.  On my way home I call a babysitter unbeknownst to my wife and arrange for them to watch our child so that we can go out to dinner upon my return home.  When I arrive home, I knock on the door—and when my wife opens the door, I say nothing.  Instead, I just present the flowers to her.  Her response will be something like, “John, you shouldn’t have!”  She will respond immediately out of happiness.  My reply to this would be, “I know I didn’t have to, but I love seeing you happy. I know how happy flowers make you, so I wanted to get them for you.”  Guys, if you are single—and you haven’t employed this level of gesture, this could be a clue as to your singleness!

Now, let’s consider it this way:

What if I stopped at the floral shop—arranged for dinner—came home—presented the flowers—but this time, I added this:  “I got you these flowers because I know it makes you happy.  I am happy when I see you happy.  In fact, I have arranged for a babysitter so that you and I can go out to eat tonight and spend an evening alone.  There is no one else I would rather be with tonight than you.”

What if her response to my proposal was: “No one you would rather be with?!  Why are you always thinking about yourself?  You are so selfish!”

This is absurd.  I could almost guarantee you that if you employed the same rhetoric and action that we saw in the second example, you would not get that response.

Why?

It is the nature of love to delight one’s self in the joy of the other.  My gleaning of happiness out of the happiness of my wife is not an act of selfishness.  This is the nature of love.  There is a distinction between loving to do something and loving to have something done for you.  If our service to God is done because we delight ourselves in God, we will truly be happy.  If we only find happiness in what He will do for us, the moment His will doesn’t match up with our plan, we will feel estranged.  If our entire faith is based on our own happiness, it will not weather any storms.

So if our happiness doesn’t come from gratification through God serving us, it must come from us serving God—willingly.

Serving is a key theme of Jesus’ own ministry.  The Bible says in Mark 10 that

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

He delighted himself in the joy of the Father.  Look at this:  The Son served the Father.  In the Son serving the Father, He delighted Himself in the joy of the Father.  What was the joy of the father?  That his creation could be freed from sin.

Happiness is an elusive thing when it is an end in itself.  You may be aware of the current state of global financial markets and all that have surrounded economic collapses in the West.  Do you know at the root level why this has happened?  Simply, because people are making myopic choices—or they make choices that are only based on short-term fulfillment.

Think about it—people do what they do because they think it will make them happy.  If someone does what they do because they think it will make them miserable, I think you should seek help for them.  Look—happiness is superficial and temporary at best when it is based on finding things in this world that are meaningful.

Are you familiar with Joseph Stalin?  A story is told by his daughter about when he was the Russian dictator.  Someone asked him once, how he could ensure people would follow him once he had employed all his cruelness on them.  To this, he replied with calling for a chicken.  He took the chicken and plucked out all of its feathers and then returned it to the ground.  He then threw bread crumbs on the ground and the chicken came to his feet and began to eat.  Stalin told the questioner that if you are the source of food for those whom you torture, they will never leave your feet, despite the mistreatment.  Are we any different today?  Now, granted we don’t have Joseph Stalin, but we do have a tormentor.  Sin is anything that we do that deviates from God’s purpose in our lives.  The word sin in the Bible doesn’t only refer to evil things we do, but it also describes a power that can control us and take us captive.  Satan torments us, yet, because we desire our idea of happiness, we are willing to follow him.  How is this analysis incorrect?  It’s not.

Our idea of happiness is completely wrong.  When we desire happiness, at the expense of doing God’s will, we are not seeking happiness.  Instead, we are seeking misery.  Who knowingly does this?  This is myopic choice.  You know, if you look at a modern economy textbook today, it doesn’t seem to say that the idea of a rational consumer exists.  On the contrary, it will say that all consumers today are myopic in nature.  This says a lot.

I was at a hair salon once, and the lady cutting my hair was the owner—I knew this because at one point, she turned to the lady next to her and said, “business is good, but there has to be more to life than that.”  Now—I am a sort of evangelist, and I love apologetics.  This doesn’t mean that I evangelize people and then apologize to them for doing it.  On the contrary it means, I give evidences or reasons for my faith.  This was a golden moment.  I caught her eye in the mirror and said, “If you ask me, we aren’t made happy in life by what we acquire, but instead, by what we appreciate.”  She put down her scissors and walked off.  She came back and produced a notepad and a pen and said, “You couldn’t say that again could you?”  So I repeated myself.  She wrote it down frantically.  As she was writing I went on—I said, “The problem that most people have is not that they have nothing to be grateful for, but instead they live their lives as if they have no one to be grateful to.”  She put down the scissors again and asked me to repeat it.  Now—this turned into an hour-long haircut!  I don’t have an hour-long hairstyle, I just have hair.  This was very interesting.

I then asked her if she had every loved someone but wasn’t able to express it.  She replied in the affirmative and told me how trapped that made her feel.  I went on to share with her what C.S. Lewis says about that very thing.  I told her once we are able to share that love with the other, it liberates us from our own monotony.  She agreed.  We then talked about sin and how it consumes us.  She asked me an interesting question—she said, “Im pregnant.  The problem I have is, how do I bring a baby into such an evil world?”  I told her that she had raised a great question—but then stealing a line from Ravi Zacharias, I said, “You are right when you point out the evil outside, but what about the evil inside you?”  She again affirmed that she was aware of this but didn’t know what to do about it.  She said to me, “Its like I know what I do is wrong, but I do it anyways.  I want to do right, but I can’t.  I just seem trapped in myself.  I need someone else to help me.”  I looked at her in the mirror and exclaimed, “You are saying you need a—savior?”  No lie—she looked at me and said, “oooh that’s a good one.  Savior.  I like that.”  I mean, face it—we don’t go around saying words like savior a lot.  unless you have grown up in the church, when will you use this word?

I then went on to talk to her about God and how he hates sin.  I told her that there will be a time when God will judge the world—and that the ultimate question is what have we done with our sin.  She seemed perplexed.  She asked how we could be rid of sin, if we are trapped by it.  I then told her about Jesus and how God was fully merciful but yet fully just.  I told her about how Jesus paid the penalty of death that we deserved—and has provided a way for us to be free from sin.  Our conversation ended with me saying, “You cant sit on the fence forever.  You have to decide, what are you doing to do with Jesus?”

Now—I went back 2 weeks later.  I have never had hair this short in my life.  As soon as I walked in, she said, “John, I will cut your hair!”  So she sat me down, and put an apron on me.  She asked me, “Do you remember our conversation?”  I told her that I could vaguely remember it.  She then said something interesting:  She said, “I went straight home and told my husband everything you said.”  I thought to myself, “Oh this is interesting—yikes.”  I asked her what he said in reply.  At this, her face dropped.  She said, “He told me I was preaching at him!”

Of course she was.  He gets home from a long day at work and sits down at the table.  She produces a notepad and proceeds to say:

“You know that in life you aren’t made happy by what you acquire, but what you appreciate.  It isn’t that you have nothing to be grateful for, but you live your life as if you have no one to be grateful to.  The reason you feel trapped is because you are incapable of expressing love.  You are both enslaved to and engaged in evil.  The only way that you can get out of this evil existence is to find Jesus.  If you don’t find him, there will be a judgment and you will have to pay for your sin.  I ask you, what will you do with Jesus?”  

Why did she respond graciously, but he responded closed off?  Simply put, because she was asking questions.  He wasn’t.

A fish doesn’t know it is wet, but it is.  You and I don’t realize we are dry, but we are.  People who are apart from God do not understand the concept of happiness in a Christian sense.  It is an idea that is totally alien to them.  They are engaged in sin, and they do not know it.

It is interesting—I read a book a while back by this guy who is the Chichele Professor of Economic History at the University of Oxford. To be honest with you, the reason I read it was because I wanted to be able to say, “I read a book by the Chichele Professor of Economic History at Oxford.” That title alone was worth reading the book!

The book is called The Challenge of Affluence. In it, he basically says that the perpetual flow of new rewards in our Western affluent economy undermines our capacities to actually enjoy them.

In other words, when you don’t have a lot of money, you are limited by scarcity. You can’t do everything you want. You can’t buy everything you want. You can’t do it. Scarcity is a natural regulator.  However, in affluence, scarcity becomes scarce. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want to.  The rub is, no matter what psychometric study you use—and they are all uniform—it doesn’t seem to matter—they all agree: In the presence of affluence, Happiness seems to decrease.

In affluence, the things that naturally limit us, disciple us, and train us, are taken away. The danger is we indulge in everything, we take pleasure in nothing—and we get caught running on a hedonic treadmill.  It seems as if we are running faster and faster to get the same amount of pleasure, and every amount of pleasure that we get must become more extreme just to meet our need for our increased tolerance for pleasure. This pattern becomes self-destructive and some individuals at the top actually lose it altogether from time to time as a result.

In the face of plenty, the well-off increase their satisfaction, not by increasing their consumption but by limiting it—not by increasing the pace, but by slowing it down.

The kind of moral command God has given us for life, provides that very framework.

Now, the thing to realize is this: breaking that framework doesn’t make us happy. There may be a short-term lift, but a long-term problem is bound to follow.  We may experience what seems to be a short-term feeling of happiness, but in the long run—we will eventually lose out.

Now—economists talk about a principle called Myopic Choice. If you look at economics—most models rest upon the ‘premise’ that basically says that the study of economics could be modeled in terms of rational consumers. Milton Friedman, the brilliant economist, said that a rational consumer is someone who is ‘aware of their motives, options, goods before then, and the consequences.’  You could call this being bilaterally and voluntarily informed. The problem is–if you pick up an economy text today in a university, it will basically imply that there is no such thing as a rational consumer. It will say we make only myopic choices.  A myopic choice means we know our choices are bad, but we make them anyways.  We know that printing money is not wise, but we do it regardless.  We know raising a debt limit is fatuous, but we do it.  The short-term gain outweighs the price of the long-term reward.

Why do you think we sin? We are convinced that the short-term pleasure outweighs the price of the long-term reward. “Meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain. Meaninglessness comes from being weary of pleasure.” It isn’t our pain that lets us down. It is our constant drive toward pleasure that destroys us.

When we break God’s moral law–we get hurt.  We hurt ourselves while proving His law in the process.

Do you know why many people are so unhappy and experience so much hurt in their lives rather than happiness?  Simply ,because they are trying to do the impossible.  They are trying to break God’s moral law.  It  is impossible.

If I asked you to put a cape on, draw a red ‘S’ on you chest and go to the top of a tall building and jump off—would you break the law of gravity?  No.  You would break something else while proving the law of gravity in the process.  It is in this same way we are unable to break God’s moral law.  When we try—we get hurt—and we hurt those around us.  Do you remember what happened to Jonah when he tried to run from God?  Not only did he get hurt, but the innocent sailors around him got hurt as well.  God has warned us—if you continue to live like this, you will break yourself—yet we do it anyways.  Myopic choice.

So, where does happiness come in?  We have to understand that happiness isn’t about us.  Happiness comes from God—and it is a derivative of our willingness to serve Him.  When we learn to disconnect ourselves and our desires from our definition of happiness, happiness will take on an entirely new definition.  It isn’t about us anymore—but it becomes about God.  When we delight ourselves in God, there is no greater measure of happiness available.

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