Happiness is a warm puppy... (And other thoughts about life)

Are you happy?

How would you answer that question - especially if you had to explain your answer?

Are you happy because you are healthy? Financially secure? Your kids are doing well? You have a job?

Happiness is a strange thing. In his book, Soul Hunger, Otis Ledbetter points out that the word is rooted in an old English term “hap” that meant “luck” or “chance”. If you consider some of the other words tied to it, “happenstance” (it just happened); “haphazard” (random or ‘it just happened’); or “haplessly” (unlucky),  you can see that meaning. Personally, I think that it would be easy to swap happy for ‘contentment’. However, when we go back to the root, the word ‘luck’ might be more accurate.

So then, why is it that we are so driven to pursue happiness?

Now, let’s be honest. You are thinking it, right? It sure beats the alternative! Who wants to be unhappy? As we normally think of it, I would not argue at all.

But these is another thing we must consider: What does GOD tell us about pursuing happiness?

As I attempted to surf through the pages of God’s Word, I kept circling back to the concept of “shalom” or peace. Jesus said in John 16:

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. John 16:33

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1st Thessalonians 5: 16-18

And also to the Philippians:

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4: 11b-13

While I don’t want to misinterpret Scripture, I do believe it is simple. Seeking “happiness” is really seeking peace. We want to be at a place where we are emotionally and spiritually at rest.

This all came up as I was studying Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount:

Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. Matthew 6: 1

I believe that Jesus is calling us to do a bit of examination of our hearts.

Have you ever done something for another person? If so, WHY?

To be clear, there is an expectation that we will do good deeds (acts of righteousness). Jesus expects IT. It Is not so that we can earn our salvation. In the previous chapter, He has just finished giving the people a list of “you have heard it said” examples. Those lists went beyond the Law (Jewish rules for life - Mosaic Law). Jesus wanted people to know that keeping the Ten Commandments was good - but they didn’t really grasp how much more intense the Law truly was. For example: You’ve heard it said, “Do not commit adultery” but even looking lustfully is the same thing.

So why then do we “do good stuff”? We should be doing them as a response to grace. We don’t have to earn our salvation! (We couldn’t if we tried.) Therefore, when we consider the depths and richness of the grace we have received, our hearts cry out for us to respond and reflect it.

Jesus then gives an example of what it means to do an act of faith or an act of grace. He says:

So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. Matthew 6: 2

Do you get the simplicity of what Jesus is saying? If you’ve seen someone driving the bright red convertible sports car, top down in 40-degree weather, zipping in and out of traffic, then you’ve seen someone who announces themselves with trumpet blasts. It’s not literal but it is the same idea. The person wants to be seen.

The Pharisee exemplified this attitude. In Luke 18, we read of one who went into the Temple to pray and did so loudly. He wanted others to know that he was praying. He wanted people to know that he wasn’t like the “sinner” in the corner who was weeping over the depths of his sins. Some people give and do things so that others see it. That’s their reward.  

As He taught, Jesus was clear: WHEN you give, just give.

Too often, we have the attitude of the little girl given two dollars by her dad. He told her that one dollar was to give in the offering plate at church on Sunday. The other dollar was hers to spend. She ran to get candy but tripped on the curb. One dollar fell into the sewer. She looked up & said, “I’m sorry, God. There goes your dollar.”

But this is not just about money. Opening your wallet and handing over a dollar or two is NOT a bad thing to do. When you are blessed, it’s good to be a blessing and give. But again, it’s not just about money…

We cling so tightly to things that really aren’t ours. We are instructed in Scripture to support those in need. God’s Word is abundantly clear from beginning to end that we are to support others in need out of what we have. Do you have an abundance of clothing or shoes? Things you haven’t worn in a calendar year or two (or longer)? Clean out your closets and give it away. Do you have an extra hour? Can you volunteer to tutor? Your answer to “what can I give” is going to be unique to you. Regardless, the instruction is clear. WHEN you give.

Jesus’ illustration should make us smile. It sounds impossible, but it’s plain, simple, and clear.

When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matt. 6: 3-4

Jesus is using a bit of hyperbole. Giving – whatever it may be – should be almost reflexive. Don’t count pennies or have the attitude of “why am I always the one volunteering”. Don’t do it with expectations. Simply reflect generosity in who you are as a person.

Let me leave you with one final thought.

There is a website called “Where’s George?” You can enter the serial number off of a dollar bill and then receive updates as others enter it. I went on the web site and looked at one.

On October 14, 2013, it was entered when someone received it as change at a military academy in Virginia. The next time it was recorded was almost a year later in Paris. The person stated that they had cashed in euros at the airport and received it. Vermont, New York, Ohio, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Canton, Missouri – north of the Hannibal area, and then last recorded on January 24 of this year in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The person received it in a tip jar.

That one-dollar bill has traveled over 10,000 miles. People noted it in gas stations, Walmart, and casinos. It’s a very well used and well-traveled bill.

Here’s my point. Live generously - with everything.

Jesus Christ is God the Son. He left Heaven – a place of beauty, joy, and pure light – to live a life on Earth. This is a wonderful and beautiful planet that displays God’s incredible and creative hand. However, it’s also a world broken by sin.

We sweat when it’s hot. We get thirsty when we don’t have water. Our stomach grumbles when we are hungry. We get tired when we do too much. People hurt us. People die. There is great sorrow and struggle even in the midst of joy.

Jesus left Heaven to be born on this earth. He then gave His life on the cross for our sins. He didn’t die for what HE did wrong. He died for what you do wrong. He died for your sins.

That thought should overwhelm you when you consider what grace truly is.

The challenge is simple. What will you do with your faith. Jesus calls us respond to grace by living upside down – by living in a way that defies earthly logic.

Jim Elliott, the missionary who gave his life trying to share the Gospel, said:

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.

Your calling is to live a generous life. If you have time, give it. If you have treasure, give it. If you have talent, give it. Don’t hold back from any opportunity to reflect God’s grace.

Yours in Christ, Marty