I believe one of the greatest lies of religion is the promise of happiness. Ask just about anyone and they will tell you that, “God wants everyone to be happy!” In fact, it may shock you to think that such a saying isn’t scriptural. It is, in fact, nothing more than the ‘American Dream’ tied up with the bow of a ‘Prosperity Gospel’.
That doesn’t mean that God wants us to be miserable. In fact, God gives each person, saved and unsaved, bountiful blessings every day. One week from tomorrow, families across this great nation will pause to give thanks for freedom, for food on the table, for their jobs, houses, families and a myriad of other blessings. Many people will even acknowledge that these gifts come from a loving God. But how many, I wonder, believe that the blessings they enjoy are truly gifts—something that they have received through no merit of their own. If we were truly honest with ourselves, many of us would have to admit that we feel our blessings are deserved—that we have earned them by working hard, by being on our best behavior or possibly even by sacrificing fame and fortune to serve God. We believe that happiness is a right. After all, it’s in the opening sentences of the Declaration of Independence! “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” I challenge you to think about that statement and determine for yourself if it is indeed our God-given right to be happy, or if God has something else in mind for each of us. I believe that God does not desire for us to be happy, but rather, holy.
One of the greatest examples of this belief is the Apostle Paul. He speaks often of his trials and tribulations, but always in a spirit of rejoicing. Paul even wrote the book of Philippians on the theme of joy—not a happiness based on circumstances, but rather a deep-rooted joy in his trust and contentment in God alone. Paul realized that our lives on earth are nothing more than a training ground for eternity. He wrote in I Corinthians 15:19, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” Our lives were not meant to be easy. In fact, Paul challenges the Corinthians in his second epistle to “receive not the grace of God in vain.” (II Corinthians 6:1) Or in other words, if you are satisfied with life in your house of flesh, then something is wrong. We are not supposed to be comfortable in this world. Our goals are not to involve initials after our names, prestige among our co-workers, a padded retirement fund, a closet full of the latest fashions, a super-model husband, or any other possession or achievement by which the world measures success. Paul tells us how we are to measure success as Christians in II Corinthians 6:4-10:
“But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.”
If we focus on our circumstances, on our wish lists and on the successes of those around us, we will be useless to God and enter Heaven’s gates the poorest of all the saints. But, if we follow the advice of Paul and maintain a close relationship with the Lord when things don’t go our way, when we lose our jobs, when we are diagnosed with cancer, when our enemies spread hurtful rumors about us, when our retirement funds are dissolved, our houses and cars are repossessed and our marriages are burdens instead of bliss, then we will receive the greatest reward of all—God’s “Well done”. For what is God’s purpose in these trials? Certainly not happiness. No, you guessed it, holiness. If we continue reading in II Corinthians 6: 17-7:2, God explains His purpose for these trials. It is His desire that we,
“Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”
God brings difficulties in our lives to purify our hearts—to make us into the image of His Son, who sacrificed all of the pleasures of both Earth and Heaven to redeem us from sin and to grant us eternal life. And just as it pained the Father to send His Son to the cross, so it pains Him to bring suffering into our lives. It is true that God orchestrates every detail of our lives, but always with a heart of love.
As the Psalmist wrote, “Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?” (Psalm 56:8) The Psalmist continues to speak of his confidence in God through verses 9-13: “When I cry unto thee, then shall mine enemies turn back: this I know; for God is for me . . . In God have I put my trust: I will not be afraid what man can do unto me . . . For thou hast delivered my soul from death: wilt not thou deliver my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of the living?” And of course, the answer to the Psalmist’s rhetorical question is, yes. God has even gone farther than that by promising to never leave us or forsake us, no matter how dark our path may be. (Hebrews 13:5) God sees every tear and hears every prayer—even when we are too overcome with emotion to form words. (Romans 8:26-28)
What powerful promises! When we are so distraught that we cannot express our thoughts and feelings, the Holy Spirit brings the groanings of our hearts before the throne of God—and beyond that—He intercedes for us “according to the will of God”. As humans, we may try to rise above our own desires, but more times than not, we fail. It is often impossible to understand God’s will when we are in the midst of a trial. Our eyes are blinded by emotion, hurt, confusion and sometimes even sin. But the Holy Spirit compensates for our shortcomings and intercedes for us based on God’s will for our lives despite our circumstances. And if that isn’t enough, God also promises that everything will work out in the end!
“‘Aha,’ you say! ‘Verse 28 proves that God wants us to be happy! It says things will always work out in the end!'” Well, yes, that is true, but by God’s definition, not ours. What many people never realize is that God doesn’t work on our timetable. God isn’t bound by time at all. The Psalmist writes: “For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.” (Psalm 90:4)
God may choose to give you a life of happiness, and if He does, please, realize that it is all of Him and not of yourself and thank Him for it. However, you will most likely experience trials that shake you to your soul. Remember that God never makes mistakes, and each thing that He allows into your life is ultimately for your good and His glory. When you are tempted to complain, give up, run away, or blaspheme God, remember that He loves you, He is with you, and He will never leave you.
“Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” (Isaiah 41:10)