Have you ever heard/read that “God is more interested in your holiness than your happiness” or “God is more concerned about our character than our comfort?”
Did you just wilt a little inside? I noticed a growing sadness even as I typed those sentences out. Don’t worry though, we wont stay there because neither of those sentences are Bible verses. Did you know that? We don’t have to build our understanding of God or of happiness on them.
The original intention of those sentences might have been to address the pursuit of entertainment, ease, and pleasure for the sake of ignoring pain, discomfort, and need. Setting happiness as the end goal of life and making all our decisions based on attaining it doesn’t actually result in happiness. But instead of encouraging us to reach the depths of joy God created us for, those popular sayings make God out to be some kind of monster who doesn’t care if we hurt so long as we do what he wants. Both those ideas even communicate a desire on God’s part to cause us hurt, withhold happiness, and choose not to meet legitimate needs in order to make us better people. It’s a “the end will justify the means” characterization. All of which makes every fiber of my being want to turn tail and run from God.
But that’s not who God is.
Holiness and Happiness aren’t mutually exclusive. You don’t have to get one at the expense of the other. Actually, we need both happiness and holiness in order to experience the potential fullness of each.
This might be a new idea for you. It was for me! I’m so accustomed to ideas like happiness is a warning that I’m about to, or are already in, sin and that I need a healthy dose of self-loathing to keep me on the straight and narrow. Those lies make it really difficult for me to enjoy life and experience happiness.
Does anybody else inside the Church feel this? Does anybody outside the Christian Church see and fear this?
The purpose of happiness is not to cause us shame or act as an alarm for sin. Neither is the purpose of happiness to be our only escape from the pain and fear we encounter in this life.
The purpose of happiness is so we know God loves us. Happiness is a gift from God. The fact that humans experience happiness is evidence of God’s goodness, kindness, mercy, compassion, and delight. Did you know God delights in you?
“He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.”Psalm 18:19 ESV
How does it feel to know the God of the universe enjoys you, that when God looks at you he feels happy?
Hang on to that. We’ll come back to it later.
Check out these other verses about happiness:
“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”Psalm 37:4 ESV
“I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.Psalm 16:8-11 NIV
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”
“For you make me glad by your deeds, Lord; I sing for joy at what your hands have done.”Psalm 92:4 NIV
“So I decided that there was nothing better for a man to do than to enjoy his food and drink and his job. Then I realized that even this pleasure is from the hand of God. For who can eat or enjoy apart from him?”Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 TLB
“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.”1 Timothy 6:17 ESV
“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”Philippians 4:19 ESV
God delights in and enjoys us, so he gives us enjoyable things and experiences of happiness, and he provides for our needs. Our primary need is to be close to him, because he is our perfect source of joy, love, value, and every other need we have.
Holiness is about protecting us from pain and the things that steal our happiness and make it impossible to enjoy God and all he has done for us. Short-term, shallow, superficial happiness that band-aids pain, ultimately causes us more pain, and makes us slaves to the cycle of chasing distraction is what God is trying to set boundaries on. He isn’t trying to hurt us. He isn’t trying to control us. He isn’t taking his anger out on us. He isn’t trying to neglect us and justify it by saying it’ll make us stronger. That’s bad human parenting, not an accurate characterization of God according to the Bible. This is what we know about God’s discipline for Christians:
“And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, ‘My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.’Hebrews 12:5-11 NLT
As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all. Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever?
For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.”
I want to point out, just in case you were triggered at the line about “respecting our earthly fathers who disciplined us”, that there is a clear distinction made between human discipline and God’s discipline. God’s discipline is always good for us. God is perfect, his love for us is perfect, and his plans for us will ultimately increase our happiness. So whatever your experience with your human parents or caregivers might be, don’t accidentally believe that God is the same.
You and I are not perfect. We have changes we need to make so we don’t hurt ourselves and the people around us. Change is hard and uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean that God wants to hold happiness hostage to make us change. Enjoying what God has given us as a gift from him and basking in his love and kindness helps us change.
Did you know that emotions aren’t just spontaneous occurrences outside of your control? You can cultivate happiness. You can grow happiness in yourself like a garden. You can make it stronger by exercising it just like your physical body. You can choose to be happy, you don’t have to wait for it to happen to you. Here is how you do that:
- Start by choosing gratitude. Check out my post from a few weeks ago about keeping a written list of things you are thankful for, acknowledging them as love gifts from God, and allowing yourself to be deeply affected by your gratitude to him. Number one on your list could be learning that God enjoys you!
- Pay attention! When you feel happy, glad, content, pleased, satisfied, or notice you are enjoying something say it out loud, “I feel really happy right now.” You can call this mindfulness, being present, showing up, meditation, or whatever you want as long as you do it!
- Make your physical body match your happiness. When you catch yourself enjoying something choose to smile on purpose. Take a deep breath, sit or stand straighter, open up your arms, clap your hands, spin a circle, ask for a hug, do a little dance, yelp, sing out,do something to express your happiness. Even if you feel silly and even if you don’t look cool. (If you’re in a serious situation you can always save it for later. Remember those feelings and then be demonstrative when you’re in the right place, just don’t forget.) Check out Psalm 33:1-5 for an example of physical expressions of joy!
- Reach out and share happy feelings and experiences with others. Being happy together is a great way to kick your happiness up a notch into joy! Plus you get the added satisfaction of having increased your friend’s happiness!
- Think of yourself and describe yourself as a happy person. You won’t feel happy if you don’t believe it’s part of who you are.
- Plan happiness. What gets scheduled is what gets done. Do you like to read? Plan a time for it this week and plan to enjoy it. Do you like to hike? Plan it. Do you like to eat chocolate? Plan to have a serving of your favorite. Not the cheap stuff you binge when you’re trying to distract yourself- your favorite chocolate, and savor it! Do you enjoy (and need) a nap? Plan it, refuse to feel guilty or berate yourself in your head. Make a big deal about it, wash your sheets and blankets, put on your comfiest jammies, choose to rest and wallow in the softness and comfort. Whatever you do, make sure to add it to your gratitude list and acknowledge that God made it possible for you because he loves you!
- Plan happiness for your loved ones. Do the above for them, but whatever their favorite thing is. Set it all up and make space for them. Such a demonstration of your love will increase their happiness, and yours!
- Bookend it. On the front end – anticipate happiness on purpose. Imagine yourself enjoying your planned activities in the days and hours leading up to them, just like you would anticipate a vacation, but do it for everything! Work, school, lunch, church, rest, taking the kids to the park, boba tea with a friend… Then reflect on the event afterwards. Use adjectives to describe to yourself exactly what you enjoyed. This is a great thing to journal or talk with your kids/spouse/friends about at the end of the day.
- Practice holiness. Ask God to show you one thing you do that you think makes you happy, but actually is just a cover up for pain that causes you more pain. The next time you start craving it, talk to God about what is going on in your heart instead. Enjoy the freedom you feel from any regret tied to what you used to do to avoid this pain, and bask in the relief of healing!
That’s enough for this post. Next week let’s talk about how to lead fear, so it doesn’t steal our joy!