The Pursuit of Happiness

As we enter 2017 we will give and receive this greeting ‘Happy New Year’ many, many times as we meet people for the first time since Big Ben chimed midnight. Each year the mobile phone networks struggle to cope with the billions of messages that people send to their nearest and dearest. Happiness, it seems is something that people desire for themselves and for others.

Happiness however is notoriously elusive, and the more vigorously we chase after it the harder it can be to find. Some people get trapped in the illusion that the past was a better place and think longingly of times gone by. They are robbed of joy in the present because they continuously compare it unfavourably with the past. Others live hoping that they will be happy in the future when they leave school, get a career, get settled with a home and family, when the children are grown up and leave home, when they are retired and so on. Yet as each personal milestone is reached they look forward to the future and forget to enjoy the moment.

I recently heard someone compare the pursuit of happiness to trying to catch a butterfly. All the time the butterfly is in flight it darts hither and thither and is impossible to catch. However when it comes to rest on a flower, that is the moment when you can cup your hands around it. Happiness is found by catching it in the unexpected moments of the here and now. These are the occasions of spontaneous laughter and delight, often in little things, that can brighten up the most difficult of circumstances.

The apostle Paul knew something about this when he wrote: I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Php 4:11–13 (NIV2011)

For Paul the secret of being happy did not depend upon his circumstances but upon being able to find Christ in every circumstance. Millions of people pray the Serenity Prayer, which is based on the Lord’s Prayer, but most have never read the last eight lines to the prayer: “Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, taking as Jesus did this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that you will make all things right if I surrender to your will so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with you forever in the next. Amen.”

That’s where true happiness lies! There is power when you surrender to God the very things you’ve been trying to take control of from him and trust Him alone for your happiness in this life and the next.

This blog post featured in the January 2017 edition of Hook Focus

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The Commands of Jesus

One of the core values of the good news of Christ is grace. There are many places in the NT we could go to find the message of grace expressed but one of my favourites is in Ephesians ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.’ (Ephesians 2:8–9). Paul makes it clear that our salvation is 100% the work of God in Christ and 0% our own effort. No amount of law keeping on our part will win us access to heaven. Another way of expressing this truth is ‘Nothing I can do will make God love me more, nothing I can do will make God love me less!’ This is indeed good news and something to celebrate! Christ not only offers us forgiveness but also the freedom from the tyranny of law.

Does this mean then that there are no longer commandments to obey? Absolutely not! Jesus said “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them”. (Matthew 5:17). The difference is that our obedience now arises from a love response to the gift we have been given rather than an effort to win God’s favour.

Have you noticed that Jesus actually gave us some new commandments? During the opening weeks of 2017 we will be looking at commands that Jesus gave his disciples and seeing how they apply to us. The first commandment is known as the Great Commandment and is found in both Matthew and Mark’s gospels. Actually we get two commandments for the price of one!

Love God and Love One Another

Only those who know the forgiveness of Christ are able to love God and love people as God intends for us to do. It is a good place to start the year by allowing the Holy Spirit to illuminate again to us how to obey those ‘buy one get one free’ commandments.

The second (third?) commandment we shall look at is also found in Matthew and Mark but is usually known as the Great Commission. It is still very much a commandment because Jesus commands us to

Go and Make Disciples

Some people are inclined towards emphasising either the Great Commandment or the Great Commission but over the next few weeks I hope that we will see that these Commands of Jesus are inextricably combined. For people who have experienced the lavish grace, unlimited grace of God, obeying these commands is perfect freedom; a reciprocating demonstration of a love response to his love for us.