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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Victor’s Crown

I expect that many of you will have enjoyed watching the amazing sporting spectacle of the Olympics and Paralympics. There are some incredible stories of courage, determination and sheer athletic prowess that have come out of both festivals of international sport. It is hard to choose one highlight but it was pretty amazing to find that the gold medal winner and three other athletes who competed in the visually impaired T13 1500m Paralympic event all finished with quicker times than the gold medal winner in the Olympics a few weeks earlier. Even allowing for the fact that the Olympic 1500 m race is a tactical event and was completed much slower than the world record pace which has stood since 1998 it is a remarkable achievement.

The Paralympics movement has made a profound difference in the way that we view disability and encourages us all to focus more on what can be achieved by those who are differently able rather than their limitations. Yet the fact remains that in each event only the top three athletes get a medal and only one is crowned Olympic or Paralympic champion.

The modern Olympic Games draw their inspiration from the Greco-Roman world where many cities had their games including the original Olympics held in Olympia. Rather than medals the prizes for the victors were olive leaf wreaths or crowns. It was these games that Paul had in mind when he wrote to his younger friend Timothy “Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.” (2 Timothy 2:5).

Paul compares the concentrated efforts of an athlete with the commitment and dedication of a follower of Christ. Two chapters later he picks up on the theme again as he writes “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:8). Unlike either the ancient or modern games however, Paul reveals that in the Christian life everyone gets to receive a crown. The Christian faith is the ultimate demonstration of equality and diversity. It doesn’t matter whether you are young or old, rich or poor, able bodied or disabled, educated or illiterate, male or female, or even which nationality you are from; the offer is the same. All can come to Christ, and if they do so in a humble, repentant manner can receive forgiveness. All who profess such faith in Christ can run the race of life confident that they too will one day wear the victor’s crown.

If you have not yet started this race of faith in Christ then I invite you to do so, knowing that God will accept you as you are. If you want to know how to get started, then pop along and speak to us sometime.
This blog post featured in the October 2016 edition of Hook Focus

The Secret of Happiness

Are you happy? Not necessarily at this precise moment in time, but would you describe your life in general as happy? I have met many miserable people, but have yet to meet anyone who genuinely wants to be unhappy. Every day we make decisions, big and small, in the hope that the result will make us happy, whether we are conscious of this or not.

Given the significance of happiness in our lives you may be interested to learn that researchers from Harvard University have conducted a 75 year, longitudinal study into happiness. The research, known as the Grant and Glueck Studies, began in the late 1930’s with 268 Harvard students. A few years later 456 disadvantaged youths from inner city Boston were added to the study. These people have been interviewed at regular intervals throughout their lives to measure the happiness as their lives have unfolded.

The headline discovery has been that happiness does not depend upon wealth, social position, career progression or lack of it. Rather ‘happiness comes from choosing to be happy with whatever you do, strengthening your closest relationships and taking care of yourself physically, financially and emotionally.’ I am not sure where I read it first but the statement ‘happiness comes from wanting what you have rather than having what you want’ seems to sum up the first part of the study’s findings.

These findings are not as new and as ground breaking as they might seem at first.  Around AD 46 the Apostle Paul wrote ‘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.’ He had found that true happiness and contentment was not based upon his physical circumstances or health. If you read the rest of his writings you will discover that the ultimate source of Paul’s contentment was the security of knowing that his life was in Christ.

I wish that I could say that every follower of Christ was as happy and content as Paul was. Sadly many Christians are as miserable as anyone else. However I find that when people learn to fully put their trust in Jesus Christ they become happier than they would be without him.

If you would like to find out more then why not check it out for yourself and come and join us.

 

This blog post featured in the May 2016 edition of Hook Focus

Autumn

Do you enjoy autumn? I have mixed feelings about the season. I love the amazing colours of autumn leaves, the red and yellow, the orange and brown which spread across hillsides producing beautiful landscapes. I love walking in freshly fallen leaves, kicking them up with my shoes as I stroll along a woodland path. I am not so keen on sweeping and binning them back home however! I enjoy crisp cold mornings with gentle mist and even frost on the ground. I am not so keen on having to de-ice the car! As the nights draw in it is comforting to be able to snuggle up in a warm house, draw the curtains and shut the cold outside.

If spring is the season of new life, then autumn must surely be the season of life’s twilight. Plants especially are in the final throes of their annual life cycle. People and animals are preparing for the sleep of winter when they have to rely on stores of food or even in some cases going into hibernation. Technology and rapid transport mean that we are largely insulated from the hardships of winter that our grandparents knew. Unlike them we can eat ‘seasonal’ food all year round, in season and out of season.

The latter years of our human lives are sometimes compared to the season of autumn. Youthful strength declines and we may have to rely more upon reserves of wisdom built up during our lives. We may have fond memories of a life lived well, shared experiences with family and friends to relish and enjoy. Yet there is also the sadness of friends and family who have passed away. They are all too frequent reminders of our own frail humanity and the certainty of our own death. We may try and insulate ourselves from the inevitable, but ultimately the sands of time run out for each of us.

For followers of Christ this season of life is bittersweet. The aches and pains of aging are indiscriminate and tiresome for us all. However followers of Christ have the hope that there will be a new season of spring as we anticipate a resurrection life with Christ; a life that will be free from all the difficulties of the present.

The Apostle Paul faced more trials in his life than many of us ever will. He was shipwrecked, flogged, spat upon, left for dead and imprisoned. Indeed it was while he was in prison that he wrote ‘for me to live is Christ, to die is gain’. For him following Christ was a win – win option. His life was devoted to spreading the message of Jesus. Every day was a fresh opportunity for him to discover the joy that Christ would bring, irrespective of the difficulties he faced. Soon however would come the day of his death when he would go to be with Christ forever. He was eagerly looking forward to his eternal hope.

That hope is available to everyone, young and old. If you would like to know more, simply ask God to reveal it to you.

This blog post featured in the November 2015 edition of Hook Focus

 

The Apostle: The Life of Paul– by John Pollock 

The Apostle  The Apostle Paul is one of the most significant characters in the New Testament. When he bursts into the narrative, he is approving the stoning of Stephen who was a wonderful, spirit filled man of God. Saul, as he was known in Jewish circles, was a self-righteous religious man who was consumed with hatred for the followers of the way, as the early believers were known.

Most of us are familiar with Paul’s Damascus road conversion, but how much else do you know about him? What was his upbringing? What made him tick? What was the context of his prolific letter writing?

In this excellent volume John Pollock gathers data together from dozens of first century sources, including the New Testament writings, and has produced a highly readable and well-paced 21st century style biography. This format brings Paul to life and immerses the reader in the events that shaped the early church.

 

Buy The Apostle: The Life of Paul from Amazon UK
Buy The Apostle: The Life of Paul from Amazon US