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 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

The Treasure Principle (Hook Focus)

I am sure that you are familiar with the proverb “Home is where the heart is”. We use it to convey the idea that a home is more than simply a place where we live; it is a place we share with people we love, a place that is filled with the memories that shape and define us as people, a place where we feel safe and secure. One of the large DIY furnishing chains tap into this desire with their catchphrase “make a house a home”. Sadly however, simply filling our houses with nice furnishings can never really make a home if it is not a place that accommodates our heart and so many people live with the ache for home that exists in their past, or even only in their imagination.

Jesus encouraged us not to become too attached to our present homes when he said “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21 ESV). Despite the similarity between the two heart expressions, Jesus’ statement is radically different. Jesus’ treasure principle is rooted in the fact that our homes and possessions are vulnerable to deterioration and depreciation, they are at risk of theft or damage and, in the final analysis, cannot be taken with us when we die. The treasure principle is that we take an eternal perspective and store up treasure in heaven.  Jesus presents us with a choice to serve God or to serve possessions! You can live this life seeking to provide as much comfort and security as you can for yourself and your family in this life, or you can devote your energies to preparing for an eternity with him.

There is an old Negro spiritual that has the lines “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through; my treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue” that expresses the attitude of someone who is living by Jesus’ treasure principle, someone who is holding loosely to the things of this life. People who have learned to live by Jesus’ treasure principle will find that they have real peace and true joy despite the ups and downs of this life because they are looking forward to a destiny that is eternally secure. Are you?

This blog post featured in the February 2013 edition of Hook Focus

Context changes everything

If you are the kind of person who likes scripture fridge magnets, then you will almost certainly have seen one with these words ’I can do all things through him who strengthens me.’ (Philippians 4:13) What an inspiring verse! Are you facing a challenge? Then this verse promises you Christ’s strength!

But what does Paul mean by ‘I can do all things’? Does it mean that I can decide to launch myself out of my office window aiming to fly down Lynwood Gardens in the ‘strength of the Lord’ and expect to defy the laws of gravity? I doubt anyone reading this would believe that this is an appropriate interpretation of the verse and would restrain me, or even have me sectioned , were I to attempt such a foolhardy feat. Yet is it so different to imagine that this verse guarantees us exam success, strength to carry the shopping, confidence to win the deal at work? Is it a promise that God will show up and help us do anything we want?

This is where context comes in. Someone has said that ‘a text without a context is a con!’ That is certainly true in this case, as would be proved by my cuts and bruises were I to attempt Christ empowered aviation. Fortunately we don’t have to look too far to see Paul’s context here. Read back a couple of verses and you will see he is thanking the Philippians for taking up a collection to help with his physical needs. Even as he is dictating the letter, he realises that his readers might be misled to think that his physical wellbeing was what was important to him, so he qualifies his thanks by reminding them that his contentment was not based upon circumstances. Verse 11: Not that I speak from need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.

How did Paul learn his contentment?  Verse 12 tells us: I know how both to make do with little and I know how to have an abundance. In everything and in all things I have learned the secret both to be filled and to be hungry, both to have an abundance and to go without. Time and again Paul faced shortages and plenty, hunger and abundance. Notice how he links these together with the phrase ‘In everything and all things’. Did you spot that the ‘all things’ in verse 12 and 13 both refer to the same thing – Paul’s contentment! He can be contented in all circumstances only because Christ empowers his contentment. Christian contentment is not a stoical, grin and bear tough times because someone somewhere else is worse off than us. Followers of Jesus can be truly contented through good or bad circumstances, whether or not they change because their hope and confidence is in Christ. When we are content to rely on Him, He is truly glorified, because His strength is on display.

This blog post featured in the February 2013 edition of Lifelines

Sweet dreams are made of this

I recently read that about a third of adults in the US have problems falling or staying asleep that aren’t related to a persistent sleep disorder. According to Professor Emily Martin at New York University “The condition of sleep is profoundly contradictory. It is a precious good … but it is a good like no other, because to obtain it one must seemingly give up the imperative to have it.”

King Solomon wrote in Psalm 127 – “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.”  Burning the candle at both ends is clearly not just a 21st century phenomenon! The demands of busy lives, combined with the addictive nature of TV and computer media mean that we rarely have time to slow down and relax. We can easily become trapped in a cycle of early mornings and late nights. When this is combined with worrying about our families, our work, even our church, sleep can seem elusive even though we may feel that we are at the point of utter exhaustion.

Solomon however seems to regard sleep as a blessing that God’s people are able to enjoy simply because they are loved by God. Why? There is a clue in the previous verse – “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labour in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” The builder needs to work hard and the watchman needs to stay alert, but both carry out their responsibilities trusting in God’s greater provision for them. Sleep is ultimately a demonstration of faith that God can keep the world turning on its axis while we are out of the loop for a few hours. Is this the key to truly refreshing sleep – to consciously bring God into all our waking activity? If we learn to involve God in the day to day detail of our lives, perhaps we will find it easier to ‘leave him in charge’ when we nod off at night.

This blog post featured in the October 2012 edition of Lifelines