TEXT: Psalm 42:1-11
Singer and diva, Madonna, is one of the wealthiest people in show business and has openly flaunted her self-indulgent lifestyle. A couple of years ago she was asked in an interview if she was happy. Her response was: “I don’t even know anybody who is happy!”
Not only was she not happy, but she couldn’t think of anyone who was. If you can’t be happy when you have it all, how can you be happy?
In the United States, I found these disturbing facts: “Depressive disorders affect approximately 18.8 million American adults or about 9.5% of the U.S. population age 18 and older. Preschoolers are the fastest growing market for antidepressants. At least four percent of preschoolers — over a million — are clinically depressed. The rate of increase of depression among children is an astounding 23%.”
- How can this be, in a land of plenty and prosperity?
- Could it be that our understanding of what it takes to be happy is distorted?
- Could it be that our values are warped and have been placed on things that do not bring true joy in life?
- Is it possible we are walking the wrong path and taking the wrong road?
- Can it be that we are looking in all the wrong places to make ourselves happy?
We still think if we just had enough money we would be happy. Someone facetiously said, “Those who say that money can’t buy happiness don’t know where to shop.” Many people are willing to look anywhere but God’s direction.
But psychologist Dr. David G. Meyers, author of The Pursuit of Happiness: Who Is Happy — and Why, has written: “Take care of the soul. Actively religious people tend to report more happiness and to cope better with crises. Faith provides a support community, a sense of life’s meaning, a reason to focus beyond self, and a timeless perspective on life’s temporary ups and downs.”
More and more studies are citing personal faith as one of the important ingredients to personal happiness. PEOPLE OF FAITH HAVE A SENSE OF SECURITY ABOUT LIFE AND THE FUTURE.
- They believe that their lives are important to their Creator, and that he is watching over them and helping them through life.
- They feel that they are a part of the created order and are in contact with the Creator.
- They have a relationship with God and feel they understand some fundamental truths about life.
- They have the Scriptures to lead them and inspire them during difficult times.
- They have a community of other believers who love and accept them, and with whom they share important matters of faith.
- They have values, meaning and purpose in their lives.
Why wouldn’t they be happier?
But what if you have faith, a relationship with God and a supportive community and you are still depressed? What then? There are many reasons and possibilities for a continued struggle with depression and discouragement.
- Some of these may be out of your control such as a marital problem or annulment that was not what you wanted or anticipated.
- It could be a loss of employment which has put you in a bind financially, and you realize you will probably not find a job that pays as well.
- It could be a serious or even terminal illness that has struck you or one you love.
Many things are outside the realm of our control. But do we need to be in control to be happy? Are there attitudes that we can develop that will help us to live victoriously in spite of the prevailing circumstances? Even though we are Christians, is it possible that we are missing some important truths that God wants us to understand?
Let’s look at some of the factors that can block our happiness or happiness blockers that keeps us from living in joy.
One happiness blocker that I would like to point out is:
1. A DEMANDING AND CRITICAL SPIRIT.
This is a kind of attitude or spirit that demands that life should be good and easy all the time.
It is possible to be a Christian and believe that God owes you something. If He is on your side, many believe that nothing bad should happen and you will get everything you want.
I saw a religious program recently where a woman was singing a wonderful song about faith. But in between the verses she encouraged people to believe God for, “That new car. Your new house. Your healing. Your financial prosperity.”
In popular religion today, God has become the celestial errand boy who is supposed to give us everything we want. I remember seeing a televangelist who told the audience to put pictures of the things they wanted on their refrigerators and claim them in the name of Jesus: a Cadillac, a house, a diamond necklace, a husband. And, of course, the implication was that if you sent them some money it wouldn’t hurt your chances of getting those things.
A lot of people and even Christians have come to see God’s blessings only as material things. But God has said, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare” (Isaiah 55:1-2). We are looking in the wrong places for happiness. We are spending money on what is not bread and laboring for the things that do not satisfy.
When I was still younger, I attended a youth gathering…during the prayer time, I was standing with a person who shakes his fist in the air and demand that God do a certain thing for him. As far as he was, he had met the conditions of what he needed to do, and he proceeded to inform God that he was under obligation to do what they wanted him to do.
That is an extreme example of what many people express less openly perhaps, but feel just as strongly. As if God owes them something. They have a real need, and God should meet that need in just the way they want it met. They become angry at God and at life because things are not easy and good.
Life overwhelms us, and when life becomes difficult it is possible to become embittered. When there is an unmet need or unfulfilled desire in your life, you may become upset and angry at God. Especially in a culture where we are told that we deserve to have everything we want, it is possible to have a demanding and a critical spirit.
- Your house is falling down and you see someone on TV getting a brand new home with all the furnishings, and you think, “Why couldn’t that be me?”
- Someone wins a lot of money on a game show and you are hurting financially so you lash out.
- You don’t have someone in your life; you ask yourself why God hasn’t given you someone?
- You have serious physical issues and you wonder why other people don’t seem to have the problems you do.
- You may even be surprised that you feel angry at people who have it better than you at times.
- You may be mad at God because life hasn’t treated you better.
WHAT WE FAIL TO SEE IS THAT GOD IS WITH US IN OUR SUFFERING! Sometimes we may slip into the error of thinking that when we are happy and blessed, God is with us in a special way, but when we are facing difficulties we wonder if somehow God has abandoned us. ACTUALLY, GOD MAY BE WITH US IN OUR SUFFERING MORE THAN HE IS WITH US IN OUR PROSPERITY AND TIMES OF EASE. This is the God who not only heard the suffering of his people in Egypt, he came to be among them and enter their suffering. He was their Deliverer in Egypt and camped with them in the wilderness. In the person of Jesus he came into the world and entered our suffering.
He experienced the pain of rejection and betrayal. He felt the brutality of physical suffering. He surrendered to the death experience. He came near to sinful men and women rather than pushing them away. When there was suffering and death, he did not avoid it, he entered into those people’s very human experience.
So just because you are experiencing difficulties it does not mean that God has forgotten you, quite the opposite, HE IS CLOSER THAN AT ANY OTHER TIME OF YOUR LIFE. Find him in the midst of your need or your suffering. See him there with you, for he has said, “‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5-6).
What if you are not facing major problems, but you still live with a sense of restless anxiety and angst? You just feel down. Your life isn’t bad, you just don’t feel happy.
2. LACK OF RELAXATION AND PLAY.
I wonder if we have forgotten how to relax? How long has it been since you sat down with your family & ate a meal together, & then after the meal just talked and visited & had fun? How long has it been since you took off your shoes & walked barefoot & felt the blades of grass beneath your feet?
How long has it been since you took a long walk in the evening, & watched the sun set? Or sat on a chair & read a whole chapter of a book without interruption? How long has it been since you just leaned back & relaxed & listened to some good, wholesome music? How long has it been?
How long has it been since you just spent a day & got away from it all? You took your wristwatch off & forgot what time it was & did what you wanted to do, when you wanted to do it?
Someone said that 3 words can summarize how most of us spend our lives – hurrying, worrying, & scurrying.
Many people are so busy rushing from one thing to another they never have time to play and relax. Their schedule and choices have loaded them with stress. There is no time for a walk, a swim or a bike ride. These are the people who must always be doing something. There is no time to read or think. There is not even time for fun.
Thomas Aquinas was a monk — not one you would expect to be light hearted and playful. But this great theologian of the middle-ages said, “God plays. God created playing. And man should play if he is to live as humanly as possible and to know reality, since it is created by God’s playfulness.”
What a great insight into the heart of God. We serve a God who created play and relaxation (in the creation, He rested, He relaxed.) and he invites us into his life of enjoying life, having cool, clean fun and play.
Many of us are way too serious about life.
Just this week I had a Christian friend say to me that he did not believe Christians should joke around and be frivolous. He thought God intended for Christians to be serious and “sober.” This is a good man, but I could not disagree with him more on this point.
I believe that God laughs out loud! (prove to them…Jesus, seeing Satan fall like lightning.)
Enjoy life…have fun! Smile! Laugh! Schedule some time to play.
Modern society, modern men and women, find their value in how busy they are. If you told someone you were not busy at all they would think you were a lazy lout. There are those people who never get out of their LazyBoy, but most of us have very little fun built into our lives. You can’t be happy if you never take off the saddle. If a bow is going to remain strong and shoot arrows well, you have to take the string off and release the tension when it is not in use — otherwise it loses it’s spring and flexibility. DO SOMETHING CREATIVE AND FUN!
- Surprise your family with a small adventure.
- Go somewhere you have never been before.
- Go out with your Christian friends (Balong, Mike and Me drinking pineapple juice)
- Have a personal time of silence where you just sit and think and pray.
Don’t be so serious about everything. See God playing in nature and play with him.
Old Testament Illustration:
When Ezra the priest read the law to the Hebrew exiles, they realized how badly they had failed God. Weeping began to break out among the people and it grew into a chorus of great sobs. But then Ezra and Nehemiah began to say something surprising to the people. Nehemiah said to them, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Rather than feel worthless and wallow in their failure, God wanted them to rejoice in his forgiveness and enter his joy. Jesus spoke to his disciples saying, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). Jesus has joy, rather he IS joy, and he wants his joy to live in us. He wants us to play to have a good clean fun in the good world he has made.
A third happiness blocker is:
3. BASING YOUR HAPPINESS ON CIRCUMSTANCES RATHER THAN TRUST.
There are always things that we can look at in our lives that we wish were different. At some level there is always something wrong. It is a matter of perspective. It is what we choose to focus on. We can focus on the problem, or we can focus on the God who is with us in the problem, and gives us the grace to overcome the problem — the same God who has been faithful and delivered us so many times in the past. Sometimes we believe in our circumstances more than we believe in God; we see them as more powerful. And this is always contrary to our experience of how God has been with us and helped us in the past. How easily we FORGET THE FAITHFULNESS OF GOD.
I was reading the story of how God delivered Israel from Egypt with “a mighty hand and outstretched arm” (Deuteronomy 7:19). But in spite of the great miracles they had seen, as the people went into the wilderness, they could not believe God could provide them with food and water. They would not believe that God would deliver them from smaller and less powerful nations than Egypt. How quickly they forgot all that God had done for them! They were faithless, yet God remained faithful. Not only did he provide for them, but during their wandering in the wilderness, the Bible says, “For forty years you sustained them in the desert; they lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen” (Nehemiah 9:21). All that worry and inner turmoil over something that never happened!
Worrisome things are happening in our world today. During the past 20 years, earthquakes have increased at a phenomenal rate. Geologists point to the Ring of Fire, & predict that one day a massive and successive earthquake will take place.
And what about the tsunamis that lashed out Japan days ago, the different figths and revolutions, destabilizations in Libya, Middle East and other countries…the floods that wash away bridges & homes? Some are beginning to cry out, “What is happening in our world today?”
But as Christians, how are we to react to all this? The Psalmist says, “I will not be afraid.” My Lord is still in command of the winds & the waves & the sea, & all of the elements of nature.
Most of the things you are worrying about will never happen. Don’t let circumstances rob you of the joy God wants you to have? It is not that these circumstances are not big, but God is bigger still. Do we have a God who is with us in these circumstances or not? Do we have a God we can trust or not? If we do, then let’s live like it. Let’s live large. Let’s trust God and enter into the joy that he lives in.
Time magazine (1-17-05) reported: “Studies show that the more a believer incorporates religion into daily living — attending services, reading Scripture, praying — the better off he or she appears to be on two measures of happiness: frequency of positive emotions and overall sense of satisfaction with life.”
That is to say, it was not just people calling themselves Christian who were happier, it was those who actually practiced the Christian disciplines. It is one thing to believe in God, it is quite another thing to place your whole trust in God — to believe him for the present and the future, and to live with him daily.
Every day I hit the gym from 9-11 a.m. My routine and goal is not to simply gain muscles and to lose weight, but to also increase endurance. With that in mind, I will run for an hour on the thread-mill. Sometimes I didn’t feel like running, but once my blood began to circulate my feet stopped feeling like lead. Those are the mornings I took a long time for my stretching routine. Things would go alright for awhile when I began to run, but sometimes I would get a pain. Maybe it was in my hip or my calf. There were times I would get a sharp pain when I breathed. I had two choices: I could stop running and pack up my things then leave, or I could continue running, hoping the pain would stop.
Runners do something they call “running through the pain.” They know that there are pains that come, but if you keep moving you will push past the pain and it will actually leave. When I would get a pain I would keep going, because I knew from experience that the pain would eventually leave. I knew this because I had done it several times before. I didn’t let the circumstance deter me because I trusted in something that defied the circumstance — something I had proven through experience.
As Christians there are many times we have to push through the pain. We know that the pain of what I am experiencing will not last, but God will. That the only one that will last is the goodness and faithfulness of my God. We must keep running the race because we have proven God’s faithfulness to us over and over, and we know that He is with us even in pain. Circumstances can only threaten, it will never create joy in your heart…but God can give you the victory, true happiness and satisfaction. Even in the pain HE will give me the joy that comes from him. The pain will leave, but HE will stay.
David in this particular Psalm was so down and depressed of all the things that are happening to him…but he commanded his soul, not to be downcast, why? Because he was impliedly telling that God is always near & available to us. God never puts us on hold. We may be on hold on the telephone, on hold at the red light, on hold at the bank as we deposit our money, on hold in the post office line, & on hold at the supermarket. But God is always available & anxious to hear us whenever we want to speak to Him. Some of our problems may be superficial, but others are deep, & God can help us. So talk to Him!
God’s power is greater than anything in all this world. Greater than winds or storms, or earthquakes, or volcanoes. There is no greater power. God’s power is sufficient to win the victory over all the enemies that come our way.
God’s help works even when we can’t help ourselves. Have you felt weak lately? Have you felt like there are too many stresses, too many ICUs in your life, & that you’re about ready to explode? God’s help is available, & all you have to do is reach out for it, & grab hold.
So therefore, never find happiness on circumstances, never focus on your situation, focus on God…trust Him with all of your heart, because the more you trust Him, the more you find satisfaction and true peace in this world that is now in turmoil.
- Rodney J. Buchanan
- Melvin Newland
- Time Magazine (1-17-05)
- Dr. David G. Meyers, author of The Pursuit of Happiness: Who Is Happy — and Why