There once was in man a true happiness of which now remains to him only the mark and an empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings… But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself. – Blaise Pascal
Well, it’s late January and due to the Earth’s axial tilt, we call it winter here in the Northern Hemisphere of spaceship earth. Thankfully, my lodgings are located on the peninsula known as Florida, just about as close to the equator as one can get while still remaining on the continental United States. Me? I’m hanging out once again in the Gulf Coast city of Tarpon Springs to do a little writing. With temperatures hovering in the high 70s, a seat at Rusty Bellies, one of my favorite waterfront bistros, seemed like the perfect office for the day. Always grateful for the beautiful view, right now, I’m quite happy. I say “right now“ because in the rough and tumble of everyday life, happiness can be somewhat elusive and very fleeting. So, it’s great to be happily enjoying the moment. But what is happiness anyway?
When people say to me “I’m happy”, they often seem to imply that things are going “their” way at the moment. It appears that for them, happiness is based on how they feel at the present time. If life is unfolding the way they desire, an emotionally good feeling results. We call that feeling happiness.
There was a time in my own life when I thought that happiness was the most important feeling in the world. After all, according to the U.S. Constitution, the pursuit of happiness is an absolute right given to all mankind by the creator. Therefore, the Almighty must be first and foremost interested in our happiness. I mean really, if He is the all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-seeing one, how could He possibly let me be unhappy? And then one day, someone turned me on to the mission and the message of an extraordinary man called Jesus. My life was transformed. All of a sudden, the bondage of man-made religion went out the window and a genuine revelation of what we call “God” walked through my innermost door.
Imagine the shock and awe when my spiritual eyes were opened and I came to understand that my personal happiness was not the Creator’s principal concern. Really, when you stop and think about it, if God’s highest purpose for us on spaceship earth is never-ending individual bliss, we wouldn’t be riding on this doomed hellhole in the first place now would we? In fact, the Liberator Jesus said, that “in this lifetime, you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33). Do you even know what the word tribulation means? Try suffering, trouble, distress, difficulty, pain and misfortune ” to name but a few synonyms.
It took a while, but eventually I came to comprehend that a follower of Jesus simply cannot chase a life based primarily upon the pursuit of one’s own happiness. Those who “preach” only such narrow doctrine have embraced a very shallow theology indeed. Overall, spiritual success is not measured by material prosperity, comfort, or the ability to live a life of indulgence. The Almighty is not some galactic talisman that we beseech to conjure up a blessing. Frankly, we are given a lifetime of passage here on spaceship earth so that we might find “the way, the truth and the life” and through obedience secure a return trip to that place from whence we came.
The bottom line in the Christian life is obedience and most people don’t even like the word.” – Charles Stanley
In the continuing (and expanding) age of global cyber consumerism, mankind would love nothing more than an “on demand” God who grants “instant-access” to everything through a “you-deserve-it” theology. Thus says the Lord: “Call on me and I will answer thee and I shall give unto thee what you want, whenever you want it.” Problem is, I can’t seem to find this verse anywhere in the Bible.
Instead, I am confronted with a value system based not on a temporal standard of materialism and earthly significance, but on the transcending principles of faith in and obedience to a message brought to earth by the Genesis man himself, the Liberator Jesus. And yet, millions continue to join the “church of the happy campers” because it is so much easier than surrendering personal desires to a Creator Spirit we can’t see, feel, or touch in the flesh.
I believe that the widespread focus on human bliss so often enshrined in much of western culture (including Christendom) stems from a failure to differentiate between joy and happiness. At the risk of oversimplification, let me say this: Joy flows from the depths of a limitless inner well of peace and contentment. Happiness is just a temporary feeling produced by favorable emotional stimulation.
As Christians, joy is the direct result of our reclamation by Jesus and the subsequent indwelling of His Holy Spirit. Unlike happiness, Joy can be present in our daily lives regardless of the circumstances or challenges we might be facing at any given moment. Real Joy is supernatural and as such it cannot be obtained without the innermost presence of the Divine.
While visiting the earth, Jesus delivered a message meant to fill His followers with great joy (John 15:11). The Newer Testament writer Paul encouraged all believers to “rejoice (express joy) always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16), and to do so even in times of unhappiness (2 Corinthians 6:10). In the Older Testament of the Bible, the Prophet Nehemiah boldly declares that “the joy of the Lord is our strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)
Joy is distinctly a Christian word and a Christian thing. It is the reverse of happiness. Joy has its springs deep down inside. And that spring never runs dry, no matter what happens. Only Jesus gives that joy.” – S.D. Gordon
Let me make something very clear before we go our separate ways: God is not anti-happiness. Sometimes the blessings of our Creator are tangible, wonderful ” even amazing. As such, they make us very happy. But suffering – whether physical, spiritual or emotional – is also a part of being human, and often God will allow us to go through some very unpleasant experiences for the sake of our greater good.
I love happy times. Who doesn’t? Making people happy brings me tremendous satisfaction. Nevertheless, our happiness and success are not God’s end goals. Like it or not, some “blessings” from God may not have you dancing and shouting hallelujah. If you are a genuine follower of the Liberator Jesus, the primary purpose of life here on spaceship earth is to learn to obey His voice and to draw closer to Him. Sometimes this process will make you very happy and your joy will be full. But when moments of suffering and hardship darken your door, remember what the Spirit of the Almighty said to the Newer Testament writer Paul when he was going through an “unhappy” episode in his life,
9 He answered me, “I am all you need. I give you My loving-favor. My power works best in weak people.” Therefore, I (Paul) am happy to be weak and have troubles so I can have Christ’s power in me. 10 I receive joy when I am weak. I receive joy when people talk against me and make it hard for me and try to hurt me and make trouble for me. I receive joy when all these things come against me because of Jesus. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLV)
Supernatural strength can manifest when we are in our weakest hours. Happiness may be eluding you at the moment, but the joy of the Lord is your strength. You won’t find that joy in a bottle, a bed, a pill or the crisis hotline. Try this number found in the scriptures ” Jer-3303 ” here’s the message you’ll hear,
“Call me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.” (Jeremiah 33:03)
Hey, it’s a toll free number. Call now.
Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is a noted author, broadcaster, a popular Bible teacher and a rabbid Coastal Junkie®
For additional information write to: Coastal Life Ministries, P.O. Box 1283, New Port Richey, Florida 34656