The pursuit of happiness is slippery. But even more slippery is how we ought to think about it. Christian teaching on this topic ranges from one extreme of blacklisting it as “worldly” to the other of brazenly demanding it as a “right” owed us by God. Because of such variance, Christians often don’t know how to think about this topic—afraid that doing so is either sinful or selfish.
Nevertheless, Jesus not only affirmed happiness as a legitimate desire but he even validated its pursuit. Throughout the gospels Jesus teaches about ultimate happiness and shows us how to discern its presence amongst a host of counterfeits posing in its stead. Interestingly, we’ll even see how Christ’s teaching about happiness directly relates to our current theme of holy surrender.
In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:1-12), Jesus promises his disciples happiness (blessedness) as the result of embracing a certain kind of lifestyle based on his teaching (i.e., meekness, mercy, purity of heart, etc.). Such happiness is then exponentially expanded when he later promises “life to the full” to those who choose not to save but surrender their lives to him (Matt 16:25).
From this, we learn two things. First, Christ is the source of our ultimate happiness. When we entrust our lives to him, he’ll show us how true this really is. Second, giving, not getting, is the method of acquiring this elusive treasure. Initially, such self-denial will feel counter-intuitive but eventually we’ll see how it truly does open us to greater happiness. If we do not hold ourselves accountable to these fundamental truths, over time we’ll forget the wonder and beauty of such blessing and settle for lesser substitutes. How?
First, through neglect. We live in a society that thinks about happiness very differently than Jesus did. Every day we are culturally exposed to hundreds or thousands of images and words that reinforce this certain way of thinking. Therefore, we must regularly examine our hearts to see if our behavior matches our beliefs. If they don’t and we fail to recognize this discrepancy, eventually we’ll doubt his sufficiency and seek satisfaction elsewhere.
Second, by forgetting to give. If we fail to remember that it is in giving our life away that Christ pours his back into us, then we’ll literally suck the joy out of even our most cherished blessings. While the world boastfully exclaims, “When these jewels are finally mine, this life, oh yes, will be divine,” may we, in turn, cry out in loving worship, “All to Him I freely give!” Next week we talk about how God can free us from faulty ways of thinking about happiness.
What Do You Think?
Do you struggle with resisting society’s vision of happiness? How might surrender to Christ help you overcome this struggle?
♦ To see the poem this post is based on, click here.