Is it possible to pursue happiness?
I grew up believing that my life was only ‘good’ if I felt happy. I was the kid with the bored and restless spirit. I would take risks and chase after thrills, even it came at a cost to my health, relationships or bank account. Happiness was the basis for my existence, and yet it left me feeling terribly insecure. While Western individualism encouraged me to live life to the max, it so often left me wondering if I was ever living enough?
Do I have enough?
Am I happy enough?
Have I experienced enough?
Am I enough?
For most of us, we live for the taste of temporary highs: the promotion at work, the first kiss, the taste of chocolate, the family reunion over Christmas, the adrenaline of a skydive, the thrill of casual sex; but when the moment passes or the rain clouds come, we find ourselves back at square one, grasping for the next best thing in the hope that it will satisfy our insatiable appetites for happiness.
Over the years, I’ve had to learn that while God promises me many things, he doesn’t promise me happiness in this lifetime. Happiness is an impossible pursuit because it is dependent on changing circumstances that are beyond human control. Nobody can be fully prepared for sickness, conflict, the next financial crisis, depression, or sudden death. Following Jesus on the narrow road can sometimes be hard work! I don’t think anyone wrestles with weakness or forgives their enemies because it makes them feel happy.
If pursuing happiness was the motivator for my faith, I would honestly have given up on following Jesus years ago! If not happiness, what should we be pursuing? What does it look like for the Christian to live life to the max?
Contentment: The Possible Pursuit
“…for 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.” — Apostle Paul (Phil 4:11-13)
As a Christian, the Apostle Paul experienced immense suffering, but he acknowledges that it is God who gave him strength, in the form of contentment to endure. We can be content in God because unlike the circumstances of our lives, God’s promises in Jesus are unchanging. This means that no matter your lot and in spite of your personal performance, nothing can separate you from God’s love and the security of eternal life with Him. (Rom 8:38-39) Sure life on this side of eternity can be tough, but everything changed when Jesus removed the sting of death. Are we, like Paul, willing to learn to be content in all circumstances? Are we willing to train ourselves to be content with God’s plan and provision, because we believe that ‘to live is Christ, and to die is gain’?
So often we think that the happy Christian is the blessed Christian, but Paul stresses that godliness withcontentment is great gain (1 Tim 6:5-7). Over the years, I’ve had to learn that my happiness is not a measure of spiritual maturity, or a reflection of God’s goodness to me. My faith does not make me immune to sadness. In fact, in the kingdom of God, you can be experiencing poverty and pain precisely because you are faithful and blessed:
I doubt Daniel was happy about being thrown into the lion’s den for his faith in God.
I doubt Paul was happy when he was beaten, stoned and shipwrecked for preaching the gospel.
I doubt that the Thessalonian church was happy when they faced suffering and persecution upon conversion.
I doubt that Jesus was happy when he was betrayed, humiliated and crucified on the cross:
“…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”— Hebrews 12:1-3
Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before him. He shows us that when we give up what is temporary and momentary, we will gain what is lasting and eternal. He shows us that it is possible to love, serve and forgive at great cost, because he promises a day when He will return to wipe away every tear. (Rev 21:4) In eternity, we will experience forever love and forever pleasure; we will enjoy forever friends and forever family; and we will rest in forever security and forever happiness.
When I’m surrounded by a world that is pursuing happiness now, I can become discouraged by discontentment and ingratitude. My tears can cause me to doubt God’s goodness. But when I fix my weary eyes on His crown, I am reminded that hard is not always bad and my pain is never purposeless. In the words of Spurgeon, I want to learn to “kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.” I want to pursue contentment, and in Christ I know it’s possible.
How will your secure future with Jesus, shape your present pursuits on earth?