People often ask each other, “So, what are you up to these days?” “How’s life?” or “What are you doing with yourself these days?” We know we are supposed to do something with the lives we have been given, but we’re not exactly sure what that something is or how to make it happen. And, on top of that, we all instinctively want to be happy.
Behind each of these questions and thoughts is the hidden assumption that life is something that is given to us, something we are stewards of. Yet, we often assume life is just there without understanding why. It sounds cliché, but life is truly a gift. Our entire existence has been given to us and is continually gifted to us. The Spirit of God has breathed life into us as a gift to be cherished in our hearts so that we might praise God with that breath (Gen. 2:7). Life is a gift that God continually pours out upon us.
But life can become uncertain when we forget this grand gesture of God. We often struggle with what to do with ourselves because we so easily forget that God was not compelled to give us so many good things—including our very lives and the air we breathe. Ingratitude easily fills our hearts and all we want is more, thinking that once we have something or someone in our possession, the good life will really be ours. Living for ourselves —that is happiness.
The Hard Lesson of Life
We are often told to look into our hearts and to follow our dreams in order to find happiness and peace, meaning and fulfillment in this life. Even Christians can get sucked into this. And yet, the truth could not be further from this idea. It is not that Christianity is against happiness but that true happiness and fulfillment are found in denying ourselves and finding it in others: in God and in our neighbors.
The only way for us to find true peace and eternal happiness is for God to come down to us and save us from ourselves. When we do forget God’s goodness and kindness to us, he continually pours grace upon grace so that we might turn from our ingratitude and live in the grace that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 2:4). God has endured much to make known to you and to me the riches of his glory. Before we could do good or evil, God prepared us to be vessels of mercy for his glory and our eternal good (Rom. 8:22–23).
Life is about learning this hard lesson, the slow death of self and letting go of our plans and agendas and ideas — the dying of our old identity and the raising up of our new one in Christ. We die to ourselves. Yes. But only to find it again in others and in God.
Once we let go of ourselves and give our lives to God, we are “re-gifted” life as it was meant to be and beyond what we could ever hope it to be. For we have now been made stewards of an eternal kingdom. We have been given a grace that far surpasses the normal questions of life but nevertheless gives new meaning to these questions as something far more important than we could ever realize.
Only when we give ourselves away can we see that life is not precarious or meaningless. Life is given to us again as a free gift in Jesus so we might live the life we were meant to live.
Jesus reminds us that the one who comes as a thief to steal the gift of life paradoxically destroys what he seeks. That is the sad puzzle of life. The one who tries to gain life by his own will and strength ends up losing it, but the one who loses himself to God finds his life and true happiness in Jesus through his kingdom (Matt 10: 38-40; John 10:7–18).
We do not find happiness or serenity, then, by looking within and maintaining our feelings or our identity. Happiness is ironically found when we stop looking to ourselves and grasping after happiness. Happiness and joy come when we have the sacrificial outlook that Christ calls us to. So, stop looking within and begin to look without — to those in need — so that the world may see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5:16). In doing so we actually find true and lasting happiness in our eternal God.
In our pluralistic world, holding to the Christian faith often results in various sorts of clashes and collisions with our neighbors.