Here’s a little song I wrote
You might want to sing it note for note
Don’t worry, be happy
In every life we have some trouble
But when you worry you make it double
Don’t worry, be happy
Don’t worry, be happy now
Do you remember this catchy tune from the late 80s? I recall hearing it not long after its debut while traveling with my father, stepmother, and sisters in Naples, Florida when I was 16 years old. Life had gotten really complicated for me during that time. My parents had divorced, both remarried, and were preparing to move from the country in Northeast, Ohio to the city in Southwest, Ohio. I was a teenager struggling with all sorts of things, and I remember thinking to myself, “If only it was that easy, Bobby McFerrin!”
The new sermon series at PAG entitled, “The Habits of Happiness”, reminded me that happiness is a choice we have to make. That choice does not need to be dependent on our circumstances, because, let’s face it, circumstances often don’t go the way we expect! Life can leave us prone to wander… and to worry!
It seems that many Christians tend to separate happiness and joy, and that has always confused me. In Christian circles there is much talk about the difference between happiness and joy, but, personally, I think they go together! Happiness is a synonym for joy, and joy is defined as, “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.” Joy is often considered a contentment or assurance, based on faith that God is in control, and we can cling to His promises. Happiness, in contrast, can be considered a superficial emotion dependent on circumstances, but this, to me, seems like a false dichotomy.
“Modern distinctions between happiness and joy are completely counterintuitive. For too long we’ve distanced the gospel from what God created us to desire—and what he desires for us—happiness.” ~Randy Alcorn
There are different types of joy and happiness. There is worldly joy and happiness, which is temporary. Jesus tells His disciples that they cannot seek happiness the way the world does. The desire to be happy cannot be your excuse to sin; rather obedience to Him brings happiness. True joy is not found in selfish ambition, excuses, or self-justification. We can chase after earthly things (relationships, careers, education, health, material things… etc.) thinking they will bring happiness, but, like Solomon, we will realize that these pursuits are “meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14).
In contrast, there is joy and happiness that comes from God and our relationship with Him. I believe God is happy, and He desires for us to be happy! (Certainly there are things that make Him unhappy, but for now I’d like to focus on Him being happy!) Scripture tells us, that He is thinking of us constantly! You are ALWAYS on His mind! (Psalm 139:17-18) Not only is He thinking about YOU, but He delights in YOU and is rejoicing over YOU with singing! (Zephaniah 3:17) He longs to have a relationship with YOU! The only thing that will truly satisfy our desire for joy and happiness in this life is an abiding relationship with our Heavenly Father through Christ Jesus.
“But to think that Almighty God, who spoke the universe into existence, continually watches over me, continually thinks about me, and continually sings over me… because He loves and delights in me? It is mind-boggling. But it’s true, and His desire is that you would know that truth with complete certainty in every corner of your heart and soul. “~ Dave Carroll
Paul knew that truth with complete certainty, and that’s why, in his letter to the Philippians, he is practicing and encouraging his audience to be joy-filled. One small detail you might find fascinating is that he’s writing to his friends from PRISON!
We’ve all been there! Maybe not literal prison, but circumstances of life that sure have felt anything but happy and far more like confinement. Can you relate? Are you feeling imprisoned by financial stress? Have you been restricted and restrained by issues that are affecting your physical body? Do you feel enslaved by sins that so easily entangle… or sentenced to life by some relational bondage, past or present? It’s in these situations that Paul is reminding us, as believers in Christ Jesus, that we can choose happiness and joy. Paul’s joy was Christ’s joy. We can be happy in God despite our circumstances, and Paul encourages his readers to start by choosing happiness in their relationships. Paul’s advice may sound easy, but it can be quite difficult to do. And, it’s impossible in our own strength. Thankfully Paul reminds us a few chapters later that, “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)
Paul starts his letter to the church in Philippi from a heart of GRATITUDE, even as he is in chains for the Gospel. (Philippians 1:3, 5) Paul was grateful for the people in his life. When I have been in those difficult seasons, I, like Paul, have learned to thank God for the people he has placed in my life to walk the journey with me! I often reminisce about my journey thus far and recall several people that God strategically placed in my life, and by doing so, changed my life! I have communicated often to them my gratitude for allowing God to use them in that way. Their obedience to speak truth into my life forever changed me! Think about someone in your own life who has been Jesus to you. Have you thanked them? Let me encourage you to do so… it is so good to remember God’s grace in our lives, and it is good to remind others of how they have been used by God to impact our lives eternally! Pick up the phone and make a call, or pick up a pen and write a note. Or simply journal to God from a heart of gratitude, thanking Him for the provision of those relationships in your life!
Paul encourages us to PRAY with joy for the people in our lives. (Philippians 1:4) Isn’t it true that we often want to change so much about others, but we don’t want to change ourselves? We’re pretty good at pointing out the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye while ignoring the huge tree sticking out of our own eye! (Matthew 7:3-5) Often when I am praying for someone, the Holy Spirit will whisper in my ear… “I’m praying that for you, Jenny.” Oh, Wow… Yes, Lord, examine our hearts when we pray! Prayer changes me!
I so appreciated the “Prayer Agenda” presented by Paul in Philippians 1:9-11. I am adopting this to pray for myself and others!
- Pray I/they will grow in love.
- Pray I/they will make wise choices.
- Pray I/they will live with integrity.
- Pray I/they will become like Jesus.
Let’s not stop there, let’s allow our prayers to change our thinking and ask the Holy Spirit to empower us to EXPECT THE BEST from the people in our lives. (Philippians 1:6-7) Let’s speak to the treasure in others, and release people from the captivity of their flesh and the lies of the enemy! Help people see their worth… their identity as sons and daughters of the King! Let’s encourage each other to trust God’s process “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” (Philippians 1:6)
With our physical eyes, we see who a person is. With our spiritual eyes, we see who that person can become! Oh Lord, help us to close our physical eyes in prayer and know that you will open our spiritual eyes to perceive what is far more real than the reality we can perceive with our senses!
“Dig for gold, not the dirt…Nobody who has a gold mine says, ‘Look at all the dirt I found!’ What I pull out of my pocket is all the gold nuggets I’ve found! Always protect people’s dignity.” ~Robby Dawkins
Lastly, let me encourage you to LOVE PEOPLE in your life like Jesus does! How does Jesus love? Completely. Unconditionally. Sacrificially. Jesus is the perfect role model for loving others well. He gave His life so that we could have a love relationship with Him, and He did so while we were still sinners. He calls us to do the same. Will you join me in asking God to cultivate this kind of love in our hearts so that we can be conduits of His love to a broken world?