Being Happy For The Right Reasons
Is Never Wrong
Does Jesus want you to be happy?
Yes, He does and there is no place where He makes the point more clearly than in the first part of the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12).
Unfortunately, what people say about the beatitudes doesn’t always convey “happy.”
Even the word “Beatitude” is a bit misleading. It has a ceremonial ring to it and casts the pall of religious sludge over teachings Jesus intended to be refreshing.
Not only is the word not found in the Bible, it is stretching the point to call it English. It is a transliteration of the Latin word “beati” – meaning blessed or happy – and, to my knowledge has no other use other than referencing the first part of Jesus’ Sermon. Google it for yourself and see.
No doubt the word is still used today because clerics popularized it and their intent was anything but clarity.
Generally speaking all religions, including Christianity, are not known for showing a happy face but believe it or not, this word actually means “supreme blessedness or happiness” according to The Free Online Dictionary. Usual interpretations convey everything but.
Take for example the following statement by John Gill:
All mankind are spiritually poor; they have nothing to eat that is fit and proper; nor any clothes to wear, but rags; nor are they able to purchase either; they have no money to buy with; they are in debt, owe ten thousand talents, and have nothing to pay; and in such a condition, that they are not able to help themselves. The greater part of mankind are insensible of this their condition; but think themselves rich, and increased with goods: there are some who are sensible of it, who see their poverty and want, freely acknowledge it, bewail it, and mourn over it; are humbled for it, and are broken under a sense of it; entertain low and mean thoughts of themselves; seek after the true riches, both of grace and glory; and frankly acknowledge, that all they have or hope to have, is owing to the free grace of God.
This is Mr. Gill’s explanation of “poor in spirit” which was the first point Jesus made in His sermon. No disrespect intended but where’s the “happy?” I don’t even get a warm fuzzy after reading those remarks.
The sad part is many others sound just like him. There are minor differences in wording but the spirit is the same.
Mr. Gill, like all the others, is aiming at salvation, and yes, happiness is one evidence of salvation but is that the only time we can expect to be happy? Are we to be solemn and look miserable at all other times? When the glow of salvation meets with the palling moments of life should we expect happiness to flee? In Mr. Gill’s case, he never quite gets to salvation but the progression in most interpretations is:
- We are hopeless sinners – poor in spirit.
- We must confess our hopelessness to God and embrace Jesus.
- God responds to those who embrace Jesus by saving their souls.
- And those He saves are happy.
And, again, salvation does make a person supremely happy but the joy that it brings is challenged every day afterward by the realities of life and there are very few interpretations that allow for that.
And, as I said, the above writer never mentioned salvation or the happiness it brings. He only managed to call every human being a completely worthless incapable piece of scum – in so many words – and suggests something that doesn’t add up:
“All (we) have, or hope to have, is owing to the free grace of God.”
No one thinks he means it but he definitely suggests that we are totally helpless.
Where salvation is concerned that is true. Neither you nor I can save ourselves but everything else in life requires personal effort. Sitting around waiting for God or His grace to earn wages, go to gym or cook meals for us will get us fired, leave us sluggish and/or make us dead not happy.
Christians shouldn’t walk around with a silly grin all the time but “gloomy” and “despondent” shouldn’t characterize them either.
He and many others need to come up with a better way to make their point.
There are actually only two times when salvation produces overcoming joy: the day we get saved personally and the day we die. The struggles of life between those two days tend to tarnish that joy.
David is a good example. When trudging through life’s inevitable problems he prayed:
“Restore to me the joy of your salvation…” (Psalm 51:5)
When David made this plea he was obviously secure in his salvation but not very happy. Knowing salvation is secure is comforting, yes, but comfort is what we need in the face of unhappy situations.
The knowledge of salvation may give us the strength to carry on in the face of great difficulties but we call that patience not supreme happiness. And the situations requiring patience aren’t remembered fondly as the happiest moments of our lives. We might be happy once we work through the particular difficulty that required us to be patient but that is how “happy” works. Appropriate responses in the face of less than happy moments has the potential to eventually make us happy.
A huge observation not often made is the fact that sin isn’t the only reason our happiness is diminished.
Many “poor in spirit” moments dot the path of our journey simply because we are humans. Some are caused by sin, yes – ours and others – but many are caused by circumstances completely out of our control and many others manifest when we grow. These moments produce what is known as growing pains and they occur whether our growth is spiritual, mental, emotional or physical.
The mental blocks that retard the education of children, for example, represent “poor in spirit” moments. We’ve all had them and worked through them. In fact, from that experience we learned that working through them successfully is what leads to happy.
Life’s natural and inevitable difficulties and our responses to them – frustration, discouragement, anxiety, sometimes despondence – can NOT be avoided. And salvation isn’t the only answer. Not every person happily succeeds in life’s normal challenges only because they are saved.
All of that is to say we need to rethink “happy.” Following is my take on the issue.
If Jesus had sermonized in the style of most modern preachers I think He would have started His sermon with two questions:
- Are you happy?
- If not, do you want to be?
I say that because His primary topic is clearly happiness. He mentions many things in these first twelve verses but happiness is the common thread. Unfortunately, “happy” often gets lost in the carping about sin.
And we mustn’t get sidetracked by closely related but off the topic issues. Jesus didn’t say anything about being “thankful.” “Gratitude” is a useful outlook when life takes a bad turn but that isn’t a happy time.
People who are supremely (irritatingly) happy when everything is turning to mud are mentally challenged or chemically imbalanced or just plain drunk. Paul suggested gratitude is a tool for managing anxiety – Philippians 4:6. Those aren’t happy moments.
Jesus didn’t say anything about “satisfaction” or “contentment” either. Being satisfied is a short-lived experience. We eat supper only to need breakfast soon after. The same is true with bills. The demands are temporarily met and constantly recurring.
Gratitude, satisfaction and contentment are useful responses but none of them are “happy.” We mustn’t get our attitudes mixed.
Happy is an outcome, a by-product of achievement. We are happy when we win the prize through hard work, consistent preparation and fair play.
“If you know these things, happy are you if you DO them.” (John 13:17)
And Jesus’ sermon is filled with “do” points. When we do them, the result is “happy.”
And the best news of all is Jesus wants you to be “supremely” happy. That is the very first point in His sermon.
The difficulty is He said things, which to the human way of thinking, do not make sense. He mentioned eight actionable ideas we don’t normally associate with “happy.”
- Being poor in spirit
- Being meek
- Being merciful
- Being pure in heart
- Making peace
- Thirsting and hungering for righteousness
- And enduring persecution
I am not suggesting that Jesus is irrational. I am saying that Jesus told us things – especially about being happy – which we do not readily understand. We learn very quickly from this sermon that Jesus was not trying to identify with human thinking and philosophy.
But, I think it is important to focus on the happy part before we get too far along in the other stuff. Happy is the primary concept and sets the tone.
Let’s make some observations.
First, Happiness Is The central Theme Of This Study
We are studying happiness not gratitude, contentment or any other worthy qualities. If Jesus wanted to talk about gratitude He would have said so. He didn’t.
And since “happiness” is the theme it must be the reference point. Everything else is this statement must be defined by “happy” not the other way around.
Our understanding of “poor in spirit,” “mourning” and “meekness” must be understood in light of “happy.” It is a mistake to start this study by reshaping happiness to fit in with some clerics idea of self-sacrifice. The definition of happy is not being rewritten here.
Happiness is a universal idea and it doesn’t allow for many variations in definition.
Second, Everyone Wishes To Be Happy
That is the assumption being made by Jesus in this sermon. He is speaking to an issue which is important to every person.
People who don’t want to be happy are medicated or sent for therapy. They don’t represent the norm.
Third, Jesus Is Teaching Us To Move Through and Beyond Life’s Problems, Not Be Overcome By Them
Mourning is a way to rise above our losses. If we don’t mourn properly, we are vulnerable to a perpetual state of “what if” thinking. He is not telling us to cause losses or enjoy them but rather, colloquially speaking, get over it.
People who insure their losses are usually the happiest. They are honest about the unavoidability of loss and are certainly more prepared for it when it comes.
Fourth, Happiness Is The By-Product Of Engaging All These Do Points Well
You cannot achieve happiness with only one or a few.
One important strategy for making peace – one of His teaching points – is approaching the conflict with a meek attitude – another teaching point. Meaning, of course, that these points aren’t applied in isolation. They work together. When friction occurs (the opposite of peace) responding arrogantly (the opposite of meek) is one way to put fuel on the fire.
We must follow all the “do” points, not just the ones we like best.
Fifth, If You Are All Of These Things You Will Be Obviously Christian
You won’t become a Christian by doing these things but you will be recognized as a Christian by doing them.
People who implement these keys to happiness won’t need to tell anyone they are Christian. Others will see it and say it for them.
And Jesus is the one who emphasized this. It is not coincidental that He followed these happy sayings immediately with “you are the salt of the earth” and “you are the light of the world.”
Walking into every situation mouth first, spitting Bible verses like bullets is not exactly what Jesus had in mind here.
Don’t get me wrong. There is a time to speak up but our voice should be permeated with meekness, mercy and peace, not barbs. It is possible to disagree without being mouthy. Actually, you can disagree without saying a word.
Living the truth can be just as effective as speaking it. The most prominent tool for evangelizing should be your life accompanied by a well-tempered mouth.
A Sixth Observation, Which Is Implied In These Verses, And Should Be Obvious Is This:
We inherently do not know how to achieve happiness.
For Jesus to tell us how to be happy is for Him to suggest that we do not really understand the issues.
If we knew how to be happy Jesus wouldn’t waste time telling us these things? He was telling us in a very gentle way that we really don’t know what we are doing.
Everyone makes the effort to be happy but there is a great deal of evidence to indicate that many never achieve it. Jesus understood this and spoke up.
Seventh, Jesus Is Telling Us That He Really Cares
Not only does Jesus care, this sermon was His way of saying we don’t have to live under the cloud of hurt and pain. He wants us to be genuinely happy.
We could never accuse Jesus of being “anti-happy” or insensitive. And He wants us to be blissfully, supremely happy not just better than most.
That is where Jesus and humanity are at odds. Most people are satisfied just getting by. People who plan to do better are first doubted and then ridiculed. Rarely are people encouraged to be blissfully happy.
One young minister claimed he was going to build a large church and win thousands to the Lord. All the other ministers, just getting by, shouted him down.
Any person who is blissfully happy is an irritation to the “just get bys.” Jesus isn’t that way. He wants you to be happy, supremely so.
Your happiness is His great desire and that brings us to observation number eight.
Eighth, Happiness Is Very Inter-Personal
Many of the “do” points Jesus mentioned are very relational: show mercy, be meek, make peace, endure persecution and so on. And it just so happens that relationship turbulence is a big cause of unhappiness.
You might say that the best way to be happy is to work hard at making others happy.
Under those circumstances, happiness multiplies.
Ninth, Happiness Requires Your Personal Initiative
Jesus wasn’t telling us what He was going to do to make us happy.
He was telling us what we must do in order to reach a happy state.
To become happy requires more than “just add water.”
Tenth, Happiness Is Now Not Later
Why would Jesus teach us how to be happy in heaven? Who in heaven won’t be happy?
In the heavenly afterlife, the default sensation is happy, so Jesus is not teaching us to do something now so we can be happy later, in heaven. To suggest it is ludicrous.
We won’t need to make peace in heaven. We won’t be persecuted in heaven. We won’t be the salt of the earth or the light of the world in heaven and there is nothing to mourn in heaven.
Therefore, you should expect to be happy now, in this life.
It is my personal hope that, if you are not already happy, you will be very soon. Follow the instructions of Jesus faithfully and you will eventually find happy.
What do you THINK!AboutIt?
Heaven Is For Real is a bio of a “near death” experience (NDE) but without all the “weird” and “sketchy” images that usually accompany such stories.
It doesn’t focus on “long tunnels with lights at the end” or the sensation of watching medical personnel feverishly operate from a hovering out-of-body perspective. The details aren’t blurred and unanswered questions don’t abound. It is a matter-of-fact story shared from the perspective of an almost-four-year-old child who had no preconceived ideas beforehand and explains everything casually. To him, it wasn’t strange.