Wednesday 20th March is, apparently, the international Day of Happiness. That’s good, right? A good thing to celebrate? Especially if Krispy Kreme are doing buy one get one free doughnuts to celebrate. Except I found that out too late. Which made be sad, not happy. But happiness is the goal – right?
Well, no. The Bible never ever tells us to aim for happiness. It never promises happiness. It doesn’t even talk about happiness at all. God does reveal lots about joy, however. But that seems to be something quite different to happiness.
For example, read James 1:2, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” and flick over a couple of pages to 1 Peter 1:6, “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” Here are instances of two different authors telling their readers to have joy in the midst of trials and sufferings. How? Peter tells us that it’s because God “has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.” (1 Peter 1:3 – 4)
It’s because that inheritance (heaven!) is certain, it can’t “perish, spoil or fade” that we can be joyful even while everything around us is falling apart. After all, life is messy! I think that it’s so easy as a Christian to put on a front of “everything is awesome” (Lego Movie, anyone?) because we feel the need to seem like we are doing OK. But you know what, it’s OK not to be OK.
I have recently discovered how freeing it is to be honest about your struggles with others. And – guess what – it’s biblical! When talking about the church – a group of believers – and comparing it to a physical body, Paul says, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ and the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!'” (1 Corinthians 12:21). We need each other, in all our strengths and weaknesses.
Let’s go back to the Old Testament and see an even firmer case of a believer rejoicing in the midst of hardship. Read Psalm 13. I’ll paste it here as it’s so good to read!
For the director of music. A psalm of David.
1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.
Here we have King David, struggling big time. He wrestles with his thoughts, he has sorrow in his heart day after day. He has no light in his eyes. But even in the midst of that, he is trusting in God and rejoicing in his salvation! How is that possible? Because that joy is not dependent on any outward circumstances.
Here’s an interesting thing to think about as I finish off – did you notice what it says at the beginning of the Psalm? That it was addressed to the director of music. So this was meant to be sung! Could you imagine singing this at our church? Singing “day after day I have sorrow in my heart, but I still trust God” ? Maybe we should sing that! Songwriters – I put the challenge to you!
So, amongst the mess of life, whether you’re grieving the loss of a loved one, you’re battling depression, you’re struggling through a chronic health condition, you hate your job, your family is particularly challenging… whatever it is (and there will be something, whoever you are!) remember that God doesn’t promise happiness, but he does promise joy if we are looking to him.
Let’s be real with each other. As we do so, our friendships will deepen and we can rejoice more fully in God together. How much greater does it sound to say “everything is rubbish but I’m rejoicing in God” than, “everything’s going really well and I’m rejoicing in God?” There’s nothing wrong with the latter, and if that’s you – hooray, you must tell me your secret formula! But the faith of someone who can say the former will never be shaken. And it speaks volumes to a watching world.