Wednesday, May 27, 2015

To pursue joy or happiness...

          When I was in college, I had New Testament Survey at 7:45 in the morning. I was not then, and am not now, a "morning" person, and found it difficult to be awake, much less cheerful. You may appreciate then how hard it was to sit under my professor’s relentlessly cheerful and joyful sweep through the New Testament over the next 4 months! But I learned something from her; joy is not a creation of circumstances, the result of being consistently entertained to death. Joy is the creation of a life satisfied with God's goodness and grace, confident in hope of new mercies.
            Joy is often confused for happiness. In America happiness is one of the pursuits guaranteed under the constitution of the United States (though happiness meant something in 1776 which it does not now mean).
            We American's pursue happiness, primarily through overindulgence. We fear boredom and silence more than death; so we glut our senses with movies, TV, theme parks, road trips, the internet, sports and casinos until our wallets are empty, our eyes bloodshot and our brains and emotions numb.
The problem is that happiness as a pursuit leads to unhappiness.  We were not created to be happy.  We were created to experience joy. Joy is the creation of a life satisfied with God's goodness and grace, confident in hope of new mercies. Listen to this:

"When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, 'The Lord has done great things for them.' The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him." Psalm 126

            Did you notice the repeated emphasis on joy? This Psalm dates from the time after the Jewish exiles returned from exile in Babylon, their circumstances anything but easy. And yet, there is joy bursting through at every turn. Why don’t the majority of humans experience this? As Eugene Peterson, writes in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction,

        "We cannot make ourselves joyful. Joy cannot be commanded, purchased or arranged. But there is something we can do. We can decide to live in response to the abundance of God and not under the dictatorship of our own poor needs. We can decide to live in the environment of a living God and not our own dying selves. We can decide to center ourselves in the God who generously gives and not in our own egos which greedily grab. One of the certain consequences of such a life is joy, the kind expressed in Psalm 126." (p. 97)
            Pursue the God who gives joy, and the pursuit of happiness will take care of itself. God invites all to the table of grace; rest assured that joy is there in abundance for all who will seek Him, who is Joy itself!

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