Everybody wants to be happy. Everybody wants joy. It’s the number one reason the little book The Secret has sold more than 19 million copies worldwide and has been translated into 46 languages.
In a nutshell, the secret comes down to this—if you want good things to come to you, then you have to put good things out into the universe. If you want happiness and joy, you’ve got to put good vibes out there.
But it’s bunk. It’s garbage. There is no universal return on good vibes.
But we want happiness so badly!
So we play this “If only” game in which we tell ourselves, “If only I had ______, then that would make me happy.” Yet for all of our “unhappiness,” we’ve really got a ton of stuff.
Did you ever wonder how we can be so blessed and so unhappy at the same time?
The Four Lies
There are four lies we tell ourselves when it comes to our pursuit of happiness. See if you recognize any that you’ve told yourself.
God is withholding from me. This was Adam and Eve’s big problem; they thought that God was holding out something better—they compared the life they had with what they thought they could have if God wasn’t holding out.
God owes me. I put in my time, I’m in church, I tithe, I do my best to forgive people when they are rude to me. I’ve done my bit—why doesn’t God reward me?
If I get it, I’ll be happy. (This is that game we talked about a minute ago.) But this is a flawed way of thinking. Prosperity and contentment don’t always go together. Rich people are unhappy, too. I’m reminded of an old joke: They say money can’t buy happiness, but I’d rather cry in a mansion… But many times, when our circumstances change, our discontent changes along with them. We are unhappy at one level and unhappy at the next level (and on it goes).
I know what is best for me. This is one of the biggest lies most of us use, even if we don’t realize it. We get into trouble when we try to plot our own course to happiness rather than following God’s course to contentment. But contentment isn’t about controlling ourselves. Self-denial doesn’t equal contentment—contentment is inward and cannot be touched by circumstances, can’t be stolen by sickness or poverty, cannot be ruined by the loss of a job, friends, or house. Though I hate the cliché, this is one of those areas where we need to “Let go and let God.”
Rejoice in the Lord Always
So then, where can we find true contentment?
In Philippians 4:4-13, the apostle Paul writes:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that once again you renewed your care for me. You were, in fact, concerned about me but lacked the opportunity to show it. I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.
Paul isn’t crazy; he says it twice—rejoice! But notice this; what gives Paul joy is not things or circumstances. It’s Paul’s relationship with God that gave him a sense of contentment that transcended his immediate circumstances. He was a man who knew what it was like to be in the pits. He “walked through the valley of the shadow of death.” Shipwrecked, imprisoned, beaten, and more—still, he maintains contentedness because of his relationship with God.
A Commitment to Contentment
The book of Isaiah tells us that we were made with a purpose—for God’s glory! Discontentment begins when we put ourselves at the center of the universe and remove God. It’s a big view of “me” and a microscopic view of God. On the other hand, Christian joy is independent of all things on earth because it has its source in the continual presence of Christ—not on temporary things or circumstances.
No matter what your circumstance this holiday season, you can recover your joy—but we need a commitment to contentment. Contentment is a disposition of the heart that freely and joyfully submits to God’s will, whatever that will may be. It’s easy to submit when God’s will involves large amounts of cash, perfect health, exotic vacations, or unlimited vanilla chai lattes. But a commitment to contentment embraces both prosperity and pain as from the hand of God.
Finally, here are four practical tips you can start using right now to start recovering your joy:
Ignore the lies of pursuing happiness.
Live with a “Jesus is enough” mentality.
Count your blessings (really, write them down).
Focus on helping others who are even less fortunate than you.
Chris Linzey is husband to Tené, father to the three most beautiful children in the world, movie addict (seriously, if it’s on a screen he'll watch it—doesn’t matter how crummy or low-budget), and a Navy Chaplain, currently assigned to Naval Air Station, Meridian. Chris has a deep desire to help people live lives of faith where the Bible is more than mere words on a page, but the way we live everyday. His undergrad and Master’s studies were in Biblical Studies and he focused on the New Testament (his mentor was a Gospel of Mark scholar). He went on to get a Master of Divinity (MDiv) in Pastoral Preaching. Follow him at @chrislinzey.