Happiness and its pursuit is a part of the Declaration of Independence that Americans take very seriously. What it means and how to get it has been the focus of International summits and university studies involving huge grants. Happiness is also one of the key topics addressed by TED Talks speakers and heard by millions of listeners and viewers all over the world.
“Do what makes you happy” is common advice we hear given in response to questions involving difficult decisions or when someone is feeling sad or discouraged about a life situation. Maybe we’ve given that advice in some form ourselves or led others down that path of consideration through the questions we’ve asked them.
“What is life-giving for you?”
“Where do you find the most joy?
“What is your passion? Your gifting?”
In various leadership roles, we pose those questions. Our hope and intention could very well be that the person discover that all fullness of life be found in Christ. And yet, if either that person or we are influenced by cultural definitions or prescriptions for happiness, the questions may lead to an empty focus or quest.
What Jesus taught flips our cultural pursuit of happiness on its head. Through the Beatitudes, the “happy are you” portion of the Sermon on the Mount, He tells us, “blessed are you,” which can be translated, “happy, fortunate, or well-off are you” (Strong Concordance).
Does He say then, “Happy and well-off are you when you are happy”? No, the “when you” pursuit is not happiness; it is meekness, mercy, purity, peace and righteousness.
A.W. Tozer offers this apt advice:
The childish clamor after happiness can become a real snare. One may easily deceive himself by cultivating a religious joy without a corresponding righteous life. No man should desire to be happy who is not at the same time holy. He should spend his efforts in seeking to know and do the will of God, leaving to Christ the matter of how happy he shall be.
For those who take this whole thing seriously, I have a suggestion. Go to God and have an understanding. Tell Him it is your desire to be holy at any cost and then ask him to never give you more happiness than holiness. (The Price of Neglect and Other Essays, A.W. Tozer)
I wonder, what would it be like to have that conversation—especially in light of Jesus’s teachings and invitations? And what might be the resulting impact on the questions I ask, the words I say or write, or the ways I lead others?
I plan to find out.