Don’t expect happiness. So many Christians lose their focus – and their joy – when their greatest concerns and energies are consumed by selfish endeavors. We so often disguise our selfishness with labels that make it look like we are generous and giving. (How often have I baked cookies for neighbors or friends when I just wanted an excuse to snack on cookie-dough?!) Doing hidden acts of kindness – that no one will ever see or know about spring from a joy filled life. When we expect happiness as our right – worse yet, as something God ‘owes’ us (for all we’ve done for Him), we risk losing opportunities for God to show Himself in the midst of seeming unhappiness. Let me tell you a secret: I am most ‘happy’ in my Christian life when I am acutely aware of God’s presence, protection and companionship. Surprisingly, the times I have sensed God’s nearness the most has been during the most difficult times of my (as of yet,) short life. So if happiness is what you're after, you’ll most certainly discover it when in the midst of the darkest hours of your life, you realize God is ‘round about [you]’.
In heavenly love abiding,
No change my heart shall fear.
And safe is such confiding,
For nothing changes here.
The storm may roar around me,
My heart may low be laid;
But God is ‘round about me,
And can I be dismayed?
The question the hymnwriter asks is rhetorical. ‘No’ is the obvious answer. But to those who have not had that blessed opportunity to strengthen their ‘feeble hands and weak knees’ through the trials of life, the answer may not be so obvious.
Have you ever watched a small child fall, bump his head and run to Mama for comfort? It’s like magic. In seconds the child is nestled close to her breast where he feels warm and safe and the cares and scares of that dark and dangerous world out there are millions of miles away. That child is truly contented, happy, calm and at peace with everything.
And yet had the child not hurt himself, he would not have run to Mama for comfort – would he? Isn’t it every parents’ longing – and joy – to be there to comfort their sick or hurting child? And isn’t it the deepest pain as a parent, when your child is older and encounters emotional pain and refuses to be comforted by you, his own parent? How then might God, our Heavenly Father, feel when we distance ourselves from His love and care – by neglect, indifference or bitterness? We are not happy because we expect God to make us comfortable. But isn’t it His presence that comforts us – rather than our circumstances? He longs for contented children – happy in His presence and content with His provisions. There’s nothing worse than an unhappy, whiny, complaining, spoiled child. Would these words describe us in our attitude towards God?
“Oh God,” I so often pray, “please don’t let go of me! Let me know You’re still working on me!” Often, when I feel God is being silent I return to Hebrews where it speaks of God’s discipline of us as His children. Though discipline is unpleasant, sometimes I beg God to treat me as His legitimate child by not neglecting to correct and shape me. When I am actively learning from Him – His purposes, His commands, His burdens – then I am most happy. Happiness comes as a by-product of a close walk with God. Perhaps that’s why He asks us to be as little children – because children trust, receive comfort (seek it actually), and innocently respond in honesty to those around them.
Wherever He may guide me,
No want shall turn me back;
My Shepherd is beside me
And nothing can I lack;
His wisdom ever waketh,
His sight is never dim;
He knows the way He taketh
And I will walk with Him.
Green pastures are before me,
Which yet I have not seen;
Bright skies will soon be o’er me
Where darkest clouds have been;
My hope I cannot measure,
My path to life is free;
My Saviour has my treasure,
And He will walk with me. (Anna L. Waring)
What happens when we are expecting happiness – from the hand of God no less? Our focus is on my wants, my needs and dreams. God becomes our Celestial Benefactor, and our attention is wrapped up in personal affairs, rather than in seeking to know, love and serve God wholeheartedly. I cannot think of one person that serves God wholeheartedly and is also constantly unhappy. And these same people who seem to enjoy the greatest happiness in their Christian life, also experience pain, conflict and huge burdens.
I still haven’t found that verse that says, “And the Lord shalt grant unto thee happiness all the days of thy life.” What he did say, however, was that He would never leave us nor forsake us. Expect His presence – not to always feel it, but to know it. Seek His presence, believe He’s here with you. But to expect happiness? That is a sure way to find discontentment, in its various forms.
I remember Elizabeth – when I lived in Hong Kong she was my Filipino ‘sister’ – at least I liked to think of her that way. At that time, she was married, with two small children – a five year old and one year old. They all lived in one room – six feet by nine feet. Her husband was a gardener/grounds’ keeper for a Christian clinic (who so graciously provided their living quarters), and she cleaned houses for a living. They barely scraped by, often wondering how they’d make it from month to month. Did that dampen their zeal for the Lord? In no way.
They had use of a porch in the clinic and each week held a barbecue for other Filipino workers to provide a time of fellowship and teaching. They counselled so many women, and Danny (Elizabeth’s husband) basically served as Pastor to a small Filipino congregation in Hong Kong. Elizabeth radiated joy. Simple faith and trust in her Saviour had given her the daily joy and satisfaction that so many of us crave. Appropriately, they named their daughter GraceJoy.
I tell you about Elizabeth, who by all outward appearances should have been sad and glum, and yet was exceedingly joyful. Should we expect God to make us happy? Perhaps, as long as we’re willing to accept whatever he deems necessary to cause His fountain of joy to overflow in our lives. When I realize what produces true joy, I almost hesitate to accept God’s path to contentment.