November 4, 2009

Being happy

What makes people happy? It used to be money, power and popularity, but the list is changing.

The American Psychological Association did a new study. They say that attaining popularity or influence and money or luxury is not what makes people the happiest. In fact, those items are now at the bottom of the list. Topping the list of needs that appear to bring happiness are autonomy (feeling that your activities are self-chosen and self-endorsed), competence (feeling that you are effective in your activities), relatedness (feeling a sense of closeness with others) and self-esteem.

Marilyn Elias, in USA TODAY, says, “The happiest people surround themselves with family and friends, don't care about keeping up with the Joneses next door, lose themselves in daily activities and, most important, forgive easily.”

Interesting lists. They even come close to some ideas in the Bible. However, the idea of self, and even the word “self” pops up in both statements, more so in the first one by the APA. Both lists seem to make being happy related to self-effort, self-protection (cocooning) and taking care of me and mine.

When I read these lists, I thought about a few times I have been very happy. Here is a short list, in random order.
•    standing on a rock in Maui watching forty foot waves roar toward me
•    a conversation with my 41 year-old nephew who told me about his decision to follow Jesus
•    listening to my daughter and granddaughter describe their recent ride in a helicopter where they could “almost touch the mountains”
•    giving a freshly baked loaf of bread to my adult son
•    just thinking about making up this list

Today’s devotional is about what made the Apostle Paul happy. He was delighted in the people that were his brothers and sisters in the family of God. He wrote,

Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved. (Philippians 4:1)
I can feel the love in his words and know that same pleasure of simply enjoying other Christians. We enjoy each other because Christ is in each of us and when fellowship is at its best, we are communing with our Savior who, because of this indwelling, becomes near to us, even has “skin on.”

I recently read an amazing book by John Piper called God’s Passion for His Glory in which he reproduces a work by Jonathan Edwards. Edwards is a difficult read, but one truth comes shining forth from this work and the whole of Piper’s book: God is most glorified when His people are most delighted in Him.

After weeks of thinking about this book, I have discovered a wonderful thing, at least it works for me. I can turn on “delighting in Him” almost like a water faucet. Well, it is more like a fire hose or a rushing river. It is possible, no matter where I am or what I am doing, to turn my mind to the wonder and glory of God and feel an incredible sense of delight.

This is a gift, but it is also the extreme of happiness, a joyful sense that no matter what is happening, God is God. He is in charge. He loves me. He loves the people around me more than I do or possibly could. He made the waves that excite and delight me. His grace brought my nephew to Himself. He built those mountains and the opportunity to lift my girls up there to see them. He is the Bread of life, a greater delight than my best baking.

Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” It has been my discovery that when I am delighted in God, I have no other desires. The Lord Jesus Christ likely will never make the American Psychological Association’s list of what makes people happy, but He makes me deeply happy and totally content.

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