Ask any adult to think back on their childhood and recall the GREATEST PRESENT they ever received, and they will probably give in to nostalgia. We all have one or two Christmas mornings or birthday evenings that stand out above all of the others.
For me, it’s the year I asked for a computer.
Now, if you are under the age of 25, I understand a computer may not seem like a big deal. They are obviously pretty common these days. In 1986, however, that was not the case. I only knew one or two people on Planet Earth that owned one, and I was SO jealous of them!
The computer I wanted was nothing like the computer on my desk right now. It was an Atari 800XL. It had no hard drive. Instead it used something called a “floppy disk”. It had no network connection. We had ever even HEARD of internet. It had no monitor. I plugged it into a 13-inch color television. It seems primitive now, but it was AWESOME!
And I wanted it. Oh so much. In fact, I remember promising my parents: “If I get this for Christmas, I will never ask for anything else as long as I live…because I’ll be happy forever!!” And I believed it!
You know, it’s funny – I’ve never met anybody that worked for. I’ve never said to a person: “You know, I’ve known you for 20 years…and I’m always amazed by how happy you are. You always have a smile on your face. Why is that true??”
“Well, about 20 years ago when I was 14, I asked my parents for a computer and I got it….and life since then has been great!”
Now I took that trip down memory lane and told that story to illustrate this point – there is no such thing as unconditional happiness. Happiness NEVER lasts. There is no such thing as “happily ever after” – not even for Christians.
There is no passage in the Bible; there is no teaching from one of the Prophets or from Jesus that says: “If you will just do this one thing, then you will be happy every day, all the time, for the rest of your life. Jesus never said that.
As a matter of fact, He said just the opposite. He said: “In this world, you will have trouble. He didn’t say: “There is a possibility; there is a chance; maybe you’ll have trouble.” He didn’t say: “If you live a really good life you won’t have trouble.” No, He said: “Things WILL go wrong in your life. I promise. In this world you will have trouble.”
Allow that to sink in. God did not promise us “happiness”. What’s more, our “happiness” is not even at the top of his priority list. For all of those people who justify their sinful indulgence and lifestyle decisions by saying, “Well, God wants me to be happy,” this is a jarring truth:
God is less interested in your “happiness” than He is in your joy.
So what is the difference?
Happiness is temporary. It is a feeling connected with circumstances. The opposite of happiness is sadness, and those two emotions change many times each day, depending on how things are going.
Joy runs deeper than that. It is rooted in faith and hope. As long as there is the promise that something better is coming; as long as there is hope that circumstances and situations will one day improve, then JOY is still possible!!
So many people stumble over this concept. They think that joy has to be connected with emotion, and emotion has to be connected with comfort, and that God’s desire is for us to be comfortable and happy all the time.
That’s why some of the most popular Preachers today teach people that if you’ll just believe; if you’ll just tithe; if you’ll just follow this Church’s plan for life, then you will be happy, happy, happy, happy all the time!!”
That’s just not true. Instead Jesus said: “If you follow me, then your life might actually get harder, because trouble will come your way!” And it does. Christians suffer the pain of this sinful world just like everyone else. Believers still lose their jobs. They still get cancer. They still have accidents on the highway. They still suffer relational pain. Those things still happen. Scripture never promises otherwise.
But the Bible DOES promise that as we go through the highs and the lows of life, God is with us. He’s for us, not against us. And He loves us and will help us get through; and He will even use the worst moments of our life for our good if we allow Him.
You see, joy doesn’t mean an immediate end to pain and suffering. It doesn’t mean that God promises to fix everything in the immediate. Joy means that there is something more than this – there is hope; there is faith; there is promise for the future.
As Christians, we understand that this is not all there is.
That’s why we should never excuse behavior in our lives that contradicts God’s word by saying, “God just wants me to be happy.” He doesn’t. God wants way more than that for you!
- God wants you to live for something bigger than yourself.
- God wants you to embrace the concept that knowing Him trumps everything else we do in this life . . . and a big part of knowing Him and loving Him is obeying Him.
- God wants us to have peace. He wants us to live above the chaotic fray of this culture. He wants to spare us the pain of sinful decisions. He wants to see us grow in Him.
- And ultimately, God wants us to be with Him in Heaven. When we get there, we will have everything we ever wanted, and our joy will never end.