Thoughts to Ponder

Is life about being happy?

I get many letters from people who feel hopeless. Everyone has a different story, yet most have a lot in common. Many are from unbelievers but many are from believers too. They feel that life is not worth living. The reasons vary but usually they are health issues, money issues or relationship issues. Sometimes it is just that they don't feel fulfilled and happy.

I believe that society has caused much of this. We have taught kids for years that they are the most important person in the universe. We have taught them that there is no concrete right and wrong, they much judge each event in their life by how they feel. Even the church has succumbed to this by teaching a cheap gospel which stresses what Jesus can do for the person, instead of the idea that the person owes a debt to God that they can't afford to pay.

With this background it should not surprise us that people wonder what the meaning of life is and wonder if life is worth living when times are tough. When they realize that life is not fair and that they will not attain every desire of their heart, they begin to question whether life is really worth the hassle. For a non-believer that might actually make sense, since this life is all there is in their eyes, however, for the believer, this shows a problem in their spiritual life.

I am not saying it is wrong for a believer to want to have a happy life, or to want the desires of their heart, but when those become the focus of their life, there is a problem. All we have to do is look at Scripture and we see this:

Matthew 16:24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me."

Denying one's self is not something that we teach believers anymore. Instead God is treated as a genie in the sky who will give us anything we want if we just ask in the right way. If we pray the Prayer of Jabez three times a day, God will answer our prayers. If we plant a seed by giving some television heretic our money God will repay us 100 fold. The list goes on and on of ways people try to bribe God into giving them what they want. All the time they miss the point of who God is. He is not a genie is the sky, nor is He a God who has to be bribed to give His children gifts. Yet the attitude of our hearts is what is standing in the way of the blessings God has for us.

When we focus on ourselves and what we want, we forfeit what God has for us, because He will not be mocked. We cannot live for our flesh and think we will be rewarded. God does promise us many things, but some of those things we may wish He had not promised us. Let me give you a couple examples:

Mark 10:29-30 Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel's sake, [30] but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life."

It would have been nice if He had left that persecution stuff out, but He didn't. It is something He has promised us. Here is another promise:

Rev. 3:19 'Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.'

We will be disciplined too. Yet people seem to forget those passages and only focus on the ones which say we will have our needs met. But even then they miss the point, He will meet our needs, but not necessarily our wants and desires.

Our needs are not always what we think they are. Our true need is for salvation and a secure and lasting eternal place with God our Father. To us our needs are a new car, or the money to pay the mortgage payment, or a job that will allow our kids to go to the finest colleges so that they can make more money then we make.

I don't believe in being an apologist for Islam as some Christians seem to be all too willing to be. Islam, worships Satan. Their god is Satan, the god of this world. Is that harsh? Maybe, but it is also true. There is only one true God and we can only approach Him through His Son, Jesus Christ, anything or anyone else is just a front for Satan. If people worship the wrong Jesus they also are worshipping Satan. This includes, but is not limited to the Jehovah's Witness, who deny that Jesus Christ is God, but rather claim that He is the created Arch Angel Michael. And the Mormon's who claim that Jesus attained god status, just like we can if we work hard and live right. They are worshipping the wrong Jesus who is not Jesus at all but rather Satan.

But what does this have to do with happiness? I wanted to make sure you understand that I believe these three religions are of Satan, yet I want to give them all grudging respect, because they all have something that is seldom seen in the church in America today. They have a dedication and an eternal perspective that Christians seem to lack.

Why are young Muslim men willing to die in the prime of their lives? Simple, they believe it is a ticket straight to Paradise. They view this as a way to get their eternal reward. They will get their reward but it won't be what they expect.

Why are Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons so willing to spend hot summer days and cold winter days on the streets knocking on doors of houses where for the most part they know they won't be welcome? Because they view it as part of their job, part of what they must do to obtain heaven. Again they have an eternal perspective that most Christians lack.

All three of these examples show religions where the person must work to obtain salvation. Praise God we don't have to work for our salvation, it is a free gift from God, obtained through our faith in Jesus Christ and His perfect sacrifice for us on the cross. However, I still think that Christian's for the most part lack a true biblical idea of what this life is all about.

Life is not about being happy for 70 or 80 years and then passing away to be with Christ. It is about being conformed to the image of Christ here and now. It is about working for His kingdom here and now, so that more people can come to know Him and His love. It is about living in this world but not being part of this world. Yes it is about persecutions and trials and tribulations, all of which make us stronger in our faith and all of which allow our lives to witness to unbelievers. Well, at least that is what those things should do, but unfortunately all too often that is not what happens. Way too many times Christians fall short. They fall short of being conformed to the image of Christ. They fall short of growing in faith when calamity hits, but rather they question how God could have let them down. They fall short of being a witness for Christ because they walk around with long faces and tell everyone they know or who will listen how miserable their life is and how depressed they are.

Is it any wonder that the world is not beating down our door looking for what we have and asking how to get it for themselves? Why would they give up a life of sin and temporal pleasure just to be as miserable as most of us are or at least seem to be?

The problem is that most Christians are biblically ignorant and therefore make assumptions or listen to heretics who say what they want to hear. What faith they had is often shipwrecked and they either turn away from God or live a defeated life in misery.

I keep talking about Christians being biblically ignorant, because I am afraid that the majority of them are. You can go explore the Barna site if you like and see just how biblically ignorant most Christians are. For example, most Christians believe that the Bible contains something to the effect that God helps those who help themselves. But the Bible does not contain that. People will also spout the idea that God will never give you more then you can handle. Is that true?

Will God ever give us more than we can handle? Opinions are great and everyone has one, but only God's opinion counts, so let's look at His word and see:

2 Cor. 1:8-11 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. [9] Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. [10] He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, [11] as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

Notice verse 8; far beyond our ability to endure... In fact this ordeal was so bad that Paul says they felt the sentence of death and despaired even of life. Just in case you miss the point that this whole situation was God's doing, Paul tells us why it happened; so that they would learn to lean not on themselves but on God.

Yes God will give us more then we can handle and He will do it for our own good, so that we understand that we can't do it alone, but that we need Him. He will never forsake us and He will never give us more then we can handle if we lean on Him, but to think we will never face overwhelming adversity beyond our ability to handle is to be ignorant of God's word.

God will also give us adversity in order to draw us back to Him:

Amos 4:6-9 "I gave you empty stomachs in every city and lack of bread in every town, yet you have not returned to me," declares the Lord.
[7] "I also withheld rain from you when the harvest was still three months away. I sent rain on one town, but withheld it from another. One field had rain; another had none and dried up. [8] People staggered from town to town for water but did not get enough to drink, yet you have not returned to me, "declares the Lord.
[9] "Many times I struck your gardens and vineyards, I struck them with blight and mildew. Locusts devoured your fig and olive trees, yet you have not returned to me," declares the Lord.

This passage continues listing the things that God did to His people to draw them back to Himself. Remember Jesus said that He reproves and disciplines those He loves. The problem is that most Christians have never heard this, all they have heard is that they are the King's kids and they just have to have faith and He will give them anything and everything they want. So when discipline comes or when adversity comes that they cannot handle on their own, they begin to question everything they believe. I get letters all the time by so called Christians who claim that they think God hates them. Or they wonder if God is even real. Their faith is shipwrecked.

In fact I wonder how they can claim to be Christians. If God truly hates them, then there is no way He sent His Son to die in their place, and if they don't believe that, then they cannot be saved, since salvation requires faith in Jesus. I hope you see how serious this all is, it is not just a minor issue. Biblical ignorance is deadly. It is deadly for the non-believer but as I have shown it is also deadly for the believer, if they want to continue being a believer.

So what should our attitude be? I am not saying we need to jump for joy when adversity comes, but we should not lose our joy either, and we should not be surprised that rain came into our lives. It is very hard to see the Father's face when lighting is striking close to you and the thunder clouds obscure the sky. It is natural to be depressed and to feel far from God. This is when we need each other the most. Let me quote verse 11 from 2 Corinthians 1 again:

2 Cor. 1:11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

Paul says that he was helped by the prayers of others and that God granted them favor because of those prayers. When we are in hard times we need the prayers of other godly people.

I will tell you that when I look back on my life, I often find that the times when I was the closest to God was when I was struggling, yet as I said those are the times when, as they are happening, that I felt all alone and far from God. I know that sounds like a contradiction, but it isn't. When I am going through those tough times, I have to lean on God because I know I can't handle it myself, but my flesh is weak and I feel alone. It is only after it is over that I am able to look back and see that God was holding my hand and was very near me. When things are going great in my life and I feel close to God, is the real time of danger. It is a time of danger because I get complacent and find it hard to find the time to pray and just come into God's presence. I feel close to Him, yet I am drifting away. When adversity comes, I have no trouble finding time to pray, I struggle to get close to God, even though I feel distant. This is just another example of why we can't trust our fleshly emotions.

I get many letters from Christians who claim to love God with all their heart and claim to have a very close relationship with Him, yet they are writing me because they are contemplating suicide. They think they are close to God, yet in their heart they are contemplating being the god of their own life, by deciding something that only God has the right to decide- when we die.

As Christians we have been given the greatest gift of all time, eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. We would do well to remember that gift daily, it would change many of our attitudes about the other things that happen in our lives. If we depend on ourselves we have already lost the battle but if we lean on Christ, He will give us strength. If we would have half the eternal perspective of those three false religions I mentioned, our lives would change and we would retain our joy even in the darkest of days, because we would remember what life is really all about.

Philip. 4:12-13 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. [13] I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Paul learned to keep his eyes on the prize and that prize is Jesus Christ. When our eyes are on Jesus we can walk on the roughest water, but when we look at the waves we will sink like a rock.

E-Mail Ralph

These devotionals are written by Ralph Dettwiler, and reflect his views.

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July 2004