Have we settled for drinking water from the toilet and searching for scraps in the dumpster when there is a delicious feast waiting with our name on it?
This might be on the longer side, I know that. But, I promise that if you actually take a few minutes to read through it and ponder these questions with me, you won’t regret it (don’t quote me on this, though. I once convinced a tear-prone girl to go on a date with me to the Sacramento Onion Festival by saying “you won’t regret it”… This story may or may not be true).
What is happiness? And what does it have to do with living as a Christian?
“Is this really all there is?”
Ever have one of those moments where you feel like there’s just got to be something more to life? Life seems to have just become the same old routine over and over again. Working towards something or some pay-off that never seems to come.
We work hard in school so we can get into a good college. We work hard in college so we can get a good job. And we work hard at our jobs so we just might be able to live out a couple years of retirement and freedom in our 80’s. Which, let’s face it- by then, our joints will be giving out and we won’t be able to do a whole lot that doesn’t involve Bingo and Jell-o anyways. When we’re young, we think we’ll find true happiness when we get older… When we get older, we think we’d be happy if we could only have our younger days back. Will we ever be happy?
We look towards really being happy and leading satisfied lives “someday.” We’re content with our lives really being less than we’d hoped they would be. We’ve settled with how things are. We aren’t truly living. There’s got to be more than tiring shifts of work day after day, endless afternoons of homework, and sitting bored on the couch watching innumerable repeats of Saved by the Bell, whilst consuming entire sleeves of OREO’S by ourselves (of course, I’m not implying I’ve ever done this…)
I don’t mean to sound all Osteen-y, but aren’t we, as “Christians,” supposed to be the ones who have access to true happiness? If so, why does “happiness” seem so elusive? And why do Christians seem to be as equally unhappy in life as non-Christians?
Something that has always perplexed me the most about American Christianity is how, for the most part, the life of a Christian is pretty much the same as anyone who is not. We’ve become apathetic to the radical lives God has invited us into, wanting instead to spend our time doing what the rest of the world wants to do, focusing on the things the rest of world focuses on, buying the things the rest of the world buys.
In our culture, to be a “Christian” is synonymous with living a similar lifestyle to that of the rest of the world. We face the same hardships, we go through the same struggles in life. And this will always be the case. But, just like the rest of the world, most of us really aren’t that happy in life. We’re looking to the future to bring us happiness, working towards attaining a better life, more friends, or a better job. We have become blind to what true fellowship with the living God means for our everyday life.
People, Christians often included, instead turn to the pleasures of this life to give us comfort. To temporarily satisfy us because we can’t seem to find enough happiness elsewhere. But one stagnant truth remains: they don’t ever cut it. Time and time again, the pleasures of this life continue to fail us. And they always will, as long as they are the end goal for us. “If I get more money, I’ll be able to buy the new TV. That will make me happy… If I work harder, we’ll be able to afford that new car. We’ll finally be happy with our lives… If I exercise more, I’ll lose more weight, and then I’ll really be happy for once.” We aim for “stuff” and earthly joys to bring us our satisfaction. But ain’t nobody got time fo’ that!
Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.
C. S. Lewis
If we view the pleasures of this earth as “foretastes” (anticipation) of what we will have in Heaven, satisfaction can come. Because the objects themselves are not where we derive our real happiness. We are deriving happiness from enjoying the overwhelming love our Heavenly Father has for us. From looking towards the future. From resting in the peace and comfort that we have an eternity promised us, with the Father who created us and loves us. That this large round rock is not our home. That so much more is promised us. That these pleasures will just have to do for now.
Track with me here.
Not following? Don’t worry, this should at least be easier to follow than a Michael Bay film. What I’m trying to say is this: Things God has blessed us with on earth are meant to be a “foretaste of glory divine,” just like that famous song in the hymnal says. To whet our appetites and turn our eyes towards Heaven. To remind us that this is not our home. These “foretastes” are there to remind us of the pleasures we’ll have in Heaven, while at the same time reminding us that these pleasures on Earth are nothing in comparison to what we will one day enjoy.
The world would have us believe that our happiness and joy comes from the newest “stuff,” or the best “things” money can buy. These always leave us feeling empty. Enjoying creation without a focus on the Creator brings no true joy at all. It’s counterfeit. That’s not the way God would have it. He didn’t put these wonderful things on the earth for us to use and then feel empty or sad. He put them here to give us happiness, pleasure, and bring us closer to Him through the joy we experience. The pleasures of this world can become so much more enjoyable with a focus on God’s love for us, and of our future with Him in Heaven.
Isn’t this true even with your closest friendships? Do you not bond and enjoy each other’s company so much more when you’re doing something fun together? It doesn’t even have to be THAT entertaining of an event or activity, but it becomes so much more fun and makes you happy just because you’re spending time with that person, and making memories, enjoying what life has dropped in your lap.
You see, I think the truth is that we as a culture, and especially as a community of Christ’s followers, often fail to realize the purpose these pleasures on earth serve. True, lasting happiness can never be found in the things of earth. They continue to fail us miserably. But what if we used the pleasures of this earth the way they were intended?
Think about a boy and a girl swiftly falling in love with each other (I’m a sucker for a good love story). The boy, being the top-notch boyfriend that he is, knows how much his girlfriend LOVES chocolate cake. Now, if she’s alone one day, she could always go to the supermarket and spend ten bucks and buy herself a chocolate cake. But what if, just spontaneously because he knew she’d enjoy it, the boy decides to spend all day following a recipe to make her favorite chocolate cake? The next day, he surprises her at her front door and gives her this special present.
Isn’t it so much more special to her because he made it? Because of the realization that he put all that time and effort into making that cake for her, because he KNEW how much she would love it? They can enjoy each other’s company over the chocolate cake and spend time together. She is reminded of his love for her, plus she gets her favorite cake. She’s a pretty happy girl, no?
Why should it be any different with the pleasures of this world? They are meant to draw us closer to the heart of God, to represent his love for us. To make us happy, simply because he just wants to see us happy. He enjoys it ecstatically when He sees us enjoying the things he has created for us. He’s deeply in love with us. And these joys he’s given us demonstrate that. The pleasures of life become so much more enjoyable, and meaningful, with this perspective.
Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink, sex, and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
Isn’t this so true? We “fool about,” desiring more food, more sex, more stuff, without our focus on the creator of these pleasures and how they should direct our eyes towards heaven. Instead, we mistreat these pleasures. We overindulge and/or twist the way they were meant to be used because we don’t realize HOW they were supposed to be used. We want more and more, because they never fully satisfy us within themselves. Only Jesus can. And He gave us these pleasures so that while we enjoy them, we could be reminded of his love, and look forward to a future with him.
But just as it is written, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, And [which] have not entered the heart of man, All that God has prepared for those who love Him.
I Corinthians 2:9
We can’t even imagine Heaven. So we have become apathetic about it… But shouldn’t it be the opposite? It’s far better than we could even comprehend within our human capacity! We’ve become so apathetic about Heaven. We should be incredibly excited for what is to come!
Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave with regret? There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.
C. S. Lewis
The aim of these pleasures is for us to fall more and more in love with Jesus every day, realizing what he’s given us here, and what he’s been preparing for us. To thank him… If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m a frequent C.S. Lewis quoter-er. The dude was just a beast. Few people have been gifted with such a mind as his, so I can’t help but interject his thoughts into many of the things I write about:
God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.
C. S. Lewis
And this is the thing about finding happiness as Christians: While others think that their happiness can be found in the newest clothes, material possessions, and things the world has to offer, our true happiness as followers of Christ doesn’t directly come from these things, or our environments and situations at all. Life can be all sorts of messed up around us, but we may still find rest and happiness within Jesus. Because he is the friend who will never leave. The one who has our best intention in mind. The one who knows what we want and need more than even we do. Even if we’re not lucky enough to enjoy some of the earthly pleasures God has created, we rest peacefully, knowing that it’s not that big of a deal compared to what we have ahead of us in our future.
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.
If we looked at our lives quite honestly, most Christians are failing to really live lives full of joy and happiness. Not from things this world offers, but from reveling in the love of our Father. Our Creator. The Lover of Our souls. I know I am definitely included in this. We squander our time. Our talents. Our relationships. All of these wonderful things we’ve been given by God. We have settled for drinking water from the toilet and searching for scraps in the dumpster when there is a glorious feast waiting with our name on it.
So next time we ask ourselves, “is this all there is?” listen to the songs of praise from Paul and Silas in the prison cell. To the brave words of a young shepherd named David, holding only a slingshot, forced to fight an enormous foe. To the faithful praises of a man named Noah building an ark in the desert as others mocked him. Sometimes the most joyous people through history have been those who faced the biggest trials. Our happiness is not limited to the things or the circumstances of this earth. It is only limited by your reluctance to give everything over to Jesus, and to keep your eyes focused on the love he has for us, all he has done, and all he will do in the future.
So, know the next time you ask “is this all there is?” that God is smiling. The knowing smile of a proud father about to unveil a gift to his child on Christmas morning. That smile that says “No, this is not all there is. It’s only the beginning. You haven’t seen anything yet.”
© Matt Tory, 2013.