I don’t believe God is overly concerned with my happiness.
Let me clarify. I think God loves seeing us happy. He created laughter and smiles. God gave us the ability to laugh so hard that our eyes fill with tears and our stomachs hurt. In fact, I remember once on a road trip with two friends when I laughed so hard at a chunk of cilantro stuck in my friend’s teeth that I almost threw up. Those moments are fun and God gave us that ability to experience those things, so I absolutely think He revels in our joy. He gives us plenty to be joyful about. But is my happiness at the tip top of God’s list of concerns for me? I don’t think it is, nor do I think it should be.
We got an invitation in our mailbox last Friday. The front said – Beyond the Grave! – and directly underneath it read – “Free! Free! Free!” – and went on to tell about all the free stuff you might win if you were to attend the Easter celebration at this particular church. I thought to myself – here we go again. This church was going to have inflatables and carnival games. They were serving hotdogs, chili, gumbo, frito pies, fried Oreos and Twinkies. They were giving away “tons” of bikes, X-Boxes, Playstations, cash, MP3 players, giant Easter baskets, and more – all free! You had to register prior to the church service on Sunday morning and then the big “block party” was going to follow the Easter celebration, and you had to be present, of course, to claim your prizes.
One local church gave away Visa Gift Cards at their church service prior to Christmas. Now this one gave away lots of stuff on Easter. As I’ve tried to wrap my head around this phenomenon and understand how they could think something like this was a good idea, I can only come to one conclusion. They’re sending the message that God wants to give you stuff and wants you to be happy and entertained. Come one, come all! Win an X-Box! God wants you to win an X-Box!
This is a common theology, it seems. The prosperity gospel has spread like wildfire. Name it, claim it. God wants to give you stuff. God wants you to be rich and prosperous! He wants you to drive fancy cars and wear expensive clothes and have the biggest house imaginable! Also, you’ll never ever get sick.
This is a shallow view of God and a shallow view of blessings.
Jesus described the blessed people as the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the gentle, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness. Jesus said you’re blessed when you’re insulted and persecuted and falsely accused because of Him. (Matthew 5:3-12). This is a far cry from the description of “blessed” we see these days what with all the cash, X-boxes, and MP3 players on the list.
Also, Jesus said not to store up treasures for yourselves on earth where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal, but to store up treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves do not break in and steal. (Matthew 6:19-20)
Jesus also said in this world we will have trouble, but take heart – He has overcome the world! (John 16:33)
This idea that we’re always supposed to be happy, prosperous, and entertained is flawed. The picture that is presented of a life blessed by God – with lots of stuff and fancy things and picture perfect health – is not accurate. It’s deceiving and I think this idea is what draws a lot of people in initially (I mean, who doesn’t want a perfect life?!) and then sends them heading for the hills when the first thing turns bad in their lives. They think they must have done something wrong or they don’t have enough faith if their lives aren’t picture perfect. They think God isn’t blessing them.
I’m generally a happy person. I have my moments, of course, but I’m typically a happy, optimistic person and I can usually find something to laugh or smile about. But here’s a bit of truth. I think God is more concerned with my growth than my constant happiness and in my experience, it has been the hard times in life when I’ve grown the most. They’re not fun times. When I look back at the absolute most heartbreaking and painful times in my life, do you know what I see? Growth. Moments (sometimes a long time coming) of letting go of the selfishness I’m so prone to and growing in the process. A much needed learning process. Thank goodness for hindsight and a loving, patient God who never forsakes me in my most unlovable, bratty, uncomfortable, self-absorbed, self-indulgent, temper tantrum laden, pity party moments. He shows me grace when I am anything but graceful and I think that’s a pretty big blessing. Sometimes He has had to show me tough love, but I can look back on those times and honestly say that I needed it.
Nobody hopes for hard times. Nobody wants to be in a difficult situation. But I think we do God a disservice when we refuse to see the blessings in the things that our culture has taught us are anything but. His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. I think contentment is key. And yes, this is easier said than done. Note my aforementioned temper tantrums and bratty moments. I am sometimes slow to get there, but when I finally get to the point of just being still and trusting God, I realize it’s okay. Things are okay. He is still good and still loving and helping me grow, even when I’m experiencing severe growing pains in the moment.
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13)
We’re blessed. We are. Even if we don’t have a stash of cash in our pockets or a new X-Box hooked to a 72″ flat screen. We’re blessed. Even in pain. Even in loss. Even in disappointment. Our culture has tried to change what blessed looks like, but culture is often times a liar.