Happy? Hope From Hopelessness (Week One)

Are you happy?

It's a simple question.  You have a choice, to be honest.  Either tell the truth, or lay a bold faced lie on me.

You could say, "Yes, I am happy."  And you might actually mean it.  Things might be pretty good for you right now.  You're content.  Life is good.

Or you could say like most of us, "Yes, I am happy." But you don't really mean it.   In fact, you are lying through your teeth.  Life is not good.  You are not content.

You just said that you were happy because you didn't want to tell the truth.

Because telling the truth would mean that you would have to say, "No, I am not happy.  I am miserable.  I feel like crap.  Life is pretty awful right about now.  I don't see a way out of the mess I am in.  I am as far from happy as I could possibly get."

Like I said... you have a choice.

The fact of the matter is that when someone asks you how you are doing, they usually don't want to know how you are really doing.

Try something next time someone asks you, "How're you doing?"  Tell them what's really happening, and see how they handle it.

Hit 'em with something like this:

"Well, actually Stan, I am doing pretty bad right about now.  I just feel so darned depressed all of the time.  I think my wife is cheating on me.  My kids hate me.  My boss thinks I am a loser, and my dog peed on my shoe the other night when I took him for a walk.  Oh, and my lawn mower broke yesterday."

Watch their facial expressions as you say these things.  It'll be worth it.

So, back to this happiness thing.  I am preaching on Happiness for the next three weeks.  For some strange reason, I think it's kind of important---it might have something to do with the statistics I have been reading lately on the state of mental health in our society.

The fact of the matter is that we have a serious problem in our culture right about now.  This generation has the highest concentration of people who are living with a constant low-grade depression.

There was this study done in Britain in 2001.  I know what you are saying, "Those are British people---not Americanish people."  Hey, bear with me.  In Britain you get free school, free health care, and lots of other stuff for free.  People don't need church, they have the state.  I am not saying this to make any kind of political commentary---I am stating it as a theological fact.  So it stands to reason that if you are getting things like education and health care for free that you would be happy.  But this study in 2001 revealed that 10% of the people in Britain thought that they would be better off dead.

You heard me.  Dead.  Not better off with another job, life, career, spouse... Dead.

I was reading this article on the great Charles M. Schultz, the creator and artist of the classic comic strip Peanuts.  Schultz dealt with depression on and off for most of his adult life.  A lot of his own struggles found their way into his comic strip.  Charlie Brown never won.  He never won a baseball game.  He never got to kick that stupid football that Lucy always pulled away from him.  He never got to kiss the little red haired girl.

Charles M. Schultz as asked about the melancholy in his comic strip.

Do you want to know what he said?

"Happiness isn't funny."

Several years ago, I discovered that I wasn't feeling... well, myself.  So I went to professional therapist, who handed me a 400 question test with the words "Myers-Briggs" emblazoned on it.  I finished the test in an hour or so, and gave it back to him.  When I returned the next week, he showed me a graph that had my Myers-Briggs test scores outlined on it.  He pointed at a position on the graph.  "This is the point where we would say that someone was beginning to suffer from depression."  I couldn't help but notice that my graph dipped slightly below that mark.  "So what does that mean?" I said pointing at my scores graph.

"It means you're a little depressed."

There was a moment after he said that when I pictured myself screaming at the top of my lungs, "TELL ME SOMETHING I DON'T KNOW!"

And that's when I realized that I probably needed to keep coming back to therapy.

So how do you respond when someone asks you how you are doing?

Is it too difficult for you to tell the truth, and so you just say whatever you think the person asking wants to hear?

Is your soul heavy?

Is your soul heavy from the Past
Are you full of guilt, shame and loss?

Is your soul heavy with the Present?
Are you carrying around a bunch of junk and telling yourself, "Just live with it."

Is your soul heavy about the Future?
Do you find that you can't escape feelings of anxiety and fear about an uncertain future?

Are you searching for happiness... but not finding it?

Then I want you to hear this:

Happiness is possible.  It's within your reach.  But it's going to require that you surrender all of those heavy feelings.

True Happiness is Possible When You Reject Negativity & Learn What It Means To Positively Turn Your Life Over To God. 

In the book of Lamentations, there is a description of utter and complete devastation.  The city of Jerusalem has been destroyed.  The dead and dying are lying the streets.  The smell of death and fire is in the air.  The temple is gone.

The prophet looks around at the ruin of his life.  And thinks about all of the horrible things that have transpired:

Lamentations 3:20-24

I well remember them,
    and my soul is downcast within me.

This is one depressing scene.  The prophet is surrounded by destruction.  The loss is unbearable and his soul is "downcast" within him.

So he preaches to his soul: 

Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

Have you ever tried preaching to your soul?  I mean just flat out taking your soul to church?

Maybe your soul needs a good sermon.  Maybe you need to preach it up to your soul so well that your soul wants to take up an offering.

That's what this speaker did.  He took his soul to straight up Mt. Zion Missionary Church of the Assembly of the Redeemed...Presbyterian.

After he preaches to his soul, the speaker in Lamentations begins to remember the faithfulness of God.  "Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope," he says.

"Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail."  

I love that. You should love it, too.  Because we all have these memories of moments when God's great love kept us from being hopelessly consumed by despair.  We all have memories when his compassion never failed us.

When my wife Merideth and I started dating again after being apart for five years things were sort of shaky.  We were struggling to figure out what we were feeling and what sort of future we had together.  Merideth had been staying with her cousin for a week while we were trying to sort things out---and the week was about to come to end.  We were both feeling sort of bad about the way things were going, and it didn't look good.  The hope that we had for a life together had blossomed and then seemed to be fading because of fear and anxiety.  On the day that she was supposed to return home a very large, very old palm tree feel on her car and crushed it.  She had to stay.

A few months later we were married.  Twenty years after that, I still believe that God knocked that dang palm tree over to stop us from screwing up the plans he had for us.

Then there was the time that Merideth and I arrived at St. Paul's Cathedral in London on a Sunday just in time for the evening sermon.  At the time I was miserable.  I should rephrase that.  I was unbelievably joyous to be in London, which was as far away from the problems and indecision about life that I'd left behind.  I felt like God was calling me to become a pastor, but it would have meant leaving a Masters program I had worked tirelessly to get into, and a career path that I had been on for several years.  I was scared.  I didn't want to be a pastor.  I didn't want things to change.

And then a female pastor got up to preach and she preached on responding to God's call for your life.  At one point she said, "I just feel like there is someone here that is struggling with God's call to go into ministry."

A year later we moved 1700 miles away from our home so that I could go to seminary and become a pastor.  

This one is even better...  My wife Merideth was in church one day and she suddenly felt the overwhelming desire to write a check for $646.00.  We didn't really have that kind of money.  And it was fairly specific.  Both sort of crazy things.  So she wrote this check and then told me about later.  I was all like, "That was fairly specific," and "We don't have that kind of money."  But then again you knew that already.

Seriously, like a week or so later a guy walks into her law office to pay his bill.  She had basically written it off because it was so far behind.  Guess how much the bill was for.  Go ahead.

Yup.  $646.00.

Did you notice something about the end of that passage from Lamentations?
The soul finally got it.  The speaker took the soul to church, and the church got some Jesus.  Then the soul decides to be patient...

I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

At this point you might be saying, "That's all well and good, Preacher.  Your stories are cute.  But you have no idea how painful... how awful... how terrible... how grief stricken... how lonely...."

You're right.  I don't.  But I know what can make it better.  And it's not all of the advice that you are getting from your friends, from those books that you bought on Amazon, from Dr. Phil...

I was scrolling through the WebMD website---as I am wont to do from time to time---and I found something that actually nearly broke my heart.  A guy posted this question on the site:
I can't seem to get out of this funk My depression is rearing its ugly head. I have tried to reach out into my world and it didn't go so well. I have a tightness in my chest. I feel like crying. I have to hold it together to make it thru my work day. Its exhausting to put a smile on your face and tell people you are ok. When all you want to do is curl up into a ball and just cry. Will this day ever end???? Will this depression ever leave me????
I read through all of the responses that were posted.  People told the guy to exercise more, to find a hobby, to think positively.

Everything but give up to God.  Everything but embrace Jesus.

I encountered a story from the Bible last week---the story of a king named Hezekiah.  In 2 Kings 20 we discover that Hezekiah gets a bad diagnosis.  The prophet of God comes to tell him that he is going to die, and that there is nothing to be done about it.  He is told to put his affairs in order.  Hezekiah, it says in Scripture, "turned his face to the wall and wept bitterly."

And then Hezekiah is miraculously healed.

Later... In 2 Chronicles 32 we discover that Hezekiah is in a bad spot.  An army of Assyrians is outside the walls of Jerusalem ready to throw down.  The people in the city come to Hezekiah and they are understandably upset.  The Assyrians are not nice people.  They are known for being able to skin people alive.  It's the sort of talent that the people of Israel really didn't want them to share.  So they come to Hezekiah and basically tell him, "It's over man!  Game over!"

Remember... this is a guy who was told he was going to die, and then got a second chance.  This is a guy who had given up and had been restored.  This is what he says to the people:
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. 8 With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.” And the people gained confidence from what Hezekiah the king of Judah said." 
How great is this?  "...for there is a greater power with us than with him."
He tells them, "That arm of flesh that he has... that's all he's got.  We've got God."

Hezekiah had taken his soul to church.

So if you are sitting there thinking that whatever is going on is too hard... to awful... too painful...  Maybe you need to take your soul to church.  Maybe your soul needs an altar call.

Maybe it's time to surrender.

Listen.  Isn't it time to stop trying everything else if everything else isn't working?

God has been there all along.  And he will never leave or forsake you.

 True Happiness is Possible When You Reject Negativity & Learn What It Means To Positively Turn Your Life Over To God.  


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