God Never Said That - Week One: "God Just Wants You To Be Happy"
This week we are going to be launching a short two-part sermon series entitled, "God Never Said That." We are going to be exploring two of the most misquoted, misunderstood statements about God that are actually not biblical, but sound biblical.
Have you ever had one of those moments when you're going through a tough time, or struggling with a decision to make and someone says something church-y to you... and it sounds like it came from the Bible, perhaps. Something like, "When God closes a door, he opens a window." Or "God works all things together for good." Or "God just wants you to be happy." Or "God doesn't give you more than you can handle."
There's more like these, honestly. And none of them are in the Bible exactly the way that they are typically used. Depending on what is happening in your life, these misquotes can either make you feel a lot worse if you are already feeling bad, or they can justify some bad behavior if you are looking for an out.
Today we're going to tackle one of the most misused of these quotes--"God just wants you to be happy."
I know that many of you are probably intrigued. Because when I say that "God just wants you to be happy" is a misquoted, misused idea that isn't really backed up by the Scriptures it doesn't sound right, does it? I mean, it feels like that should be a true thing, right?
Let's leave that right there for a moment.
I want to shift us for a second. Think of a song that makes you happy. Your favorite happy song--you know you have one. I want you to get that song in your head, and then I want you to turn to the person next to you and sing a few bars of that happy song of yours.
True happiness is hard to define in our current culture. In fact, our culture espouses a false theology of happiness that I fear far too many Christians have also adopted. The false theology of happiness that I am speaking of goes a little like this: "Whatever makes me happy must be right. Whatever makes me unhappy must be wrong."
The other day I was on my way to a meeting, which was followed by about four other things that I had to do that I didn't want to do. I was running late, the day was shaping up to be tougher than it needed to be. On my way out the door I was grumping it up and said to my kid, "90% of life is having to do things that you don't want to do... you better get used to it."
He just nodded and went back to playing Madden on his video game console.
It's easy to equate all of the things that are inconvenient to us, that thwart our plans, make our days stressful, our lives mundane as somehow outside of God's will. In other words, if I am not feeling happy about what I am doing, or the state I am in, or my present circumstances, then obviously I am not doing what God really wants me to do.
Because God just wants me to be happy, right?
The problem with this kind of thinking is that it reduces God to a happiness slot machine. We throw enough effort into our faith to consider whatever we've done for God as an investment, coins that we've dropped into the machine.
And then when we pull the lever on this happiness slot machine and it doesn't work out for us, we not only feel like we might be outside of God's will, we also are tempted to wonder what the heck God is doing.
"I'm a good person. I don't know why this happening to me?"
"I don't know what I ever did to deserve this."
"I did everything I was supposed to, I don't know why God is allowing this to happen."
"What kind of God lets all these bad things happen to good people?"
For some people, when the happiness they thought they would have doesn't work out, they walk away from everything--God, religion, the church... all of it.
Would it shock you to know that God doesn't want us to be happy?
It's true. God doesn't want us to be happy. He wants us to be holy.
In 1 Peter 1:15, the Apostle Peter wrote to the early Christians, "But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do..."
I imagine when I say something like this, it conjures up all kinds of images, right? Maybe some of us find the word holy a bit off-putting, too. We've turned the word holy into a pejorative. As in "holier-than-thou," and the like. When someone acts holy, we assume that they are stiff, stodgy, stuck up and otherwise fairly awful to be around.
But what does it look like when I am really striving for holiness? What does it look like if I am following Peter's advice to be holy like Jesus? Does it look boring? Does it look prudish? Not fun? No!
In John 15:11 Jesus is trying to explain to his disciples what it means to pursue holiness--true holiness that leads to true happiness. He told them, "These things I have spoken to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full."
Jesus wanted his followers to understand that he came to bring them abundant life--but that you only find this abundant life when you lose yours.
God doesn't want us to pursue happiness, he wants us to pursue Him. And the most excellent way we can pursue God is by following in the footsteps of his Son Jesus, who shows us what God is like.
And the crazy thing about pursuing God is that when we do--it makes us happy. Truly happy. We find the things we are looking for by giving up all the things that we think we need to be looking for.
You see, this is what it means to pursue holiness---to live into the joy, hope, peace and love that Jesus offers both in this life and the next.
But far too many of us pursue other things, don't we? We worship at the altar of happiness, the kind of happiness we think we'll find by pulling the lever on the slot machine God we've created.
And we think that these things are going to make us happy--things like success, money, material possessions, personal fulfillment, the list goes on and on. I find that I worship at the altar of happiness when I am consumed with the things of this world, and not with the kingdom of God.
But when I pursue God, when I chase madly after his Son Jesus I find myself filled with holy discontent over the things that I used to think made me happy.
I am no longer content with acquiring things. I am no longer content with become great in the eyes of our culture. I am no longer content with the status quo. I am no longer content to wallow in my own security and safety.
The things that used to make me happy no longer matter when I am striving toward holiness, when I am stumbling after Jesus.
I want you to find some sermon notes nearby and do me a favor. I want you to think very hard about what I am about to ask you next. I want you to make a short list while you are sitting here. The title of this list is: "When I am happiest, I am..." Fill it in with whatever comes to mind. "When I am happiest, I am... with my family... on a date with my wife... spending time with my kids... doing the work I was meant to do..."
My suspicion is that none of the things on your list are the things people hope for when they pull the lever on the slot machine.
If your list is like mine, it's filled with more eternal things--things that are grounded in the sacred--things that are covered in peace, love, hope and joy. It's almost like when we are being our best selves, when we are doing what we were meant to do... it's almost holy.
Because God doesn't want us to be happy, he wants us to be holy.