Sunday Sermons

Sunday Sermons

A Joyful Life

A Joyful Life

Some people do not think that happiness is a worthy goal in life. They think it is trivial and simply the result of selfishness, too much money, too many things and too much of an emphasis on pleasure. Some think that a focus on being happy shows a lack of values, and that being happy is a sign that one is shallow and lacking personal depth. Others question "How can one be happy when there are so many things wrong with our world and so many people who are suffering?" Some of the more suspicious variety, think that seeking to be happy is tempting fate and is a sure sign that bad things will happen in one’s life. So their view goes something like, "Don’t get your hopes up. Stay unhappy and you'll avoid being disappointed". Put another way, if one constantly frets about the future then that somehow will prevent bad things from happening in the future. Praise be to God who has set us free from this and all other joy-robbing superstitions.

Have you noticed that in our present culture it is, in some circles, somehow cool to give the impression that one is unhappy. In fact some people argue that creativity, authenticity, discernment or becoming a great writer, thinker or artist only is possible when one has a general feeling of angst, is troubled or just pessimistic.

Truth be told, unhappiness does have a kind of short term gain, for some people use their unhappiness to control others. All of us have probably been tempted to claim pity and special attention in order to get something we wanted — or use an unhappy mood to avoid responsibility ("If I can just be unhappy long enough people will eventually avoid asking me to lend a hand in this project or that.")

Happiness and Depth

While there may be people who are both happy and shallow, that certainly is no sign that happiness is an inherent sign of a person's lack of depth. Jesus, God in the flesh, was the deepest man who ever lived (God depth, Colossians 2:9), yet He often rejoiced (Luke 10:21; 15:7; John 14:28) and instructs us to rejoice (Matthew 5:12; John 4:36). And how often are joy, rejoicing, exulting, and being glad found in the Scriptures (Philippians 3:1; 4:4; 1 Peter 1:8)? And what better book deals with the harsh reality of human life than the book of Ecclesiastes, yet the writer wisely urges us to rejoice (Ecclesiastes 9:9). 

I am likewise impressed that while the Bible presents a very honest picture of the world, that despite all the suffering, it still calls upon us to rejoice and be joyful (1 Thessalonians 5:16). In fact, the Christian understands the pain in this world far better than anyone else, for the Christian sees all the lost souls besides the physical suffering, yet still rejoices because there are so many blessings available (Ephesians 1:3).


Eastern religions, such as Buddhism, urge detachment as a way to alleviate suffering. Things such as love and commitment are at times viewed as fetters that bind us to lives of sorrow, which at times they do. The more you love others the more you are hurt when something bad happens to them or when they are making unwise choices and thus hurt themselves. Yet I opt for Christianity which instead of advocating detachment, urges that we embrace life and relationships. As Gretchen Rubin said, “I don’t want to loosen, I want to deepen”. There is a sense that one can remove some of the pain and frustration in life by detaching, but the side effect is often loneliness and one cannot detach from self — often our single greatest source of pain. You may lessen for a while some of your pain, but you also end up watering down your ability to rejoice.  The Bible brings together a life both of great sorrows and great joys, “Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting” (Psalm 126:5). So remember that running away and hiding from sorrow is also running away from joy — both have a purpose in this life, and both must be experienced together. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15).

Unhappiness: A Good Luck Charm?

We need to remember that there is no benefit in fretting, for sometimes people think that worrying about something is a way of paying God to keep it from us. Yet God does not agree (Matthew 6:25). Worry is not a form of atonement, and neither can God be bribed. The truth is that good things (Luke 6:36) and bad things (Ecclesiastes 9:11) happen to everyone and we all get far more good things and far fewer bad things than we deserve (Psalm 103:10). 

A Good Medicine

“A joyful heart is a good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22).

A tremendous amount a research has only confirmed the wisdom packed into this short proverb.

  • It is easier to be good when we are happy. We are typically more patient, more forgiving, more energetic and more generous.
  • Being happy brings energy, and this energy makes it easier to engage in good works that in turn boost happiness. On the other hand, unhappiness tends to sap our energy, which in turn means that just about everything seems arduous.
  • Personal happiness is very influential in marital happiness. Happy people generally are more forgiving (something important in all human relationships, especially marriage), helpful, charitable, have better self control, and are more tolerant of small annoyances. Spouses also pick up on each other’s moods quickly, so your happiness will only increase their happiness. Obviously, a happy spouse is a better date and companion.
  • People who are happy make more effective leaders. They are perceived to be more friendly, warm, and even more physically attractive.  Studies have shown that students who were happy as college freshmen were earning more money in their mid-thirties — without any wealth advantage to start.
  • Happy people are more outgoing and tend to do more things. Studies have shown that the more elements that make up one's life, the less threatening it is when one element is threatened or removed, such as a child going away to college, and so on.
  • Happiness is important when it comes to getting working. The happy outperform the unhappy. They manage their free-time better, tend to be more cooperative, less self-centered, more willing to help people, and work better with others. They are less likely to suffer burnout, absenteeism, work disputes or demonstrate retaliatory behavior.

The Importance of Now

There is the temptation to postpone happiness, to believe that we can only be happy at some point in the future when various dreams and goals will have arrived — What a big mistake! The Bible exhorts us to be saved — now (2 Corinthians 6:1-2), to hear to word of God — now (Hebrews 3:7) and to serve and be involved — now (Ephesians 5:16), and to rejoice — now! Truly the Bible exhorts us to live fully and thankfully in the present. William Edward Hartpole Lecky observed, “There are times in the lives of most of us, when we would have given all the world to be as we were but yesterday, though that yesterday had passed over us unappreciated and unenjoyed”. Determine to enjoy the blessings unique to this day!

Ambition and Happiness

Some feel that ambition and happiness are incompatible. “Many ambitious people I’ve known seem eager to claim that they aren’t happy, almost as a way to emphasize their zeal, in echo of Andrew Carnegie’s observation, ‘Show me a contended man, and I’ll show you a failure’” (The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin, p. 88). The idea seems to be that happiness will take all the drive out of a person. That in order to succeed one must be discontent, hard to please, difficult, angry and willing to accept nothing less than perfection. And we see just enough difficult and unhappy-yet successful people in life to think that this might be the case. Sadly, we forget about all the happy people who do succeed. Studies actually show that people tend to think with more flexibility and with more complexity when they are happy. Could it be that the unhappy- hard-to work-with billionaire could have actually have accomplished much more — and had at the same time a wonderful marriage, family, relationship with God? Take the joy of the Lord with you as your diligence and focus lead you toward success.

Mark Dunagan |
Beaverton Church of Christ | 503-644-9017