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Happiness or Holiness?

We live in a “happy” focused society. By that I mean everyone is striving for happiness. We are repeatedly told that we deserve to be happy and that God wants us to be happy. If you are not happy, make whatever changes necessary to make your life a happier one. After all, life is too short not to be happy.

All of that sounds terrific, except God never promised to make us happy. I know that goes against conventional thought, and it might take a few moments for that truth to sink in. But the truth is that God in His Word never promises, guarantees or plans for your happiness. As a matter of fact, your happiness is not even His number one priority.

  1. The biblical definition of “happiness” does not match our expectations of happiness.

The term “happiness” is defined as a state of wellbeing. It often is representative of living the good life, of a life free from problems and filled with security.   To many people it speaks of financial prosperity, familial harmony and physical health.   Is that what the Bible promises us though?

Interestingly, the word “happy” is only found some thirty times in the Bible – Eighteen times in the Old Testament and approximately ten times in the New Testament.   Never does it denote wealth, health or relational harmony. It is almost always translated “blessed.” Thus, from God’s point of view our happiness has much more to do with His blessing than with our prosperity and freedom from problems.

  1. We are commanded to be holy, not happy

In both Leviticus 11 and I Peter 1, we are commanded to be holy. He says, “You must be holy for I am holy.” He doesn’t say, “You must be happy for I am happy.” This mandate for holiness is not based upon a capricious desire. Rather, it is founded upon the character of God. Consequently, His holiness should prompt us to live a life that is set apart for godliness.

God is much more interested in our holiness than in our happiness.   It is also important to note, though, that the two do not need to be exclusive of one another. In other words, you can be holy and happy at the same time. But, if God has His druthers, He would much rather we be holy.

  1. God uses the “happenings” of our lives to propel us towards holy living

It was C.S. Lewis that made the now famous quote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” In other words, God uses the negative experiences of life, the things that seemingly rob us of our happiness to speak to us.   That is why James encourages us to consider trials as opportunities for great joy (James 1:2). That is why Paul tells us that God uses “all things” to work for our good (Romans 8:28).   Yes the happenings of our life happen for a purpose. God is working in us to make us more like Him.

  1. God promises joy and peace instead of happiness

Repeatedly, in the book of John Jesus promises joy and peace to His followers…

John 14:27 – Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

John 15:11 – I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!

John 16:33 – – I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

Happiness is external while joy and peace are internal. Happiness is temporary while joy and peace are permanent. Happiness is dependent upon the circumstances of life while joy and peace are only dependent on the provision of the Holy Spirit.

Be assured that while holiness can produce happiness, happiness cannot produce holiness. So, instead of praying that God would make you happy, let me challenge you to pray that God would make you holy. The simple truth is that the more we become like Jesus, the happier we will be.

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