Do you remember that song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”? That is a good philosophy to have. Have you ever met anybody who did not want to be happy? I don’t think there are too many people who wake up and say, “I sure hope I’m miserable today.” Almost everyone wants to be happy. Happiness is even patriotic. It’s as American as baseball and apple pie. I mean, you find the pursuit of happiness right smack dab in the middle of the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Isn’t it amazing? The pursuit of happiness is one reason why this country’s founding fathers declared independence from King George III and Britain. And when you stop to think about it, we spend a lot of time and energy doing things, and a lot of money buying things, in order to be happy, even if the happiness only lasts for a little while.
I believe it is completely natural to pursue happiness, and I believe that it is an instinctive drive that’s been planted there by God. It’s part of our created order. That’s why when we’re not happy the disappointment is so high.
So where do we look for happiness? Can it be found just anywhere? Are the keys to happiness: wealth, health, appearance, and acceptance? Those are the usual suspects when the question is asked “What does it take to make you happy?” I think that we are all guilty of thinking, at least occasionally, some thoughts like…
- “If I were just a little bit more beautiful,”
- “If I were a little more handsome,”
- “If I could just shed a few pounds,”
- “If I were more popular,”
- “If I had more friends,”
- “If people accepted me, then I would be happy.”
- “If I could just convince ___________ to marry me.”
- “If I didn’t have the terrible background, this awful past that clings to me and harasses me. Then I would finally be happy.”
We have all these thoughts about where happiness is found. Then when you go down those roads: you get more money, shed a few pounds, become popular, drag someone to the altar, you do all that and suddenly you realize that it is all a dead-end street; that all of those things, in and of themselves, are empty. You get to be more beautiful, and you see people that are still more beautiful than you are. You realize that no matter how much you try, you cannot change your unhappy past. No matter how much wealth you attain, there is always someone who has more. If you are looking for happiness in all those places, then you are just wasting your time.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with having money, or losing weight, being beautiful or handsome, but to count on that stuff giving you happiness is to set yourself up for a letdown. Don’t base your happiness on all of that.
That leads us to an obvious question. Since it is fruitless to base true, lasting happiness on temporary things, what must be the basis for our ultimate happiness? That is a good question, and we will answer it from the Scriptures. There, in specific the very first Psalm, we will find the answer to the question for which the whole world is seeking an answer: “Where can I find true, lasting happiness?”
Blessed [is] the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight [is] in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. The ungodly [are] not so: but [are] like the chaff which the wind driveth away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.
The Psalm text begins with the words, “Blessed is the man”. Before we go any farther we have to examine this word for a bit. “Blessed is the man” or you could say “Happy is the man”, but what does God mean by happy? The Hebrew word translated blessed here is a very expressive one. In the Hebrew it is plural, expressing the multiplicity of God’s blessings. It could be read “Oh how very happy is the man who…”
This word blessed has the innuendo of that which is in order, organized, and in place; meaning that down at the core of my being there is a very wonderful, settled, blessed happiness about having everything in my soul be straight, organized, in place, and well ordered. That is what God is talking about here. True happiness is a down deep inside condition of my soul, we have to make that distinction, a condition of my soul where everything is in place and well ordered; where everything is really good at the core of my being.
I love the hymn It is Well with My Soul. What a beautiful and uplifting hymn, but when one learns the history behind the song it becomes even more powerful. Horatio Spafford was a successful Chicago attorney who loved his wife and four daughters and one son, and who was also a devoted Christian. This did not exempt him from tragedy. In 1871 his son died. Months later the Chicago Fire nearly ruined him financially. Still reeling from those events he planned a trip to Europe that coincided with an evangelistic crusade of his friend D.L. Moody. Last minute business developments delayed him, but as scheduled, his wife and four daughters went on to Great Britain ahead of him. Little did he know on that day, that as he waved good-bye to his family he would never again see his daughters. Their ship sank in the Atlantic. Spafford’s four daughters all drowned. His wife survived the disaster and cabled him from Wales the words “saved alone.”
Immediately he left to join his wife. While crossing the Atlantic, the Captain of his vessel, knowing Horatio’s story, paused on his journey to show him the spot where his four girls died. No doubt it was there that the “sorrows like sea billows” rolled over his soul. However, knowing that God “regarded my helpless estate”, he penned the words that have brought comfort to generations of those facing sorrows. Spafford’s devotion to God and God’s Word, made him realize that someday his “faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll” and thus he could confidently say, “It is well, it is well with my soul.”
You see, the happiness I am talking about is not dependent on external circumstances. I’m talking about the happiness to which Psalm 1 (and all of scripture) refers. Joy that is grounded in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and a devotion to His word.
Tomorrow we’ll probe this genuine, long-lasting happiness a little further.