Rejoice in the Lord always…I will say it again, rejoice! (Philippians 4:4).
Do you think God wants you happy? I’ve been rethinking this question lately. Just this morning I was reading a quote where C.S. Lewis remarked, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”
Maybe we shouldn’t follow Christ from the happiness motivation, but if we do follow Christ, should it make us happier? I’m beginning to think the answer is “yes”. For many years I’ve made the distinction between happiness and joy. I’ve distinguished between the two by saying happiness is dependent on external circumstances while joy is a deeper experience that comes from God and is independent of our circumstances. I’ve also taught that we think we want to be happy, but what we really desire at a deeper level is joy. But are the two mutually exclusive?
A while back I was reading a classic commentary on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The writer, a well-known minister of his time, pointed to the prophetic text that predicted Jesus would be “a man of sorrows…acquainted with grief,” (Isaiah 53:3). Based on this text, the commentator reached the conclusion that Christians should not desire or expect happiness. I immediately thought of the prophetic text that says Jesus “was anointed with the oil of gladness above all his companions,” (Psalm 45:7). I think that Jesus experienced times of great sadness and grief. But I also think he might have been a very happy camper much of the time. My hunch is that he was filled with joy, and also experienced happiness.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught a series of principles we call “beatitudes”. Most translations use the word “Blessed” to begin each of the phrases. The Greek word in the text is makarios. It can be translated “blessed”, but its more normal meaning is “happy”. Some translations actually do begin each beatitude with the words “happy are”…
I also have been thinking about how often the Bible tells us to “be glad”. It occurs more than sixty times in the Bible! I would suggest that “gladness” includes the emotion we think of as “happiness”.
Today’s text encourages us to “rejoice in the Lord”. To emphasize the point, Paul goes on to repeat, “again I say rejoice”. This would indicate that having joy and being happy requires action on our part.
The word Paul uses, chairo, means “to be full of cheer, calmly happy, glad.”
So how about trying to “rejoice” more today? I have more thoughts on this subject that I will save for another time. But for today, I’m going to put a “R” on my hand, and every time I notice it, I am going to tell Jesus, “I am rejoicing in you, today, Lord!” I’ll let you know if I have a happier day.