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What would it take to make you happy? That’s the question Psychology Today asked 52,000 Americans. And their answers in rank order included:
- A good job
- Being in love
- Recognition or success
- Personal growth
- A good house or apartment
- Being attractive or beautiful
- Good health
- The city that I live in
- My religion
- Recreation and exercise
- Being a parent
- Ironically, the last one was: My partner’s happiness
That’s insightful, isn’t it? But do you know what the most interesting thing about that entire list is to me? That virtually everything the respondents named was an external thing or an external situation. In other words, the popular idea of happiness is that I’ll have it if I can ever line up the right circumstances.
Now that’s not a new idea. In fact, our English word “happiness” is from the same root word as our English word “happening.” Do you get the connection? If I can just get enough positive happenings in my life, then surely I will receive happiness. I call it “WHEN AND THEN” thinking:
- Like, when I get out of school then I’ll be happy.
- Or, when I get a job then I’ll be happy.
- Or, when I get rich then I’ll be happy.
- Or, when I get married then I’ll be happy.
- When I have children then I’ll be happy.
- When all the children have left home then I’ll be happy.
- When and then…When and then…When and then…I’ll be happy.
Well maybe, it’s some consolation to know that man has always thought that way. If you’ll turn with me to Ecclesiastes 2, we’re going to take a look real quickly at a book, a journal, that was written by King Solomon as he chased that elusive pot of gold called, “happiness.”
“I thought in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 2:1)
By the way, if you want to save yourself a lot of time, a lot of frustration, and a lot of heartache in your quest for happiness. Go home and read very thoroughly, Ecclesiastes 2. Solomon, who was far and away the most powerful man in the world in his day and likely the richest man who ever walked the face of the earth, he said, “Man, I tried it all and I found three dead ends. I’ve got these on your outline, and I want you to write them down.
The first dead end was accumulating things.
“I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me.” “I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well–the delights of the heart of man.” (Ecclesiastes 2:7-8)
O Solomon said, you name it, I had it. But, we’ll see what the result was in just a moment.
The second thing he tried was experiencing pleasure.
Look at verse 3, “I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives.”
Drop down to verse 10. He said, “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.”
And the third thing he tried was achieving success.
Look at verse 4. “I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees.”
Drop down to verse 9, “I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me.”
Do you see what he tried? He said, I tried accumulating things, experiencing pleasure, achieving success. Do you know the amazing thing to me? Three thousand years later, those are still the things we think we’ve got to chase to achieve happiness. Isn’t that right? Starting with accumulating things.
I saw a bumper sticker the other day, have you seen it? It said, “Whoever said money can’t buy happiness just doesn’t know where to shop.” That’s the way most people think. How many times have I heard somebody say, “Man, if I could just win the lottery, I’d be so happy.”
I found it interesting, I saw two newspaper articles a few years back, one was about a man by the name of Buddy Post. Buddy is now 58 years old, a former carnival worker and cook. He hit the jackpot in 1988 in the Pennsylvania lottery. He won $16.2 million. Buddy is on Easy Street now, isn’t he? NOT!
Listen to what has happened to him since his win:
He has been convicted of assault. His sixth wife has left him. His brother has been convicted of trying to kill him for the money. His landlady has sued him for one-third of his winnings. And the gas company has shut off the gas to the decrepit old mansion that he bought and can’t keep up.
From the Dallas Morning News, about Jim and Lynette Nichols. In July of 1993, Lynette bought 23 one-dollar tickets and she was thrilled when one of those was good for one-third of a $48,000,000 jackpot. Three years later Jim and Lynette got a divorce after 12 years of marriage. The divorce proceedings took over two years because, you guessed it, trying to sort out who gets how much of the money. Lynette Nichols, who had the ticket, said, “We had one month of good times and three years of misery. It was a curse. It didn’t help at all.”
Solomon found it out the hard way and so did Jim and Lynette. You don’t get happy by accumulating things. You don’t get happy by experiencing pleasure: sex, drugs, gambling, whatever, anything to giv a thrill, anything to give a rush, anything to give a buzz. It’s like the old Eagles song says, “After the thrill is gone, you’re unhappier than you ever were.”
And you don’t receive it by achieving success. The idea that if I can just get to the top of the ladder, at least make everybody think I’ve got it made, then I’ll be happy.
No, look at what Solomon says, verse 17. He says as he starts chapter 2, verse 17, “So I hated life,…” And in the next sentence he says, “All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”
If you don’t leave here with anything else today, leave here knowing this. Your happiness will not come from your happenings. Your happiness will not come from any external force. But I’ll show you where it will come from.
We live in an upside-down world
This topic will always be in our discussions because of Isaiah 5:20 (ESV) 20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
Matthew 5:1-2 “Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up on the mountain, and when he sat down his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them.”
Matthew in his introduction wishes us to see that it is the official teaching of Jesus; that it is the opening of Jesus’ whole mind to his disciples; that it is the summary of the teaching which Jesus habitually gave to his inner circle. The Sermon on the Mount is nothing less than the concentrated memory of many hours of heart to heart communion between the disciples and their Master.
Being a master Teacher, our Lord did not begin this important sermon with a negative criticism of the scribes and Pharisees. He began with a positive emphasis on righteous character and the blessings that it brings to the life of the believer. The Pharisees taught that righteousness was an external thing, a matter of obeying rules and regulations.
Righteousness could be measured by praying, giving, fasting, etc. In the Beatitudes and the pictures of the believer, Jesus described Christian character that flowed from within.
The word blessed which is used in each of the beatitudes is a very special word. It is the Greek word makarios (<G3107>). Makarios is the word which specially describes the gods. In Christianity there is a godlike joy.
The meaning of makarios (<G3107>) can best be seen from one particular usage of it. The Greeks always called Cyprus he (<G3588>) makaria (<G3107>) (the feminine form of the adjective), which means The Happy Isle, and they did so because they believed that Cyprus was so lovely, so rich, and so fertile an island that a man would never need to go beyond its coastline to find the perfectly happy life. It had such a climate, such flowers and fruits and trees, such minerals, such natural resources that it contained within itself all the materials for perfect happiness.
Makarios (<G3107>) then describes that joy which has its secret within itself, that joy which is serene and untouchable, and self-contained, that joy which is completely independent of all the chances and the changes of life.
The English word happiness gives its own case away. It contains the root hap which means chance. Human happiness is something which is dependent on the chances and the changes of life, something which life may give and which life may also destroy.
The Christian blessedness is completely untouchable and unassailable. The beatitudes speak of that joy which seeks us through our pain, that joy which sorrow and loss, and pain and grief, are powerless to touch, that joy which shines through tears, and which nothing in life or death can take away.
The world can win its joys, and the world can equally well lose its joys. A change in fortune, a collapse in health, the failure of a plan, the disappointment of an ambition, even a change in the weather, can take away the fickle joy the world can give. But the Christian has the serene and untouchable joy which comes from walking forever in the company and in the presence of Jesus Christ.
The greatness of the beatitudes is that they are not wistful glimpses of some future beauty; they are not even golden promises of some distant glory; they are triumphant shouts of bliss for a permanent joy that nothing in the world can ever take away.
The blessedness which belongs to the Christian is not a blessedness which is postponed to some future world of glory; it is a blessedness which exists here and now. It is not something into which the Christian will enter; it is something into which he has entered. The Beatitudes describe the attitudes that ought to be in our lives today. Four attitudes are described here:
Our attitude toward ourselves (v. 3).
Our attitude toward our sins (vv. 4-6).
Our attitude toward the Lord (vv.. 7-9).
Our attitude toward the world (vv. 10-16).
As we study the BE-attitudes in coming weeks, we find that they represent an outlook radically different from that of the world. The world praises pride, not humility. The world endorses sin, especially if you “get away with it.”
The world is at war with God, while God is seeking to reconcile His enemies and make them His children. We must expect to be persecuted if we are living as God wants us to live. But we must be sure that our suffering is not due to our own foolishness or disobedience.