Sep 20 - Being Consistently Happy

Being Consistently Happy

September 20, 2015

Philippians 4:4-9

 

Being Consistently Happy

September 20th, 2015

Philippians 4:4-9

 

 

Everyone wants to be happy. But what makes us happy? 

 

Is happiness due to a trouble free life?  Or is it having everything our heart desires?  Will we be happy if we have …

 

A dream job? 

A dream spouse?

A dream house? 

A dream car? 

A dream vacation?

A winning lottery ticket? 

 

Strangely enough, as history has proven, winning a lot of money in a lottery often results in the winner’s lives getting worse rather than better.

 

This week I read of over 20 lottery winners whose lives went south and who ended up broke, in debt, or filing for bankruptcy.  One of these was a couple that seemed to have it all. 

 

In 2006 a couple in their 30’s in England, Robert and Lara Griffith, won the equivalent of about $ 3 million in a lottery jackpot.  They had been happily married for 8 years, with two children.  They bought a million dollar house, a Porsche convertible and a Lexus 4x4. 

 

Six years after their lottery win, their marriage was over, the house was up for sale, they had lost their fortune due to poor investments and business ventures, and both, now in their mid-40’s, were living with their respective parents. 

 

I read story after story of a vast fortune being lost because the winners developed addictions, to crack, gambling, alcohol or shopping.  Most others blew it on a lavish lifestyles, partying, and travelling.  Some gave their fortune away to family, loans to friends, and one by giving it all to hospitals and political donations.

 

Many ended up divorced, bankrupt, in debt, working menial jobs, one was in prison for tax evasion, another was murdered by her spouse, another had a hit put out on him by his brother, a number had committed suicide.

 

Most people daydream about hitting a lottery jackpot because they think it will allow them to live a life where they will be happy.  The reality is that this is not always the case.  But what if it isn’t the lottery but a huge inheritance or family fortune or personal success?

 

I vividly remember spending a weekend at the lakefront villa (Lochschwab) of one of the richest men in Germany back around 1970 (Günter Arzberger, age 40 at the time) because I was a friend of his eldest son. 

 

What impressed me at the time was the yacht, the huge indoor swimming pool, the 8 stall garage filled with Mercedes cars, the private jet, and the trophy wife … I think the 4th out of eventually 6.

 

What surprised me greatly is just how miserable the man seemed to be and how poorly he treated his wife.  Four years later, one of his other wives (Christine) would commit suicide in the attic of the mansion after being married to him for 4 months.

 

I was also taken aback that this very rich man argued with me, a teen, about the fact that his Mercedes 600 was faster than my own father’s sports car, which seemed rather childish in retrospect.  He died 7 years after I met him of Leukemia at age 47 (1977). 

 

One might think that this man had it all.  But it was obvious to me that he wasn’t happy. 

 

We may have grown up in a home where our parents tried to buy us everything our hearts could possibly desire.  Maybe they showered us with gifts, with the newest gaming equipment, the designer clothes, the latest smart phone, our own room with our own bathroom, and took us on expensive holidays around the world, but we weren’t happy, either because our parents didn’t have time for us, or because we became so easily bored with everything.

 

I read that spending may be a mad attempt to cover up boredom and depression.  I don’t know if you’ve every heard of the condition called Wealth Fatigue Syndrome (WFS)?  Sounds like a contradiction in terms to most of us.  For sufferers, more and more outlandish trips, which may include financial and physical risks, are needed to feel any sort of excitement or joy.

 

I grew up in a single parent middle class home, but I remember spending a lot of time just a few doors down the road with a family that had very little.  They did not have a bathtub, heating water over a stove and pouring it into a wash tuber instead. 

 

What drew me there was the fact that the mother was at home, and, for some reason, the father did as well, likely because he was an alcoholic.  The mother fed me, washed me.  The father spent time with me, talked to me, took me fishing or hiking.  I was happier there than I was at home.

 

Those of you who have been to Nigeria visiting with Ministry of Mercy, or to the Dominican Republic in Pedragal, building houses and helping out at the clinic or playing with the kids, would you agree that the locals, who truly have very, very little, tended to be pretty happy and content, and willing to share a cup of coffee with you even if they had nothing in the house to eat?

 

That kind of contentment and joy is found in villages where everyone is poor and where advertising doesn’t tell people that they would be much better off and much happier if they had more money. 

 

And yet, despite our life experiences, we may still think that if we just had that one “thing,” we would be happy. 

 

The reality is that temporary happiness is relatively easy to find.  If I like an activity, I can do it and feel temporarily happier.  I can go golfing, fishing, spend my time singing or painting. 

 

Money can and will contribute to our happiness if we manage it well, at least sporadically, but it also has the added danger of leading us to abandon God.   

Generosity and wisdom with money will make you happy. Imagine if you’d been wise and generous

Or I can buy myself something that I really want or get a better job, or overcome a scary disease, and that too will make me feel happier.  At least for a while.

 

The reality is, that the kind of happiness that I can find easily, is also a happiness I can quickly lose.  A fun hobby can become more like work.  My new purchase gets old, dented or rusty.  Or it doesn’t look so good when I compare it to my rich friend’s.  Even after overcoming a serious illness, eventually I might take my life for granted again. 

 

My holiday is over way to fast, and, in any case, pales in comparison to the trips my siblings are able to take.  The new job brings with it new stresses I wasn’t anticipating.

 

Most things we enjoy will make us happy in the moment, or for a few hours – like coffee, or alcohol, or dope - , or maybe for a day, or a week, or a month – like a vacation - , or maybe a bit longer – like buying something that we really want or starting a new job.    

 

The reality is that there is no one “thing” that we can purchase or acquire or make part of our lives will give us ongoing happiness.  Otherwise we could potentially purchase it and then be happy for the rest of our lives. 

 

You know what I mean?  It doesn’t matter how stressful the job is, or that it’s been raining for 3 weeks running, or that my teenage kids are impossibly difficult, or that I just lost someone very close me, or that I’m sick, or that others treat me poorly. 

 

I will purchase this one thing, my happy thing, and I’ll be an ongoing happy person as a result.  

 

The reality is that the things we can get will only give us temporary happiness.   So ongoing happiness or joy, is something quite different.  In fact, if you’re a cynic, you might conclude that if something can’t keep us happy, it may be that the only reason why it made us happy in the first place is because of marketing. 

 

I have heard one pastor say that happiness is more about a “who” than an “it,” and I’m sure that there is a lot of truth in that statement.  The kind of regrets at the end of life aren’t the ones that have to do with things. 

 

You’re not going to get the nurse to wheel you out of palliative care in order to sit one more time in your sports car.  You’re not going to get to the end of your life and wish you would have more time to go golfing.  You’re really not going to care who wins the game on Sundays.  And you won’t be thinking about your financial portfolio.

 

If anything, people who get to the end of their lives have relational regrets.  I wish I would not have alienated family members.  Or, I wish I would have spent more time with my kids.  Or, I wish I had worked harder at showing my family members I love them. 

 

The truth is that we were created social beings.  We were created to be in relationship with others.  Which means that good relationships are a huge factor when it comes to being happy.

 

Those who claim to be happy just being by themselves either have lots of friends, have been burned repeatedly, or simply don’t have anyone and tell themselves that as a means of coping.

 

But I’m not even sure that good relationships are the only key to happiness.  Even if a new person comes into my life, I will get used to the person.  The novelty of having them in my life will wear off. 

 

If you are a parent, and you love your children, think of this statement for a moment:  Parents have a hard time being happier than their least happy child. 

 

At the end of the day we will revert to the kind of people we were to begin with.  If we are discontent, we will return to being discontent.  If we’re always worried, we will return to worry. 

 

So what makes gives people lasting happiness?  I think that most of us would agree that a happy person is content or at peace.

 

Personally I find Paul to be that kind of person, at least when he penned the letter to the Philippian believers. 

 

He started the church in Philippi on his second missionary journey, and, as far as we know, it was the only church that supported him financially. 

 

When he wrote this particular letter, he was chained 24/7 to a Roman guard, potentially facing execution.  And yet, he writes, that he has learned the secret of being content no matter what the circumstance. 

 

Paul was at peace. with himself, with others, with God .. that was the secret to his contentment with his circumstances, no matter how bad. 

 

Those who are at peace with themselves are just fine with the way they are.  They are comfortable in their own skin.  They aren’t at war with themselves. 

 

Even though Paul was potentially facing his imminent demise, he was at peace with himself.  Yes, there had been a time when he had persecuted Christians, had witnessed their executions.  But since then he had lived for a purpose and had actually achieved it. 

 

Paul was also at peace with others.  Even though he never married or had children, he had lots of people in his life.  Some, like Timothy and Titus, were like sons to him.  Others, like the believers in Philippi, loved him and supported him, prayed for him and kept in touch with him.  Those who are at peace with others are not filled with bitterness, resentment, unforgiveness, envy or jealousy. 

 

And Paul was at peace with God.  He knew that he was living his life in harmony with God’s will.   

 

And as a result, Paul was OK with his miserable circumstances.  He was at peace about it.  He was joyful despite of it. 

 

Some happy people seem to have miserable lives … but they are at peace, they are content.

 

As Paul writes his letter, he encourages the believers in Philippi to be as happy, as content, as he himself is.  But he doesn’t stop there.  He actually gives them some hints as to how they should be so. 

 

Be joyful in the Lord at all times!  Again I will say, be joyful! 

Let your kindness become known among all – [because] the Lord is near.                                         Philippians 4:4-5

 

Note that Paul is here speaking of ongoing happiness.  Being joyful in God at all times.  And the first step to always being happy is to be kind to others. 

 

Do not be anxious about anything.

Instead, in every circumstance bring your requests to God, in prayer and entreaty, and [always] with thanksgiving.                                           Philippians 4:6

 

The second way to experience lasting happiness and joy is to pray about everything, all the time being thankful for anything good in one’s life.

 

And [since you are] in Christ Jesus, the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your thoughts.                       Philippians 4:7

 

This is the second time in the passage that Paul writes of being in Christ.  And it is to give us the peace of God.  So exactly what does that mean?

 

In order to answer that question, I’ll have to bring up a word that many people never want to hear, but it’s a biblical word.  The word is SIN. 

 

But what does the word “sin” actually mean.  Sometimes we get the mistaken impression that God sits in heaven and thinks up a new list of sins, plotting to have his commandments rob us of joy and happiness.  If it’s fun, don’t do it.  If we think that, we haven’t understood the concept of sin at all. 

 

Maybe you would say, that sin doesn’t really exist at all.  Your rules are your rules, and my rules are my rules.  Haven’t we been taught this in high school and university?  Situational ethics.  Post-modern morals.  Right or wrong are only in the eyes of the beholder.  Each person has to live according to what they imagine to be right or wrong. 

 

So let me ask you for a moment to do just that, to set up your own standard of right and wrong.  Define sin as something that you personally think that other people should never do. 

 

For example, let’s say that you believe others should never steal from you.  So now the question is, have you’ve ever stolen something?  Or maybe you think that others should never speak bad about you behind your back.  The question then is, “have you’ve ever spoken badly about another person behind his or her back.”  You get the idea.

 

If we are truthful with ourselves, we would have to admit that we fall short of our own standards. 

 

We may even have thought at one time that we won’t ever be able to live with ourselves, we wouldn’t ever be able to look at ourselves in the mirror again if we did or said or thought something, but we’ve actually gone against our own convictions.  Or we realize, we have become a person we don’t want to be. 

 

And for the moment, let’s call that sin. 

Now what is the result of our sin?  What happens when we insult a person, or yell at them, or call them names, or steal from them, or are mean to them?  What does that actually do? 

 

In essences, any sin causes separation.  Our sin separates us from others, and their sin separates us from them. 

 

Just think about the reasons why marriages fail.  If you come right down to it, it isn’t incompatibility, it isn’t irreconcilable differences … it is when one or both people are doing or saying things that they themselves would not want another person to do or say.  It’s sin. 

 

Sin separates.  It causes a rift.  It causes hurt.  It causes damage.  It erodes trust.  It destroys the peace between two people. 

 

If you look at the 10 commandments, there are basically two lists of don’ts.  First, those that are directly related to God.  Don’t carve idols and don’t worship them. 

 

And then there are commandments that speak of relationship with others.  Don’t murder or steal, or sleep with someone else’s wife. 

 

When Jesus redefined sin in the Sermon on the Mount, he also included both speech and attitudes or thoughts, because it isn’t just when we do something that we can hurt another.  We can also do it with our words, our attitude or our thoughts toward that person.

 

Sin erodes the peace between us and others.  And anything that undermines our peace, ultimately undermines our happiness.  People sometimes undermine their own happiness and then try desperately to recover it in the wrong way.

 

But it also causes separation within ourselves.  Some of our sins don’t so much damage others, as they damage ourselves.  I’m reminded of Whitney Houston who drowned in her bathtub at age 48 after smoking pot and snorting coke.

 

We can do things we said to ourselves we would never do.  We can go against our own rules and morals and ethics and convictions.  And as a result we realize that we’ve become someone we don’t even like very much.

 

Or we call ourselves down.  We are mean with ourselves.  Some of our actions and words and thoughts actually denigrate who we are, rather than others.  

 

Some of our sins damage our own health, our own peace of mind, our self-respect, our integrity, even our own conscience … the Bible speaks of our conscience becoming seared (1 Tim 4:2). 

 

We hold on to anger, but it only hurts us.  It’s like swallowing poison and expecting the other person to die.

 

I can have a bad relationship with myself.  I can be at war with myself. 

 

Sin separates us from others.  It separates us from ourselves.  And lastly, sin will also separate us from God. 

 

Now, ultimately, we cannot hurt God the way we can hurt others or ourselves.  God may be disappointed with our sins, but it isn’t as if we’re going to cause him any kind of harm.  Oh God, I’ve really hurt your feelings because I worked on my day off.  Oooooh. 

 

However, the separation is real, even if it is unconscious.  One of the reasons that some people stop attending church is because there is something that they done, some rule that they’ve compromised, something they have participated in, that they may have justified or rationalized for themselves.  But there is something deep down that they do not want to be confronted with or made to feel guilty about – which is why they don’t attend… or read their Bible … or pray. 

 

They don’t want to be reminded that God does not approve of the actions, words or attitudes that either hurt themselves or others.

 

The real reason why sins separates us from God is that our sin against others or ourselves is a sin against someone God loves.  As a result, when we mistreat another person or ourselves, we are not only distancing ourselves from ourselves or the other person, but we are distancing ourselves from God. 

 

When John the Baptist baptized people in the Jordan, it was called a baptism of repentance.  We are told that people from all over Israel came to be baptized by John, but that they first confessed their sins.  In other words, they acknowledged that their actions, words and attitudes or thoughts were wrong. 

 

When they asked John what they should do to demonstrate the fact that they wanted to do the right thing, he told them basically to treat others with kindness even when it is in their power to ignore them or take advantage of them.

 

Jesus’ message was virtually the same as Johns.  And what did he tell his followers to do?  To treat others the same way that they would like to be treated if they were in the other person’s shoes.  In other words … don’t sin … or at the very least … attempt to do your very best not to do, say or don’t do anything that would hurt or damage yourself or another person.

 

But this whole point of admitting that we are in fact sinning, and therefore hurting those God loves, is a very humbling concept.  It is worst, of course, when we realize that, despite our best efforts, we are still sinning. 

 

Which is the reason why Jesus went to the cross.  Why we speak of him paying the penalty of our sins and thus making possible a reconciliation between us and God. 

 

It is also the reason why we speak of the Holy Spirit prompting us and enabling us to actually sin less, that is, to actually become the kind of people who love themselves and others more, who sin less when it comes to their relationships, and therefore, who are at peace with themselves, with others, and with God.

 

So this little phrase, “in Christ,” has immense repercussions.  If we are “in Christ,” then the Peace of God will guard our hearts and minds.

 

And Paul continues in Philippians 4 as he continues to show his readers what is needed for lasting happiness. 

 

Finally, brothers, keep your thoughts on whatever is true, honourable, right, pure, lovely and respectable, all that is called virtuous and is worthy of praise.

                                                                        Philippians 4:8

 

I think what Paul is talking about here are really two things.  First, try to eliminate as far as possible the kind of things that might pollute your thoughts.  Turn off a TV show or the music that makes you feel bad, don’t dwell on past injustices, don’t focus on all that might be bad in life, don’t hang around evil people

 

And secondly, fill your mind with whatever is good and right.  Look at YouTube clips that actually inspire you.  Spend time with people who lift you up. Notice the little things in every day that inspire you or make you feel better.  One of the reasons I have hummingbird feeders both at home and hanging outside of my office.  It makes me keep my thoughts on what is good.  It is also the reason I hang things on my fridge or in my office that remind me of something good. 

 

A few weeks back, I spoke about the 10 habits that we can.  As it happened, a mom in our congregation took those points, wrote them on a piece of paper, hung them on her fridge and sent me a picture of it. 

 

Well, that inspired me to type the same points off and print them off and put them in my office.  I even think that someone took a photocopy and hung it in the church office.

 

What you have learned and accepted, what you have heard me speak about and live out, this put into practice.

And the God of peace will be with you. 

Philippians 4:9

 

Finally, Paul gives his last piece of advice as to how the believers in Philippi could experience ongoing happiness.  And basically what he is saying is, “Do as I do.”  Or, “follow my example.” 

 

Look, Paul is someone who experienced ongoing joy and happiness, regardless of the circumstances he found himself.  Why not do like him?

 

To me this speaks of following role models … and hopefully becoming one myself.  Do you know someone who is always happy?  What are they doing that makes them so?  In Paul’s case it was a serving spirit, a deep desire for the physical and spiritual welfare of others, an incredible prayer life, and an unquenchable desire to actually accomplish in his life what God would have him to.

 

So let’s summarize our passage.

 

Be joyful at all times

Don’t worry at any time

Let God’s peace guard your minds and hearts

Have the God of peace with you …

            … by being kind to others

            … by praying at all times, with thanksgiving

            … by being in Christ Jesus

            … by constantly filling your mind with good

            … by doing what Paul taught and did

 

AM I A HAPPY PERSON?  IF NOT, WHAT DO I NEED TO DO IN ORDER FOR ME TO BE AT PEACE WITH MYSELF, WITH OTHERS, OR WITH GOD?