Whether it was the Pilgrims who traveled to the new world 399 years ago, or immigrants who are seeking to make this country their home today, most people come to America searching for a better life. Some are looking for religious and political freedom while others are looking for economic opportunity, but they are all looking for something that was defined in our declaration of independence as an inalienable right, the pursuit of happiness. For most of us, a better life involves being happy, so what makes you happy?
For some people, happiness comes with travelling and experiencing new things, for others it’s when they get to go shopping and buy new things. For some people, happiness comes with a new job, for others when they get to quit a job or maybe retire. For some people, happiness comes when a relationship ends, for others when a relationship begins. For some, happiness comes when we are able to eat, drink, and be merry. What makes you happy?
Toys often make children happy, at least for a few moments. Do you know what company is the largest distributor of toys in the world? You might be surprised to learn that it is not a toy store or even amazon but McDonald’s, and it all started 40 years ago with the introduction of the happy meal. McDonald’s has been distributing toys for 40 years and some of the happy meal toys have become real collectibles. There were beanie babies, furbies, and collectible figures to go with every Disney movie ever released. The real question is whether or not the happy meal really made children happy, and the answer is yes, for about 5 minutes. Who doesn’t love a hamburger, french fries, and a little plastic toy.
What is profound about the happy meal is that it brings together two things that many of us turn to for happiness – food and toys. We often turn to food and stuff to make us happy, but the sad truth is that neither one makes us happy for very long, and we see that in the happy meal as well. The happy meal is empty calories and a cheap toy that bring instant gratification but no lasting happiness for body or soul. In many ways the happy meal is symbolic of a worldly pursuit of happiness that fails to deliver.
As we search for a better life and pursue happiness, what is it that will ultimately make us happy? If our happiness is based in anything we find in this world, it will eventually let us down, but if our happiness can be found in God, it will not only last but it will see us through all the challenges of life. In Ephesians 1:3-4, the Apostle Paul begins to shed some light on the source of happiness.
In the Message, a modern translation of the Bible, it says this:
How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.
Another word for blessed and blessing is happiness. Paul talks about celebration and gift giving which brings happiness. And the source of all this is God’s love which makes us whole and holy. Paul is clear that the kind of happiness that we are looking for, a happiness that will make us whole and holy, is never going to be found in the stuff or the situations of this world, and no happiness can be sustained by the things around us. Happiness comes when we don’t look at our circumstances from day to day but consider what it is we believe about God. To say this another way, happiness comes from Godly Reason and not human circumstances or emotions.
If we allow our emotions to define our happiness, we will come up short every time. If we think that our circumstances alone can keep us happy, we will be disappointed again and again. Worldly happiness is as fleeting as a happy meal, we have to find something stronger and more secure on which to base our happiness. We need to turn to the truth of God.
According to Ephesians 1, God is a blessing and God blesses us. God created us in love, to be loved, and to be part of God’s family forever. When we failed God, God’s love didn’t fail us, and through Jesus we have been forgiven and made a part of God’s family, not for a while but forever. So Godly reason tells us we were created in love, forgiven in love, made a family in love, and have eternal life with God all because of God’s love. We are blessed with the gift of lasting life and love. With God there is happiness – true happiness.
God’s reason can lead us to happiness but a Godly Rudder is what keeps it going. A rudder helps provides stability to a boat in a storm. When the wind and waves toss a boat on the sea, a rudder helps keep it upright and moving in a steady direction. In a world where we are tossed about by all kinds of issues, from health to finances, from tragic accidents to relationship failures, we need a rudder that will keep us stable, upright, and moving forward. That rudder is God. When everything around us falls apart, God is here to hold us together. When everyone is against us, God is for us. When we feel alone, God is with us. When we have nothing, God provides us with everything.
The Apostle Paul tells us this in Romans 8:31b-35, 37-39.
And then again in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9.
Life throws all kinds of storms at us and if we trust in our power and strength, we will be swamped, but if we have a Godly rudder, if we can turn to and trust in God, we will make it through.
Today we are happy to have Gail and Greg Spotts sharing with us Gail’s book called, Peace in the midst of the storm. The book documents how a Godly rudder helped them find stability and direction in the midst of losing their son Darren. Losing a child is the most devastating and difficult pain to work through and without a strong rudder to keep you going, that experience can literally destroy your life and family. Gail shares in her book how God didn’t become her rudder during those days but how her relationship with God was her rudder. It was just there to give peace, hope, and direction in the storm.
Gail’s book is a reflection of what it actually looks like to have God as a rudder and how we can use that relationship to help us when we go through a storm. If you are wondering how God can be a rudder and bring you stability, hope, peace, and yes even happiness, in the midst of a storm, then I would encourage you to get a copy of the book, or talk with Gail and Greg after worship.
Having a Godly rudder really can make all the difference. Several years ago we held a memorial service here for a young child. As tragic as the moment was, we were able to talk about the love of God and how the presence of Jesus can bring peace and hope even in the pain and loss of that moment. As part of the service, Nikki Story sang the song my chains are gone, and after the service she was at a coffee shop where a woman stopped her and said, you are the woman who sang at the memorial service today. Nikki said, yes, and the woman went on to say that her daughter had died in an accident the year before and she was angry and bitter about it all and then she said this, I didn’t know it could be like that. What she meant was that she had no idea that people could actually find peace in the storm, or hope in the midst of pain and loss. Having a Godly rudder really does make all the difference.
The last thing that can help us find happiness in the world today is a Godly Relationship and not earthly stuff. Again, when we look to the things of this world to make us happy, we will come up empty. The happiness of a happy meal lasts until the next meal, or in the case of the toy, until the next day or until the next toy comes out. The happiness of a new car lasts as long as the new car smell. The happiness of a new job or a new romance lasts until the problems come. The happiness of money never lasts because with every dollar we get we think we need one more dollar to really be happy.
If we chase stuff and the things of this world to make us happy, we are chasing after the wind. We will never find what we are looking for, and we will never find enough or be satisfied with what we have, so instead of looking at stuff to make us happy we need to look at our relationship with God.
What ultimately makes us happy will be pursuing God because we will discover that when we have God, we will have all that we need. I don’t know if you have figured this out yet, but searching for a better life always seems to come back to having a deeper relationship with God. It is our relationship with God that makes us resilient, and helps us re-enlist, and live with restraint, and it is a relationship with God that helps us relish life, or find true happiness and joy. It all comes back to this relationship with God, and that will be part of our focus next month.
What is important for us to understand about our relationship with God is that once we start working to strengthen that relationship, all our other relationships will improve as well, and it is often our relationships with others that bring us the most happiness. When people reflect at the end of their lives, they don’t take an inventory of what they have accumulated but think about the people they have loved. Dying parents don’t hang on in hospitals and nursing homes until valued objects and financial statements are brought in for them to read or touch one more time, but they do wait until children and grandchildren arrive from far away so they have one last moment of connection and love. Stuff doesn’t make us happy – relationships make us happy and when we can get our relationship with God growing and vital, all other relationships will improve as well.
So to truly relish life, to find deep happiness, peace, and lasting joy, we have to stop looking to the world and start looking for Godly reason and wisdom on which to build our lives, a Godly rudder which can keep us moving forward, and a Godly relationship that will fill our lives.
What makes you happy?
- Are these things enduring?
- Can they help sustain you through difficult times?
- List 5 reasons why God should be the source of your happiness.
- Read the following passages from Ephesians and identify the reasons God can be the source of our happiness:
○ Ephesians 1:3-14
○ Ephesians 2:4-10, 2:14-22
○ Ephesians 3:14-21
- When has God helped you through a storm in life?
- What did God’s help and provision look like?
- How can God be your rudder in the storm today?
- How can you help others trust God through the storm?
- How do you currently invest in your relationship with God?
- What ONE THING can you do this week to spend more quality time with God?
- Sign up for a 3 Relationships small group to learn more about how to live in a dynamic, thriving relationship with God.