The Pursuit of Happiness and the Bible

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

James 4:13-14

I’ve been asking myself this question lately: is “the pursuit of happiness” even biblical?

Are all people really “endowed by their Creator” with the unalienable right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Or is that just something man invented?

This feels almost like heresy.

But the Declaration of Independence isn’t scripture.

Patriotism isn’t my religion.

Politics aren’t my god.

America is the land of my birth, but my devotion is to God’s kingdom above all else.

Too often I see people (including myself) make decisions based on what we think will make us happiest.

Should I live in this or that place?

Should I work here or there?

Should I do this or that?

Should I marry this person?

Should I have children?

Should I get a divorce?

Am I fulfilled enough?

Am I appreciated enough?

Am I happy enough?

We make ourselves dizzy with questions.

We tell our friends our problems and we ask their opinions.

What we’re missing is that no amount of moving or change will ever fill us.

The newness will rub off and go dull.

The grass will always be greener on the other side.

Is the pursuit of happiness an empty search?

Are we bringing our decisions before the Lord?

Instead of asking ourselves what will make us happy, maybe we should be asking God what will bring him glory.

Change for the sake of change isn’t improvement.

He doesn’t tell us to self-improve or self-fulfill.

He tells us to die to self.

Are his plans our plans?

Are our plans his plans?

Are we even consulting him?

Or are we more interested in building our perfect little lives?

Are we more interested in the American Dream than surrendering our dreams to him?

Are we upset that he isn’t speaking to us when we’re the ones that stopped speaking to him?

We can’t have it both ways.

We can’t serve God and ourselves.

We can’t serve God and money.

We’re a “me” generation in the midst of a “me” crisis.

And yet we still feel unfulfilled.

Have we created a gospel in which we are the center and not Jesus?

A “me gospel?”

God loves me.

Me.

Christianity’s object is me.

Therefore, when I look for a church, I look for the music that best fits me and the programs that best cater to me and my family. When I make plans for my life and career, it is about what works best for me and my family. When I consider the house I will live in, the car I will drive, the clothes I will wear, the way I will live, I will choose according to what is best for me.

This is the version of Christianity that largely prevails in our culture.

But this is not biblical Christianity.

The message of biblical Christianity is not “God loves me, period,” as if we were the object of our own faith. The message of biblical Christianity is “God loves me so that I might make him – his ways, his salvation, his glory, and his greatness – known among the nations.”

David Platt, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream

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We all want purpose. We keep searching for it.

But he says we must die to truly live.

So far I’ve found this to be true.

My depression shows its ugly head when I’m too consumed by what I want next.

Then when I get it, I want something else.

I live for the next thing and then the next.

I am disappointed.

This isn’t living.

I have experienced real life before – the times (and it doesn’t happen often enough) that I gave of myself.

That I served.

That I invested in someone.

That I opened my home.

That I truly listened.

That I was vulnerable.

That I gave of myself.

That I forgot about myself.

Those were the times I was truly alive.

Forget self-preservation.

I need transformation.

I need to surrender.

I need to relinquish control and invite God in.

Ironically, his ways are higher than mine.

And what feels like a sacrifice might actually be in my best interest.

I’ve tried doing it my own way and I have failed.

I’ve pursued happiness – even at the expense of others.

I’ve been selfish.

I’ve severed relationships.

I’ve taken more than my fair share.

I’ve used people.

And I have nothing to show for it.

But there is another way.

There is a way of love.

We can learn to quiet the noise around us and seek his kingdom above all else.

When we seek his kingdom he fulfills all of our needs.

When we humble ourselves he lifts us up.

When we submit our plans to his will, he will see them through.

When we die to ourselves we realize that we were never living before.

The more I travel and get to know immigrants and refugees from around the world, the more I realize how cushy we have it in the US.

But we have our own set of problems.

Apathy. Ungratefulness. Greed.

Fear of losing it all because we’ve never been without.

Jealousy because through technology we have access to the lives of the extremely rich.

Discontent because there is always something more to have.

Depression because we know deep down that pursuing happiness is meaningless.

Jesus makes it pretty clear in John 9:3 that the prosperity gospel is bogus.

Speaking of a man born blind:

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

After saying this, he healed the man.

Jesus says it will cost us everything to follow him.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

But if you’re privileged, which I’m assuming most blog readers are, here are some ideas of what to do with your privilege:

  • Use your privilege to the advantage of those who have less.
  • Give out of your abundance.
  • Get to know the less-privileged. Allow them to teach you. Listen.
  • Don’t pursue happiness or wealth. Pursue God.

While it is important to recognize our privilege, I don’t think it is something to be ashamed of.

I believe God designed every detail of my life so that I could serve him in my own, unique way.

Am I willing to lay my whole life, my skills, my desires, my resources, and my privilege down at his feet, risking it all so he can use it as he sees fit?

After spending a week around precious children who eat only a small cup of porridge a day, the question I have come back…asking God is why he has blessed me when others have so little. And this is what God has shown me: “I have blessed you for my glory. Not so you will have a comfortable life with a big house and a nice car. Not so you can spend lots of money on vacations, education, or clothing. Those aren’t bad things, but I’ve blessed you so that the nations will know me and see my glory.”

Jamie, quoted in Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream

I don’t believe God desires perfection.

I think he desires honesty.

I think he desires obedience.

That’s all I have to give.

The pursuit of happiness will lead me nowhere if I don’t take up my cross and follow him.

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Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:19-21

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:31-34

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One Comment

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  1. AMEN!! I totally agree!!

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