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The Pursuit Of Happiness, Part 2: Why Is It So Elusive?

Before I give you a little bit of a review, I wanted to share with you some additional information that I encountered a since the last session that we did, and just two things, real quick, because it really fits right in with this series. Blaise Pascal talked about this issue of happiness 350 years ago and in his 1660 classic book Pensees, he says, “All men seek happiness. There are no exceptions.” He says, “However different the means they may employ, they all strive towards this goal.” Ironically, Pascal saw nothing but unhappiness all around him. He writes, “As unhappy as we are, we have an idea of happiness. We just can’t seem to obtain it.” He concludes that, “Instead of being happy, we struggle with inconstancy, boredom, and anxiety.”

Fast forward about 250 years to 1930 when Sigmund Freud published his book, Civilization and its Discontent. And what’s interesting is that Freud originally planned to title the book Unhappiness in Civilization, but clearly, his publisher says, that’s not a good title, and that won’t work. But the bottom line, the book’s central theme, is the frustration one experiences in the perennial search for happiness. Freud recognized this as the driving force of all people. He perceived our desire for happiness to be insatiable. However, what most people don’t know is that happiness completely eluded Freud his entire life. In fact, he referred to life as being joyless and full of misery. Guys, this is a huge issue that’s really not talked about much, as I said in our last session. You know, who wants to be known as an unhappy person because, you know, we’re supposed to be upbeat. We’re supposed to be together. We’re supposed to have our lives totally together. And so, nobody wants to admit this. Nobody wants to talk about it.

Last week served as an introduction. And when I started, I made the comment that I truly believe, this is my opinion, that most adult Americans, that would include college students, are unhappy, but they just don’t admit it and don’t want to talk about it. We talked last week also about, so many people see happiness as a feeling, and therefore we look to pleasure as the source of our happiness, and we looked at all of the destructive tendencies that creep into a person’s life when they come to believe that pleasure is the source of true happiness in life. And we closed by saying that happiness is a byproduct of living in the center of God’s will. And then I closed by saying there are a number of factors that can contribute to a joyful, happy life, which we will be looking at starting today. Now, I think it’s important to start with this.

What is the role that God plays in the search for happiness? Why is He important in finding happiness? Well, where I want to start is by thinking about human desire, starting with the human desires of the body. Think about it. We enter into this life and we have three basic desires. They’re all physical desires. We get hungry, we get thirsty, we get tired, so we eat, we drink, we sleep, and we rest. Then you hit puberty and your sexual desire kicks in, and those are the four basic desires of the body. It forms what is called the sensual side of life, and obviously, this is where pleasure or originates and they clearly also play an important role in life because of the necessity to keep the human race going. Now that leads to this question, thoughs. Those are the desires of the body. What is this desire that we have for joy and happiness, for peace, to love and be loved, not sex, to love and be loved? It’s not a physical desire, guys. It’s a spiritual desire. It’s a desire of the heart and the soul. Again, what satisfies hunger? Food? What satisfies thirst? Drink.

What is it, though, that satisfies the thirst of the soul? Well, it’s clearly God. Most specifically, the Holy Spirit. What Jesus refers to as living water. Think about all the times, it’s amazing, you see it in the Old and New Testament, the idea of living water to satisfy the thirst of the soul. Of course, what you see happening, this is a major contributor to the unhappiness of life, is that the world is tipped, attempting to satisfy the spiritual yearnings of the soul with the physical pleasures of life and it doesn’t work, and the reason is, it can’t work. Listen to what C.S. Lewis says. He says, “Over the centuries, men have tried to invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside of God, apart from God, and out of that hopeless attempt, has come nearly all that we call human history, greed, poverty, selfish ambition, war, prostitution, classes, brutal empires, slavery, the long, terrible story of man trying to find something other than God, which will make them happy. The reason why it can never succeed is this. God made us. He invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on gasoline and it would not properly on anything else. God designed humans to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way, without having, without bothering to have a relationship with Him.” Listen to this. “God cannot give us a happiness and a peace apart from Himself because it is not there. There is no such thing.”

So where I want to go with this today, guys, is to ask the question, what is the role that God plays in all of this? If he satisfies this thirst in our souls for joy and happiness and peace and love, how does that happen? What is His role in our lives? What is his role in this elusive search of happiness that people are having so much trouble with? Well, let me tell you how, the way I want to do this. I want to create a hypothetical character and we’re going to call this character Tom Smith. Good old Tom Smith. All right. Tom is a businessman. He’s mid forties. He has done very well. He likes to have a good time, makes good money, has an okay marriage, two kids he loves and adores. He believes in God, goes to church, probably eight or nine times a year, always there on Christmas, always there on Easter, but when it gets right down to it, he’s completely oblivious to God and the things of God, and, to be honest, because he’s right in the, slab dab in the middle of Midlife, he’s starting to kind of question his life. There’s an emptiness to it, a lot of fear, and he struggles with anger and deep down, if you really knew it, Tom Smith is unhappy. But then he becomes a Christian. He comes to Christ, surrenders his life to Jesus, a very sincere, serious commitment, and he begins to grow spiritually. He seeks God. He begins to really grow spiritually.

Question, why will this lead to greater happiness? While will this lead to greater happiness? Well, I’ve got three thoughts on this and will share with you real quick. First, what happens when a person comes to faith in Christ and surrenders to Jesus, what happens to him? He is immediately forgiven of all his sins. He’s given that, remember that judicial forgiveness which is necessary if you’re going to have a relationship with God, remember, sin is what separates us from God, so he, first thing, as a new Christian, he’s forgiven of sins, he has the ability to have a relationship with God. Second, he’s adopted into God’s family. God now is his Heavenly father, and we become His children, but most significantly, the Holy Spirit comes and literally resides in his life. He experiences the new birth, and I love the way Tim Keller describes the importance of it. He says, “you know, we need forgiveness. The new birth is not about forgiveness. We need God’s forgiveness, don’t get me wrong,” he said, “but we need more than God’s forgiveness. We’re damaged. We need to be repaired, and so God comes in and literally resides in our lives.”

Now, why is that important as it relates to joy and happiness in life? I don’t know how many of you were there, but several years ago, I did a series on what is God really like? God is a person. As a person, what is God really like? And we talked about a number of things, you know, you talked about God, he obviously, He’s a God of love. That’s the first thing that people think about. But you know, the one characteristic of God that most people don’t think exists is that He is a God of great joy and happiness. He tells us that. He talks about His joy, and remember, joy and happiness can be used interchangeably.

When you look at the actual definitions. I mean, for instance, in I Thessalonians 1:6, it says, “you also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received The Word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” And of course, what is the second fruit of the spirit? Love, joy. And you see in the Old Testament, it talks about in Nehemiah, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” But remember, when we talked about abiding in Christ, that what did He ultimately want us to experience from this abiding relationship? You remember in John 15, Jesus is about to leave them and He says, guys, this is the way it’s going to work going forward and this is the way you’re going to function spiritually. You’ve had Me these three years. I’m leaving you, and He gives them that great illustration of the vine, branch relationship, you remember, and He explains it to them, and the picture is, He’s the vine, we’re the branches and the Holy Spirit, the sap flows from the vine into the branch, and we bear much fruit and He tells us all this in John 15, and then He gets to verse 11, and then He says, “This is why I’ve told you all of this.” Listen to what He says, “These things I’ve spoken to you so that My joy,” Jesus says, “My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” That’s what He desires for our lives, guys, and in one sense, I guess you could say, “these things I’ve spoken to you so that My happiness might be in you and that your happiness might be made full.” So, God’s joy resides in us and we need to make sure we continually are abiding in Him.

Now, I think as I’ve prepared all of this and given this a lot of thought, I think, really, happiness involves joy and peace together. And Jesus, in that verse that I just read, says, I want my joy to be in you. If you go back a chapter to John 14:27, He says the same thing about His peace. He says, “I want my peace to be in you,”in John 14:27. And what He’s saying there guys is, I’m the source. I’m the ultimate source of true joy and peace. I am the source of happiness. So that’s the first thought. I told you there’s three thoughts. That’s thought number one. Thought number two, you know, after Tom comes to Christ, the Holy Spirit resides in him, he begins to seek God with the ultimate goal of knowing Him and seeking to live in the center of God’s will. Remember what we said, happiness is the byproduct of living in the center of God’s will. It’s not the object. It becomes the object is seeking to live in the center of God’s will. That’s the object, and out of that, you pursue that object or that objective. The byproduct is happiness.

Now this what I’ve just shared is the core teaching of Drayton Nabers’ book on The Hidden Key to Happiness. I’m going to read to you a couple of words right out of his book. “In the preface to Paradise Lost, C.S. Lewis writes that the great moral which reigns in John Milton’s Paradise Lost is that obedience to the will of God makes men unhappy and disobedience makes them miserable. More than 2000 years earlier than Milton, Solomon, one of the wisest of all Biblical figures, and the most prosperous, concludes Ecclesiastes with this insight. The last and final word is this, fear God and do what He tells you.” Fear God, and do what He tells you. That’s from The Message. And Drayton says, “Here are two servants of God, both of them very wise. They put obedience at the center of what human life is all about. What is obedience to God? Obedience is aligning our wills with Gods. The emphasis is understanding, obedience is on the will, hearing God and choosing to do what His will for us to do.”

Of course, you know, you think about it, guys, most of your life, I would say, is in alignment with the will of God. Let me give you an example. Let’s say this coming Saturday, your wife’s out of town, your kids are all gone. You’re at home by yourself. You’ve got Saturday to yourself, and you think, well, you know, I may go to the office and get a few things done, or I might work in the yard, work in the garden. I might go play golf. Or, if it’s in the fall, I might just sit home and watch football. Now, of all those options, which one of those are in the will of God? All of them. I mean, there’s great, there’s great freedom in the will of God. It’s like, I’ve used this illustration before. It’s like having a big house, big piece of property, out in the Rockies, and you’ve got a lot of grandchildren and you decide to put a huge fence around your backyard because you realize that there are forces out there that could come into your backyard, potentially harm your children, your grandchildren, and so you put this huge fence around your backyard and, but you also put all kinds of fun things for them to do, and you tell them, stay within the boundaries of the fence, I do it for your protection, but within the fence, have a great time. Go do what you want to do. That’s really kind of a picture of what God has given. He’s given us great freedom. As Dallas Willard says, we’re in God’s will whenever we are leading the kind of life He wants for us, which leads to a lot of room for freedom on our part. Now you know when we get in trouble, don’t you? Is when God’s will is that we should do “x” and my will is, I want to do “y”. And that was the question. Then becomes, do I surrender my will to his will or do I defy him and go my own way? That reminds me of Augustine and the pear tree incident. Y’all remember that? Augustine, as an old man, he’s writing his autobiography, reflecting back to his years as a teenager. And he and his friends steal a bunch of pears and have just a great time doing it. And as he looks back, he realized that he participated in this act of stealing because deep within his heart, he says, there was a voice crying. My will be done. He says this was the primary intent of my heart. But, he says, furthermore, you recognize that at the root of every heart is this voice crying. My will be done. You see, this is our sin nature. And then he says, he recognized, this is what distorts everything in life, including all relationships and all decisions he would make. And this, guys, I believe, explains why we must repent and surrender when we put our faith in Christ. Because we’re moving from a state where my approach to life is, my will be done, and when you become a Christian, our desire should be, Lord, I want to follow You. I want Your will to be done in my life and you see this throughout the scripture that the Old Testament emphasizes our obedience to God very clearly. For instance, here, listen to what he says and Deuteronomy 4:40, “So you shall keep His statutes and His commandments, which I’m giving you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you and that you may live long in the land which the Lord your God is giving you for all time.”

And then over in Deuteronomy 12 verse 28, he says, “Be careful to listen to all these words which I command you so that it may be well with you and your sons after you forever, for you will be doing what is good and right in the sight of the Lord, our God.” And there’s a host of verses that always say “it will go well with you.” What do you want for your life? God’s blessing or God’s curse, because that’s what he says in Deuteronomy 11.

Listen to this. This is very, very significant. God says, see, “I’m setting before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing, if you listen to the commandments of the Lord, your God, which I am commanding you today and the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I am commanding you today by following other gods which you have not known.” What leads to your ultimate happiness, God’s blessing or God’s curse?

You know, even secular people see the truthfulness of this. Let me read this to you. Martin Seligman, Dr Martin Seligman. He’s a psychologist who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania and he’s author of the bestselling book called Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. He spent his entire career studying human happiness. Seligman highlights, in his research, that “the baby boomer generation has experienced a significant increase in depression compared to earlier generations. This rise can only lead to one conclusion.” He says, “an epidemic in modern culture, which explains the explosion of our suicide rate.” Seligman provides great insight into what’s happened. He suggests, “we no longer live as our ancestors, who lived for a cause much bigger than themselves. God, family, country, in the past,” I love this, listen, he says, “in the past, people tied happiness to the right ordering of the soul. It was considered a reward for living wisely.” So, that’s my second thought on what’s happening with Tom Smith and his life.

Now, the third is a very significant thing, but it’s not as obvious as the first two, but it’s just as important. I think it’s supremely important. The third thing that happens to him is it begins to change his worldview. In other words, it changes the lens through which he sees life. It changes his thinking.

A number of years ago, there was a major series published, it was 55 volumes. Imagine 55 volumes entitled The Great Books of the Western World. And the series presented the most important ideas that scholars and intellectuals have considered and investigated over the course of all recorded history. And in all these massive 55 volume series, the longest essay was on God. And Mortimer Adler, the noted philosopher, who was the co-editor of the whole series, was asked, why is that so? He says, listen to this, he says, “It’s because more consequences for life follow from that one issue than from any other.” You hear what he’s saying? “More consequences for life follow from that one issue than any other.”

Armand Nicholi, the famous psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, completely agrees. He says, “Our view of God influences how we perceive ourselves, how we relate to others, how we adjust to adversity, and what we understand, our purpose.” He says, “Our spiritual worldview helps determine,” listen to this, “our values, our ethics, and our capacity for happiness. It helps us understand where we come from, our heritage, who we are, our identity, why we exist on this planet, our purpose, what drives us, our motivation, and where we’re going, our ultimate destiny in life.” So, you see how critical this is. He goes on to say, “It also determines how we see our sexuality and, most significantly, how we face death.”

And in the book, Nicholi writes a chapter, it’s the blue book and it’s titled The Question of God, and he writes a chapter call “Happiness”. What is the source of our greatest enjoyment in life? And he said, and you know the book, because I quote it all the time, he, the whole book is basically involves comparing the life of C.S. Lewis, the Christian with Sigmund Freud, the atheist, and it’s not an overtly Christian book, but when you look and compare the lives of the two of these men, it becomes a very powerful argument for the difference God makes in a person’s life. Because Freud, the atheist, according to to Nicholi, was probably the most miserable person he ever studied. He lived the most miserable life. In fact, Freud admitted happiness had eluded him and very little in life pleases him, or pleased in. But Nicholi says about Lewis, he says, “When we observe Freud’s life, and then the life of Lewis before and after his conversion to Christ, we can’t help but observe how,” listen to this, “how one’s worldview has a profound impact on one’s capacity to experience happiness.” He says, “Lewis stated clearly that his pessimism and gloom were closely related to his atheism. His conversion experience changed his pessimism, gloom, and despair to joy, freedom from the burden of a driving ambition and many satisfying relationships.” Again, two different worldviews. Lewis says when his worldview changed, it changed him.

Now, the best example of this I can think of is something I read about Charles Darwin. You all know who Charles Darwin is. Most people don’t know this. Darwin grew up going to church. He believed in God, even studied with the thought of maybe going to seminary, going into the ministry, but then, because he had this great love of science, and what happened over time was this, as his famous theories developed, he abandoned his belief in God and you know what else happened? It changed his view of life. It changed the way he saw the world. And remember, Nicholi says, your view of God impacts your capacity to achieve happiness in the way you view life. Listen to Darwin’s view of life and happiness in his later years. Contrasting them with his earlier years. These are his words, he says, “Up to the age of 30 are beyond, poetry of many kinds gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy, I took intense delight in Shakespeare. Formerly, paintings, and art, and music gave me very great delight, but now that’s changed.” He says, “For many years now, I cannot endure to read a line of poetry. I’ve tried to read Shakespeare and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I’ve also almost lost any taste for art or music. I retain some taste for fine scenery, but it does not cause me the exquisite delight which is formerly did my mind. My way of seeing things seems to become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of a large collection of facts.” And then he says this, listen, “The loss of all of these tastes is a loss of happiness for me. It may possibly be injurious to my intellect, and more probably to my moral character by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.”

You see, when Darwin says, his view of life changed so much, and he realized and he began to believe that we live in a dark, meaningless universe. There’s no place for beauty and his own words. The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness. Guys, I really believe this is what’s happening with so many modern people. When you throw God and spiritual reality and that worldview out, it changes everything. Solomon tells us in Proverbs 9:10 that your knowledge of God is where you get understanding. Your knowledge of God is where you get understanding. Keller says, “How we relate to God is the foundation of our thinking and determines how we view life in the world.” He says, “Your faith view of spiritual reality and of God is the foundation in which all of your reasoning proceeds. What you end up doing is you screen out all that does not fit with your view of God.”

Now, I know I’ve shared this many times, but I’m going to close with this. On two different occasions. Jesus makes this statement. The eye is the lamp of the body. You’ve heard me share that before. I think I told you for years, I had no idea what that meant, but Jesus said it, so I’m sure it must’ve been something good. And then so I finally, I don’t know, 15 years ago. I started, I did some research on this. I even had a guy who was a Greek scholar confirm this, but what? See, when Jesus used that term “eye”, what that literally means is, your perception of reality. It’s your perspective. It’s your worldview, and Jesus makes it very clear that your worldview, your perception of reality can be rooted in truth. And He says, if it is your life will be full of light and full of beauty, but He says, if it’s rooted in falsehood, your life will be full of darkness. And guys, the Bible is quite clear. You will never find a life of joy and happiness walking in the darkness.

Let me pray and we’ll be finished. Father, thank You for our time together. Thank You so much for what You teach us about joy and happiness in this life. And Lord, I pray that we would approach all of life with the worldview that Christ is preeminent and that we should see life through the lens of God’s truth, the Lens of your truth, knowing that’s how our lives will be full of light and beauty. What I pray, Your blessings on all these men, we thank You for this time together. In Christ’s name. Amen.

Fears Men Struggle With

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