By Not Known

Most of us want to be happy and we want happiness for those whom we love. There is nothing wrong with the pursuit of happiness. But there is everything wrong with looking for happiness in the wrong place.

Many seek happiness through having ‘things’ such as possessions, wealth, degrees, titles, career, relationships, good experiences and such like. Do these really make us happy? The person who has an abundance of these things can be like an addict who seeks yet another ‘fix’ because the last high is now not high enough. Or our happiness can be stolen with the worry
that all we have can be taken from us or that someone else has even more.

Paul the apostle lacked the usual sources of happiness. He speaks of trouble, hardships, distress, beatings, imprisonments, riots, sleeplessness, hard work and hunger (2 Cor 6:4-5). He had been caned, stoned, shipwrecked, hunted down, hungry, thirsty, cold, naked and burdened with his daily work (2 Cor 11:23-28). Yet he also speaks of the joy of suffering and of having learned the secret of contentment despite circumstances (Rom 5:3; Phil 3:12).

That’s a puzzle. We want to know more about this. What is his secret of being contented? How can suffering, joy and contentment come together?

Look carefully at Paul’s words: I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being contented in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Phil 4:12-13).

The thinkers of Paul’s day saw contentment as self-sufficiency and independence from all people and all needs. Paul sees it differently. He flips their reasoning on its head. He was needy, but still contented. His contentment was not self-sufficiency and independence but God-sufficiency and God-dependency. It was God who made him equal to the demands of the day, provided for his needs and who gave him security.

Here’s the secret then. The secret is not how to be contented but to be contented in God’s sufficiency. The writer of Ecclesiastes learned much the same. He concluded that the usual sources of happiness were a windy nothingness but that happiness lay in a life lived in right relationship with God (Eccles 1:1 – 2:23; 12:13-14). It’s not such a secret after all.

Do we want to be happy? Of course we do! Don’t try to be happy, but instead seek God through his Son Jesus. That’s real happiness.

David Burke