I was walking through a Christian bookstore recently and saw a title that grasped my attention, "The Secret of Happiness" (Sermon on the Mount For Children). When I started to think and pray about the place of happiness in our culture I was overwhelmed with contemporary examples.
Celebrity chef Nigella Lawson appearing on MKR commented, "I just want to be made happy when I eat your food." My free book mark says, "# Happy Reading", and a Christian friend when asked how a seminar series had helped him replied, "I feel happy". Who has not heard the popular rhyme, "Happy wife, Happy life." Then there's "And they lived happily ever after." Everyone loves a "happy ending".
Much of this is innocent, but more deeply the popularity of happiness is spiritually a sign of idolatry. I would like to refer to two recent statements by notable Christian leaders which unveil a cancer corrupting the character of Australian Christianity.
Popular American sociologist and author Tony Campolo said at a large pastors' gathering in Perth, "I know all about you people, a friend of mine's research shows 98% of Australian mothers main aim is to see their children happy." Campolo correctly discerns that for most Australians, Christian or otherwise, the goal of life is happiness.
This is confirmed by some words from perhaps our most famous living Christian leader, Brian Houston. Interviewer: "Can you tell me how the church can bless the gay community?" Houston: "For a start I think everyone deserves the right to be happy. And I wish people happiness." Sadly, Pastor Houston seems to equate blessing with happiness.
Someone might think I am being mean, or theological, towards Brian Houston. After all, who in their right mind would not wish another person happiness? Surely we need to put to death the perception of popular culture that Bible quoting Christians are "wowsers" (old Aussie for "killjoy") threatening the essence of living. Yet there is something much more important here than how any of us feels. To understand what is at stake we must listen to Jesus.
When Jesus proclaims a series of blessings upon his followers in the Sermon on the Mount his context is not centred on the needs of humanity but on the presence of God's kingdom (Matthew chapter 4 verse 23). Since the kingdom of God is his rule the blessings that come to faithful Christians are the fruit of experiencing his reign in our lives. As the rule of an eternal King we can anticipate divine favour bringing a tangible presence of God's love independent of circumstances. The promise of Christ is that I can sense a comfort and satisfaction in life even in the most trying of times (Matthew chapter 5 verses four and 6). This makes the followers of Jesus unique. This however is not how the world sees us because we grizzle and complain as much as they do. How can we change?
The answer is found in an unexpected place, the cross. It is because Jesus answers the question of the High Priest, ""Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" in the affirmative, "I am," (Mark chapter 14 verses 61and 62) that when resurrected he is revealed as, "the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen." (Romans chapter 9 verse 5). Because Jesus was willing to suffer torture and death for God's sake he was resurrected into the undiminished favour and heavenly blessing of his Father.
This explains why the climax of the blessings promised in the Sermon on the Mount is for those who suffer for Christ's cause, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account." (Matt chapter 5 verses 10 and11). This is the true "Secret of Happiness". If our secular society fails to see unique qualities of contentment in Christians it must be because we have chosen not to suffer for the cause of Christ. We do not know the difference between blessedness and happiness!
Am I being too heavy? Can we really teach little children that God's best plan for their lives will involve rejection and persecution? Little children are not our problem. It is the failure of most Christian leaders to teach such blatant biblical truths about suffering to their congregations which has kept them as spiritual infants (2 Timothy chapter 3 verse 12). Undeserved pain for the sake of God's kingdom was the way Jesus entered into a state far more pleasing than ordinary human happiness, and it is the way we can enjoy such things too.
A Prayer: Lord Jesus, you died for me so that I might follow in your footsteps, whatever the cost. Please grant me the opportunity to suffer for your sake so that through the power of your presence I might show to a lost world something greater than human happiness; a heavenly blessedness that lasts forever. Amen.
The Rev. Dr John Yates is an Anglican minister in Perth and has 5 children and 5 grandchildren. He spends time in praying, mentoring and writing.
John Yates's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/john-yates.html