Thomas Jefferson once penned the words that all Americans have the rights of "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" which makes for a powerful statement as a nation...but is the pursuit of happiness always good? The answer is no. Happiness, as an emotion, isn't bad (just like any other emotion) but the pursuit of it can become an idol or lead us into sin or danger. Let me explain.
I had a friend, she was raised in a Christian home and knew right from wrong. She did all the things she was supposed to do. She did well in school, went to college, got a job and got married to a Christian man. But she was unhappy. She longed for more adventure and excitement. So, when she met a cute guy who liked her, she was tempted to give in to an affair. She turned for advice to an old friend who encouraged her to "do what made her happy." She took this advice as permission to begin an affair that eventually led to a painful divorce and years of drifting away from her faith.
In Proverbs 21:17 we read "whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man, he who loves wine and oil will not be rich."
Happiness is not bad (God made it) and pleasure isn't sinful...but seeking it above all else can lead to terrible choices and destructive consequences. We must always try to be sure that our pursuit of happiness doesn't trump our pursuit of godliness. We must seek to temper our urges for pleasure with our desire to do good and avoid sin. We must find acceptable ways to find pleasure in good things (intimacy within marriage for example instead of in an affair) that God provides for us.
So I would encourage you to consider a new phrase, not for a nation but for the people of God. May we enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of godliness...and in that, may you find true joy; not just fleeting pleasure.
For the past few weeks we have been looking at emotions, which are neither good nor evil, but just a part of the human existence. We all, except for Mr. Spock from Star Trek, have emotions. When our child hugs us, we feel happiness. When we lose our job, we feel sadness or fear. When we get rear ended, we feel anger. All of this is normal. Jesus felt emotions just like us when he lived and dwelled among us. He felt all the same emotions you feel; and yet was without sin...which means that emotions are not sinful. It is what you DO with your emotions that could lead to sin. Anger can lead us to violence. Sadness can lead us to the bottle. Loneliness can lead us to an affair. We must be careful with what we do with our strong emotions.
Today I want to discuss sorrow or sadness. Sadness, like other emotions, is a normal response to painful loss, death or discouragement. Sorrow is often felt when something we loved is gone. Sorrow, I believe, can actually be helpful as it allows us to grieve that which is gone...and grief is important for us to eventually move forward.
Even Jesus felt sorrow. In Mark 14:34, while in the Garden before his arrest and death, he said to his disciples "My soul is overwhelmed with sorry to the point of death." Jesus felt sorrow so deep here, and yet he was still faithful to do what he must and allow himself to die and be separated from his father to pay for our sins.
Sorrow can feel overwhelming, but we know it is temporary. Like all emotions it will come to an end; plus...we who know the Lord know that we have a comfort that can endure even the darkest night.
Psalm 30:5 says "weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning." And while that night may last a long time, depending on what we lost, morning does eventually come.
So take heart, you who feel sorrow or sadness. God (who understands what sorrow feels like) is with you and morning will always come again.
Last week I talked about fear, so I decided that I would take time each week to deal with an emotion that we often deal with. Emotions aren't good or bad morally. We tend to think of happiness or joy as good and fear or anger as bad; but in truth they are just part of the normal human experience. It is how we deal with them that can be good or bad. People can become so obsessed with being "happy" that they turn to drugs or an affair to find it regardless of the consequences. We also tend to think of anger as bad, but the Bible says "in your anger do not sin" (Ephesians 4:26) which means it is what we do with our anger that can be sinful...not the feeling itself.
Worry is not actually an emotion, but is what we do with our fear. We fear that something bad might happen to our child, for example, and we allow that fear to turn into worry. We are all prone to worry at times over different things. We might worry about our financial situation, about our safety or even about the state of the world when it comes to things like politics or a pandemic.
Jesus talks about worry a lot. His basic idea is this, worry doesn't help. In Matthew 6 Jesus gives a long sermon on the topic of worry and tells us that worrying can't add even a single hour to your life (some translations say a single inch to your height). Basically he tells us that worry doesn't do anything. Worry doesn't change anything...so why waste our time and energy on it?
What should we do instead? Well, a few things
1. Pray: I know this is the cliche answer; but it works. When you start to worry, turn instead to God in prayer. Ask for his help for your spirit. Ask for him to watch over whatever it is you are worrying about. Put it into his hands.
2. Do something proactive: if worry doesn't help, do something that does. If you are worried about money, then spend some time working on your budget. If you are worried about your weight, go workout. Be productive.
3. Do something: I find that when worry starts to creep in, I shouldn't just sit around or else worry will overpower me. So do stuff. I clean, I make dinner, I mow the grass...I do something and it helps take my mind off my worry.
I hope that this was helpful, and will be helpful to you when worry starts to set in. Next week we will talk about anger, an emotion I know a lot about (I grew up with a bad temper) and see how we can work to overcome our anger with God's peace.