A good friend of mine has a great tag line that I just love, you can always catch him saying, “I just want to enjoy myself.” Even in the midst of a difficult time or in the midst of a deadline, he will express that he just wants to enjoy himself. Sometimes this is used as a reason for a spur of the moment trip or just something off the wall.
I have to admit that this expression of his was new to me. I guess I was kind of more serious in life and planned out in the things that I would want to do. But now even this phrase, we gotta make sure we enjoy ourselves has become part of my vocabulary. I think of this past summer break; I’ve tried to live this with our kids as much as possible. We’ve done little things and tried to take time away to make sure that we enjoy ourselves. This attitude has been helpful for me and has helped me to be more flexible and helped me to enjoy life, perhaps, a bit more.
It’s great to enjoy yourself, but whether it’s a great vacation, a great afternoon getaway, a great day at the lake, a nice dinner with friends or family, it’s never enough. And that’s ok, but once I get back from a vacation, I’m ready for my next vacation. Once we have a great day away, I am thinking about when we can get away again. It’s a never-ending cycle to work to try to find that maximum about of enjoyment in life. Generally speaking, being a pastor is very rewarding, but the joy of being away and unplugged is just great.
If you look beyond just enjoying yourself, there is so much out there that promises to bring you happiness. When we think about being happy or obtaining happiness, generally speaking, it means that we are focused on ourselves. When you think about your happiness, you think how you can be happy. Maybe it is something someone can do for you or something you would like to purchase to make your life better, easier, or happier.
We define many things in such a way. When we think about prosperity, it is usually viewed as attaining what you want—of gaining happiness. Maybe you hit a crazy patch in life, and you think, if I just had more “me” time I might be able to get through this or I might be able to be happy right now.
Companies know that we desire to be happy and fulfilled, so they create advertising to sell a product in a way that it will meet a very specific deficit in your life. Maybe the advertising will even invent something that you are missing and create an imaginary or temporary fix for their anxiety that they have created in you. “No, I didn’t realize the air that I was breathing was so bad, I guess I should really buy that bottled air, surely it will make me healthier and happier.”
There was even a whole school of philosophy built around this in ancient Greece. A man named Epicurus, founded Epicureanism, and they believe that the greatest good that you could do was to seek pleasure in life. This is a whole philosophy built around you finding happiness through pursuing things that pleased you and filled you with pleasure.
I am not an expert on Epicurean philosophy, so I don’t want to say too much, but the problem with pursuing happiness in such a way is that you never really get happy. When you are focusing on yourself and focus on obtaining things or doing things to become happier, you have to just keep getting more and more to actually try to find happiness. And as you buy or do more and more you find that you are never really all that closer to the happiness that you so desire. When you look around us so much is devoted to creating or making happiness. Yet, many struggle through life with a real void. And even though society pops up and says, I’ve got the solution, happiness still remains out of reach.
You just can’t buy happiness, you just can’t make happiness, but it is one of those things each one craves. When we think about the back to school season, happiness seems like something we want for our students and our teachers. Happiness is important, and I think that to really find happiness that we need to listen to what God has to say, because God does have a plan for us to enjoy true happiness. The happiness that God has in mind for us, might be different from the way we usually think about happiness, but it is a happiness that is full and lasting.
One of the neat things about the Bible is that in that Bible we find a lot of different things. We have tons of different stories about lots of different people. Most of these people are doing their best to try to love God in whatever position they find themselves in. While we usually talk about the Bible as a story, perhaps the greatest story ever told; not everything in the Bible is a story. There is a particular kind of writing in the Bible, that we are going to look at today, called wisdom literature. In the Bible, wisdom literature is writing that helps teach young people how to grow into faithful adults (and teach adults how to be faithful), it’s mostly rooted in questions of daily living, and it takes up questions of good and bad.
Today, we are going to look at a bit of this wisdom in the Bible that gives us a map to happiness. We are going to look at a wisdom poem, which is Psalm 1. If you have a Bible with you, I invite you to turn with me to the Book of Psalms. If you are using a paper Bible the Psalms are basically in the physical middle of the Bible. If you are using a Bible on your phone, you can find Psalms under the “P” section. If you don’t have a Bible with you, don’t worry, I’m going to read it for us.
Psalm 1 begins:
Happy are those…
So if you want to know how to obtain happiness, here it is. Psalm 1 and the whole book of Psalms really, gives us a preview, it says, I am about to give you a snapshot at what a truly happy person actually looks like. You are about to get some insight on what it takes for someone to be considered truly happy. The writer of this wisdom Psalm continues:
Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
Those people that are truly happy, they don’t follow wicked advice. They don’t listen to those product placements that say they must purchase the newest and brightest and shiniest to be happy. They don’t listen to those that spew cheap advice to obtain temporary happiness. When they live their lives, the truly happy person does not walk down the same road sinners do. Nor do they sit with those who gossip and make fun of others.
While we are talking about the truly happy person, I want to draw your attention to something in this Psalm. It talks about how the truly happy person doesn’t follow the advice of the wicked, but this Psalm does not label certain people as wicked or bad. This Psalm does not even say that truly happy people can’t spend time with sinners, instead, it is saying that the truly happy person doesn’t follow the advice or counsel of the sinners. This Psalm doesn’t judge others or label others as bad or wicked or sinners, this Psalm is only concerned with giving us a snapshot into what it looks like for someone to be faithful and happy. Then Psalmist continues with the most important key to this happiness.
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
3 They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
Instead of listening to the advice of the world, instead of listening to the directions of advertising companies, the truly happy person delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on God’s law at all times. Delighting in the law of the Lord and meditating on God’s law? Let’s be honesty, that kind of seems out of date. My dad is an attorney, and I worked at his law firm during college. There were a bunch of lawyers who put in very long hours, but I’m not sure if any of them delighted in the law and just kind of read it for fun. Now, I know God’s law is presumably different than our law, but, still, this doesn’t seem like very helpful advice when we are looking for how to have true happiness.
But, let’s look at this word law; if we are supposed to delight in the law, perhaps it would be helpful to make sure we know what we are supposed to delight in. In English, when we think about the law or laws, we think about regulations and prohibitions. Like that new cell phone law in Tennessee—the hands-free law. I can get behind the whole don’t text and drive thing, but when I get a phone call, I think I might be more likely to wreck when my Bluetooth headset doesn’t connect with my phone than if I were just to answer the phone. The phone is ringing, I tap my headset to answer it, but the headset isn’t connected. Somehow, without holding the phone, I am supposed to go into the settings and figure out how to connect the headset, then I can answer the phone –all supposedly hands free.
We have laws that tell us how fast we can drive. We have laws that tell us children have to go to school. We have laws that tell us that you can’t steal from your neighbor. We have laws that tell us how you can build your home and how you can run your business. Law, in the way we think of it is kind of like the guardrails in life. They are there to keep everyone in the middle.
Just to kind of summarize things, God’s law isn’t really like this. The word that we translate law is really the word torah, and torah isn’t really a set of rules that are designed to restrict behavior. God’s law, this torah, as we find described in Psalm one is much more than rules and regulations. Instead it is really a way of understanding what life with God is like through stories and also through laws. Broadly speaking, in the Jewish tradition, torah refers to the first five books of the Bible—the stories and the laws that teach and show people what a life with God looks like. Torah paints a picture of God in relationship with people and people in relationship with God.
This image of torah is much different and more complex than our understanding of what a law is. Another Bible translation, the Common English Bible, this is one that I read from a lot, says that the truly happy person “loves the Lord’s instruction.” Happiness here is not so much about enjoying yourself or finding that perfect sale, but is about finding delight in the teaching of God. True happiness comes not in you trying to be happy, but comes when you devote yourself to God’s teaching. Happiness comes when you stop trying to fulfill your needs and your desires, and when you instead find yourself connected to the source of all good things—find yourself connected to God.
I guess the map to happiness is that there isn’t really a map to happiness; happiness isn’t really something you can grab hold of and hold on to. Instead, happiness is more of a byproduct when you find yourself lost in the story of God. To be truly happy is something that can happen when you find yourself in the story God of, when you find yourself in the source of life. It’s not about how you feel, but about where you are—connected to the one who loves you, connected to the one who cares for you.
To find this happiness, we need to stop searching for happiness, and seek to be connected with God. And how do you seek this connectedness to God. If you are seeking that today, to Psalmist says you should listen to God’s instruction in the Bible, and you should read it, and you should pray about it. And when you read and pray, you will begin to (or find that) you love God’s instruction.
And when you love God’s instruction and read and pray, Psalm 1 says, you will be like a tree planted by stream of water. A tree planted by a stream of water never needs to be watered, because it gets nourishment from the source of life. When you get your nourishment from the source of life, you will show forth true happiness. Not happiness that you or I could obtain from a thing, but happiness that comes from being rooted and sharing in the love of God.
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.