Pursuing "Happyness"

Last December 2006, Columbia Pictures released the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness,” starring Will Smith and his son Jaden Christopher. Christopher Gardner inspired the movie. He was a salesman struggling to provide for his family until he finally makes it big in the stock brokerage business in San Francisco, USA. Before he became successful as a stockbroker, he and his son slept in homeless shelters or parks or even in the bathroom of the train station. To survive, they would eat in the soup kitchens of Glide Memorial Church.

Now I would not tell the movie plot so as not to spoil the fun in case you want to watch the movie. But, at the beginning of the movie, Chris Gardner shared how he doubted that he would ever be really happy: “Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that we have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And I thought about how he knew to put the ‘pursuit’ in there, like no one can actually have happiness. Maybe happiness is something that we can only pursue. And maybe we can actually never have it no matter what.” Is happiness really just a futile pursuit? Is happiness really elusive?

Thus, it is interesting to note that in the most popular message of the Lord Jesus Christ, He started with the word “blessed.” In the Greek, the word “blessed” is “makarios,” which means “happy.” In the Gospel of Matthew, we find that Jesus mentioned this word “blessed” thirteen times, nine of which is found in the first twelve verses of the “Sermon on the Mount” in chapters 5-7. So, here we find how to pursue “happyness” according to our Lord. Let us pray first…

Let us read Matthew 5:1-12... Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”[1] This morning we start a new series on the Beatitudes or the nine “blessed” or happy characteristics.

To get a feel of the atmosphere of this sermon, let’s look at the verses before it. “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis [or ten cities] Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.”[2] Just imagine! Thousands of people were following the Lord. Now a political candidate would be very proud of such a big following. He would have a landslide victory if these translate into votes. But our Lord has a different agenda. We tend to rush to the sermon itself that we miss out on the details. Note that it says in verse one, “Now when he saw the crowds…” Have you ever wondered what was running in His mind when He saw the crowds? Matthew gave us a clue: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”[3] The New Living Translation goes like this: “He felt great pity for the crowds that came, because their problems were so great and they didn’t know where to go for help. They were like sheep without a shepherd.”

In other words, Jesus saw and felt their need. The Message says “his heart broke.” He felt confused and clueless. In short, they were so unhappy. Let me ask you: “Are you unhappy?” You may be going to church with a “praise-the-Lord-yes-I’m okay-thank-you” smile plastered on your face. But deep within you are crumbling. You are slowly dying inside. You say to yourself, “If only people knew what I am really going through…” But you may be a little ashamed to admit that. You may be thinking that people might think you are not spiritual or “good Christians” if you feel that way. Or worse, they might judge that you are not a believer.

Bruce Larson lamented, “What’s wrong with the church in our time? It’s the place you go when you put on your best clothes; you worship; you eat together—but you don’t bring your life! You leave behind all your pain, your brokenness, your hopes, even your joys. The church, unfortunately, has become a museum to display the victorious life or finished products.”

Let me tell you, Jesus knows. You can’t pretend and you don’t have to pretend. His heart goes out for you. It is not shallow to say that He wants you to be happy. For the happiness that He is offering is not shallow. “‘Makarios’ describes that inner joy that is the fulfillment of every longing in the human heart.”[4] The question now is, “Do you want true happiness?”

Now true happiness is a CHOICE, not a CONSEQUENCE. That is why some call the beatitudes the “Be attitudes.” It is not dependent on our situation or even our mood. Just this week, Newsweek Asia came up with a cover story on the “Search of Happiness.” They interviewed Dr. Ed Diener, a professor in the University of Illinois who is known as Dr. Happiness. He explains that the reason why some people are happy and some are not is because of their DNA. “Nasa dugo lang yan.”
[5] Dr. Diener says, “There’s a genetic influence on happiness. That means that our genes influence to some degree how happy we are.”[6] Dr. Diener adds that there are three main keys to happiness: meaningful relationships, recognition of your goals and ideas and your environment. So, people join, believe it or not, laughing classes or “laughter yoga.” You make yourself laugh. Or, to be blunt, you fake laughter. Dr. Diener says, “You want to be happy, act happy.”

But the happiness they offer is something that either we have no control for it depends on our genes or dependent on external circumstances. What if your relationships fail? What if your ideas are not praised? What if the people around you are unhappy? Does that mean that you will no longer be happy? Their happiness is a consequence.

Yet true happiness is a response, not a reaction. It does not depend on what’s going on around you. Yes, you may be poor in spirit or “at the end of your rope”.[7] You may be mourning or you may be persecuted, that “people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of [our Lord].”[8] Yet, you choose to be happy no matter what. It is exactly and directly opposite to what the world offers. William Barclay wrote, “Human happiness is something that is dependent on the chances and changes of life, something which life may give and which life may also destroy. The world can win its joys, and the world can equally well lose its joys. A change in fortune, a collapse in health, the failure of a plan, the disappointment of an ambition, even a change in the weather, can take away the fickle joy the world can give. But the Christian blessedness is completely untouchable and unassailable.”[9] True happiness is a choice, not a consequence.

Second, true happiness is CENTERED on God’s rule in our lives. For the world, “Happy is the go-getter, the guy who pushes everyone else out of his way, the guy who gets what he wants when he wants it, where he wants it, and how he wants it. Happiness is macho. Happiness is doing your own thing. Happiness is grabbing all the gusto you can get. Happiness is acquiring. Happy are the rich, happy are the noble, happy are the famous, and happy are the popular.”[10]

The world’s idea of who can be happy is poles apart from what Jesus taught. The world says, “We can be righteous on our own.” But Jesus says, “Admit that you are poor in spirit. That you are spiritually bankrupt.” The world says, “Why mourn when you can be happy.” But Jesus says, “You mourn first so you can be happy.” The world says, “Meekness is weakness.” Jesus says, “The meek shall inherit the earth.” The world says, “Lust for power, for money and for sex. Look out for number one!” But Jesus says, “Hunger and thirst for righteousness.” The world says, “No mercy.” But Jesus says, “Be merciful.” The world says, “Live the way you want to live.” But Jesus says, “Only the pure in heart will see God.” The world says, “Fight back! Avenge yourself.” But Jesus says, “If you are a child of God, be a peacemaker.” The world says, “Go with the flow!” But Jesus says, “Be righteous even if people hate you for obeying God.”

Note that the beatitudes starts with the kingdom of God and ends with the kingdom of God. Verse 3 says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Then verse 10 says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Now what is the kingdom of God? Look at the prayer that Jesus taught: “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
[11] The will of God is the kingdom of God. God rules over us when we obey what He wants. So, true happiness is centered on God’s rule in our lives.

Lastly, true happiness is CONNECTED to what Christ has done for us. People need to be righteous in order to get to heaven. But the question is “How?” Many would say you have to work your way up to heaven. They would say we need to obey the Ten Commandments. But the standard set by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount is stricter than the Ten Commandments. For example, our Lord said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”[12] Then, He declared, “But I warn you—unless you obey God better than the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees do, you can’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven at all!”[13] In other words, you can’t enter heaven unless you are more religious that the most religious. You may be asking, “That’s impossible!” Well. That’s the point! On your own, you can’t save yourself. That is why our Lord calls it narrow: “You can enter God's Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose the easy way. But the gateway to life is small, and the road is narrow, and only a few ever find it.”[14] That’s the reason Jesus started with “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” Happiness starts with you admitting your need for God. You need to accept our Lord Jesus as your Savior. Then He will rule over you. Then you will truly be happy.

So, true happiness…

…is a CHOICE, not a CONSEQUENCE.

…is CENTERED on God’s rule in our lives.

…is CONNECTED to what Christ has done for us.

Yes, happiness is a pursuit. But we can actually have it.

Let us pray…

[1]All Bible verses are from the New International Version, unless otherwise noted.
[2]Matthew 4:23-25
[3]9:36
[4]Dr. John MacArthur, Jr., “The Beatitudes: The Only Way to Happiness.”
[5]Literally in English, “It’s only in the blood.” It’s a famous catch-phrase in a food supplement commercial.
[6]Dawn Fratangelo, “In Search of Happiness.” http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17472218/
[7]The Message.
[8]Matthew 5:11.
[9]William Barclay, “The Gospel of Matthew.”
[10]MacArthur.
[11]Matthew 6:10.
[12]5:27-28.
[13]5:20, New Living Translation.
[14]7:13-14Ibid.

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