Discover Happiness in Faith

given on Sunday, October 9, 2011 (note that scripture and study notes are attached)

            Have you ever thought how Christopher Columbus reacted when he saw the first image of land?  Granted he was not the first to journey to new worlds, but this week the calendar reveals that we honor his discovery of the New World.  Yet, October 12’s notation caused me to think of the thrill and joy that Columbus experienced must be like that non-believers discover when God enters their life.

Far-fetched you might say, but maybe it isn’t.  Columbus is credited with discovering the Americas in 1492 AD, not BC.  Since the beginning of recorded time, the sense of adventure is recorded over and over.  The region in which the tribes of Israel lived, worked and played is small in comparison to the entire globe we now know.  Is it any wonder that humans began wondering what was beyond their immediate boundary?

Human curiosity causes us to take one step farther, to develop imaginary images of what is beyond what already know.  As I think about a new project, I develop very distinct images in my mind what I think can be.  As I plan a trip, I only guess at what may be around the next turn in the road or over the next hill.  And when I find it, seldom am I disappointed.  Rather I am filled with awe or more curiosity.  I want to know more and more about what is beyond my world.

Today our lives are challenged by the recession, by our physical limitations and health, by the resources we have or do not have, and by our responsibilities.  Our attitude becomes overwhelmed by the burdens.  We retreat to our safe, comfortable world, not risking a step beyond.  We find ourselves gloomy, depressed and frustrated.

Yet, we have faith.  When John Wesley struggled with his own faith, he wondered if there was something he missed, and feared it was not enough.  He studied, he worked, he developed his class meetings, and many followed.  His mustard seed of faith grew into a huge Methodist tree.

Still, not until he attended a Moravian meeting and had that Aldersgate experience in which a  “strangely warm” feeling come over him did he feel that his faith was enough.  His ministry grew; he was joyful and happy.

In the Wesley Study Bible, one of the core terms is “happiness:”

God made human beings for happiness and holiness.  The happiness God wants for us is not simply pleasure or feeling good, and in fact we can be led away from true happiness by seeking pleasure in the wrong things.

God wants us to be happy.  God wants us to accept his free gift of grace and trust in his care.

How do we assure ourselves that we are happy?  Trust in God, believe that you have at least the faith the size of a mustard seed.  Follow God’s one commandment of loving one another.  Be the hands of God in your own community.  Demonstrate God’s grace and the happiness it brings, and others’ may follow.

Genuine happiness comes from living the life that God wants for us, seeking God’s wisdom, and living in justice and righteousness.  Every aspect of the way of salvation brings us to this fulfillment.

Simple, way too simple, one might argue.  Does happiness have to be difficult to reach?  Why can’t it be this simple?  No one has to set out for a epic adventure to prove one’s worth.  No major project is required to earn happiness.  Happiness is not owning the best car, having the latest fashions, being a gorgeous woman or a breath-takingly handsome man or have enough cash flow to cover bills as well as whims.  Happiness comes with loving God and loving one another.  The study note on happiness continues:

God alone satisfies our deepest desires, so we are only truly content when we seek God above all else.  We gain this happiness through a disciplined life, which we cultivate through practices such as worship, Bible study, and social action.  Happiness and holiness, then, are connected to each other.  The deep fulfillment we have through our relationship with God is not threatened by life’s difficulties if we depend on God to help us through them.  Although we feel sorrow, we can yet be fulfilled in God.

All it takes is the faith as small as a mustard seed and the determination to follow God’s direction and you will be happy, you will receive eternal life, you will be joy-filled.

Being ‘strangely warmed’ is how Wesley discovered the truth of his faith.  Being joy-filled and happy is one measure of how well we are living a disciplined Christian life, worshiping together and privately, studying the Bible, and serving.

Nowhere in the Bible does God tell us that we have to step out into the unknown world, hoist the ship’s sales, and travel off towards unknown lands to find the pinnacle of happiness.  Instead, we can experience the sense of awe and amazement when we recognize true happiness in our own lives.  We will look at the valley from the top of the hill and see beauty in the valley, not a valley of shadows.

And once you discover your own faith and its rewards, don’t you want to share it?  Columbus, too, surely must have been so excited.  He had to step on the land and explore it to fully understand what he discovered.  The long journey there was difficult and tiring, but with the excitement and energy of his new discovery, surely he wanted the world to know about it.  The return journey must have taken its own eternity before he could share his news.

Do not get caught in that long journey.  Let the joy you are experiencing from discovering your faith be broadcast to others so they may want to discover that same sense of joy and happiness.  Certainly you must love one another, but help them to find their own level of happiness.

The study notes from the Life Application Bible adds another dimension to Wesley’s:

Ultimate joy comes from Christ dwelling within us.  Christ is near, and at his second coming we will fully realize this ultimate joy.  He who lives within us will fulfill his final purposes for us.

Once we accept God’s grace and acknowledge our faith, we are equipped to handle the challenges of our earthly lives.  If Paul can be happy and joy-filled after his transformation, then we can be, too.   In his letter to the Philippians, he tried to explain how being happy or joyful made our lives more manageable and the study notes make if very plain:

But Paul’s attitude teaches us an important lesson:  our inner attitudes do not have to reflect our outward circumstances.  Paul was full of joy because he knew that no matter what happened to him, Jesus Christ was with him.  Several times in this letter, Paul urged the Philippians to be joyful, probably because they needed to hear this.  It’s easy to get discouraged about unpleasant circumstances or to take unimportant events too seriously.  If you haven’t been joyful lately, you may not be looking at life from the right perspective.

Today, consider the joy in your life.  Be happy and know that God loves you.  Find the joy in the small little wonders of our world.  Live your life being disciplined in worship, study and serving.  Share your faith with others so they, too, may be transformed in a world so full of challenges that happiness seems elusive.

Dear Joyful God,

Some days we see only the negative;

Some days we are filled with doubts.

Yet we join together for worship

And hope returns.

Thank you, God, for your grace.

Thank you for the sunshine,

The seasons, the wind, and so much more.

As we discover our faith,

Worship you,

study to learn more,

and serve others with love,

Thank you for happiness

Which fills our lives with joy.

–Amen

 

Focus notes for Philippians 4:4-9 and today’s sermon:

The MSG            4-5Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!

6-7Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

8-9Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

 

The NIV             4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

 

Life Application notes: 

4:4            It seems strange that a man in prison would be telling a church to rejoice.  But Paul’s attitude teaches us an important lesson:  our inner attitudes do not have to reflect our outward circumstances.  Paul was full of joy because he knew that no matter what happened to him, Jesus Christ was with him.  Several times in this letter, Paul urged the Philippians to be joyful, probably because they needed to hear this.  It’s easy to get discouraged about unpleasant circumstances or to take unimportant events too seriously.  If you haven’t been joyful lately, you may not be looking at life from the right perspective.

 

4:4,5            Ultimate joy comes from Christ dwelling within us.  Christ is near, and at his second coming we will fully realize this ultimate joy.  He who lives within us will fulfill his final purposes for us.

 

4:7            God’s peace is different from the world’s peace.  True peace is not found in positive thinking, in absence of conflict, or in good feelings.  It comes from knowing that God is in control.  Our citizenship in Christ’s kingdom is sure, our destiny is set, and we can have victory over sin.  Let God’s peace guard your heart against anxiety.  (p. 2153)

 

 

Wesleyan Core Term:  Happiness

 

God made human beings for happiness and holiness.  The happiness God wants for us is not simply pleasure or feeling good, and in fact we can be led away from true happiness by seeking pleasure in the wrong things.  Genuine happiness comes from living the life that God wants for us, seeking God’s wisdom, and living in justice and righteousness.  Every aspect of the way of salvation brings us to this fulfillment.  God alone satisfies our deepest desires, so we are only truly content when we seek God above all else.  We gain this happiness through a disciplined life, which we cultivate through practices such as worship, Bible study, and social action.  Happiness and holiness, then, are connected to each other.  The deep fulfillment we have through our relationship with God is not threatened by life’s difficulties if we depend on God to help us through them.  Although we feel sorrow, we can yet be fulfilled in God.

(p.536)

 

Wesley’s notes on Philippians 4:4-9:

 

            Joy stems from trusting, thankful prayer, a mind set on the virtues seen in Christ, and patient imitation of Christ’s pattern of life.  (p.1444)

 

 

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