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Description: Is there anything real inside us? Or do we live to please others like a little performing dog? We feel empty inside and lacking direction.
What is True Happiness?
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
During the weeks before Easter we have been discussing the pressures that most of us experience from
just the environment in which we live. Some of them are dead obvious — the pressures that come from
the tightness in the economy–the kind of pressure that either brings about a loss of our jobs or
simply brings the kind of tightness in our financial situation that forces us to live in ways that
we don’t really want to live ourselves. So there are pressures like that that are obvious pressures.
Then there are pressures not so obvious that come from the environment or the society in which we
live. Pressures such as obviously John Hinckley experienced, who shot President Reagan. The kind of
pressures that all of us experienced when we were his age probably. The pressures that come from
having to be on the football team in order to get attention or the pressures that come from trying
to live up to certain ideals that will make us respected and acknowledged by our peers. Most of
those pressures you feel, well they are what Shakespeare said they were — “the thousand natural
shocks that flesh is heir to”, and most of us tend to dismiss them like that. “Yes, that’s what they
are, that is what living in society is about; it brings pressure.”
Yet don’t you agree that when you see a fellow like John Hinckley, so overwhelmed by his mania to
get the attention of the young film star that he would even shoot the President of the United
States, when you see that happening you begin to think “wait a minute, there is more in these
pressures than meets the eye. There is something sinister back there that can make a guy do
something as ridiculous as that.”
You remember that’s what we began to realize. We begin to realize that there does seem to be
something behind these pressures that is deeper than just their apparent effect. Probably most of us
here would agree that, “Yes, the little pressures that we experience from our friends and from our
colleagues have tended to make us a bundle of learned responses.” Many of us I think would admit
that we do at times have trouble finding out if there is anything real inside us at all. Sometimes
we wonder is there anybody in there? We feel like knocking and saying, “Who’s there?”, because we
feel very empty at times. We feel almost as if that is what we are, a bundle of learned responses.
The boss smiles, we smile; the boss frowns, we frown; it is a sunny day, we are happy; it is a rainy
day; we are sad. Often we feel that. We smile at the boss because we want his favor; we frown at
the subordinate because we want to reinforce our authority; we smile at this girl because we want
her to like us; we frown at this guy because we don’t care about him. And so it goes on like that
until I think many of us feel, “Yes, they are having their affect on us, those pressures. We are
tending more and more to become empty inside.”
We wonder at times who are we. We search inside to see if there is any independent source of
initiative and direction inside our hearts that comes from us being an individual, apart from us
just being a little performing dog that begs when the master offers us a treat. We begin to realize
that the pressures are having their effects on us, and we wonder at times if there is any “me” at
all inside. And indeed you know that that is one of the current problems that we face so often in
schools and colleges; so many of us have an identity problem, an identity crisis. We hardly know who
we are, because we have almost ceased to be anybody at all. We feel we have become a little robot
that responds to the pressures.
Now, why do these pressures get their hooks into us like that? Do you know? Why we are so
overwhelmed by what the boss wants us to do, by what our school wants us to do, by what our
government wants us to do, by what our peers want us to do, by what our friends want us to do, that
we almost seem to have lost the possibility of initiating things ourselves? Why? Why have we come
so under the pressures of society?
Loved ones, I think it is because we hope we’ll get from society what we need. That’s it. We hope
we’ll get from society what we need, and that is why we come under its pressures. And we want to
please it because we think it’ll give us the things that we need. But why, why when we see that are
we not able to simply stop? Why could John Hinckley not see that he was fantasizing to the point of
the edge of insanity, and simply stop fantasizing? Why can we not stop living under the pressure of
smiling at this person and frowning at that person, of pleasing this person and displeasing that
person? Why can we simply not stop?
You remember what we discovered in Romans 12:2. “Do not be conformed.” That is what all these
pressures do; they try to conform us. We conform to what this one wants us to do, we conform to what
this group wants us to do, and we conform to what this person thinks we should do. “Do not be
conformed to society?” No. “Do not be conformed to this world.” You remember what we shared some
weeks ago, that the Greek word for world is “cosmos”, and it doesn’t just mean the physical world
around us, but it means a whole ordered system and organization of spiritual forces that are ruled
by what Jesus calls “the rulers of this present darkness.”
In other words, there are powers, spirit powers. Some of them are what people contact when they deal
in the occult. There are spirit powers behind these pressures, these conforming pressures in our
society. They are all the time impinging on our spirits every time we yield to one of these
pressures, and as they impinge they get more and more control of us, and that is why we are unable
to get free of them. So when you look for love, you can look either to the God who made you or you
can look to the world system. When you look for a sense of personal value, you can look to the God
who made you or you can look to the world system. If you look to the God who made you, he frees you,
maintains your free will and enables you to become a fulfillment of himself and freedom. If you look
to the world system, it gets its hooks into your personality, it destroys your free will, it crushes
your individuality and eventually makes you wither and shrink until you die inside.
How do you get free? How do you get free of the world system? There’s only one way to get free of
this crushing atmosphere — the same way the astronauts did. You get into something far more
powerful than yourself and then you lift off. What we have said is that the vehicle that will lift
us free of this atmosphere is Jesus. In him each one of us were crucified to the world and the world
was crucified to us. We have said so often that Jesus’ death on Calvary, the whole point of it was
to free us inside from these invisible spirit powers that chain us to this world. The outward,
physical death on Calvary was only an expression in history of the cosmic death that all of us
experienced in eternity when God freed us from these world powers and forces.
Now how do you experience that in your own life? How do you experience the effects of that freeing
death in your own life? Well you remember the verse says it, “Do not be conformed to this world,
but be transformed” and then you remember you have the phrase “be transformed by the renewal of your
mind.” By beginning to renew your mind, beginning to think the way Jesus thinks; identifying
yourself with the space shuttle that will carry you free. Identifying yourselves with Jesus,
presenting your life to God as he did and beginning to think the way he thought.
What I’d like to share just briefly this morning is one area, where if we would renew our minds, we
would experience the freeing, lifting deliverance of Jesus’ resurrection. And really it’s very close
to every one of us. It is the renewal of the mind that is needed in regard to a phrase that
Jefferson used in the Declaration of Independence. He said, “The preservation of life, liberty and
the pursuit of happiness.” There is no pursuit engaged in today so consistently, and so persistently
and so universally as the pursuit of happiness. Because of that, there is no pursuit that exerts
such overwhelming pressure upon us to conform as this pursuit of happiness.
Loved ones, you and I come under that pressure to conform because of a misinterpretation of what
Jefferson meant by the “pursuit of happiness.” When Jefferson talked about the pursuit of happiness,
he held the normal definition of happiness. That is it was normal until our miserable generation was
born. And it is the belief that happiness is a result of a whole series of actions or a way of
life. When Jefferson said “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” he was saying, “Look, I’m
summarizing the kind of life that all of you know you are to live in order to have happiness by
saying ‘and the pursuit of happiness.'” But we dumb-dumbs we don’t believe that at all. We say,
“Happiness! Pursue it! Right! We’ll pursue happiness. It is a God-given right of all red-blooded
Americans to pursue happiness. I am going to give my life to pursuing happiness.” And we do! We
don’t realize that you can’t pursue happiness. It is like pursuing humility. “I want you to know I’m
pursuing humility here this morning. I’m very modest about my humility, but I pursue it day after
day.” You don’t! You miss it! If you pursue humility, you miss humility; if you pursue happiness,
you miss happiness. Jefferson knew that, he knew that you can’t pursue happiness. You can only live
a life that may or may not bring happiness. But you can’t pursue happiness itself.
Loved ones, that is the truth. We need to renew our minds in regard to our attitude to happiness.
You don’t get happiness by pursuing it; you get happiness by living a certain kind of life where the
potentialities of your personality are fulfilled. Then happiness is the incidental by-product of
that. It’s an incidental result of a certain kind of life. But you don’t pursue happiness and make
that the whole purpose of your life. If you do you will find that at the end you have become simply
a dissipated dissolute who has nothing left of health, either mentally or emotionally.
If we as a nation, loved ones, do it — if we as a nation pursue happiness above everything else, we
will do what you remember that conservative said we would do, “we’ll end up selling communism the
rope which they will use to hang us.” And if you pursue happiness in your own life above everything
else, that will be the result in your own life. We need to renew our minds in regard to that about
happiness. Happiness brings destruction if you pursue it and make its pursuit the chief goal of your
The second way in which we need to renew our minds about happiness is to consider, who is the
happiest human being in the whole world? In fact let’s extend it to the universe. Who’s the
happiest person in the whole universe? It is our Creator’s dear son Jesus. Now, happiness is not
pleasant things happening to you. It is not. That is why I point you to Jesus. We never think of
Jesus as a man to whom pleasant things happened. Happiness loved ones is not pleasant things
happening to you. God’s word puts it bluntly opposite to that if you look at it in James 1:2.
“Count it all joy, my brethren, when you have 10 gallons of Coke a day, five gallons of chocolate
chip ice cream and the sun shines continually?” No. “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet
various trials.” We need to waken up, because we all think, “Yeah, yeah it is a very holy thing to
say and James could well say it then. But let’s face it, trials are a miserable, unpleasant
experience that you should avoid at all costs.” But don’t you see it? God is completely the other
way. He says to count it all joy — when? “When you enter into various trials.” Certainly God does
not think that happiness is favorable things happening to you. In fact, do you see further down, in
verse 12 the Greek word is “makarios”, and it means “happy”. “Happy is the man who endures trial.”
“Hupomeno” is the verb in Greek and “hupo” is “under” and “meno” is “remain” –remain under. It
means happy is the man who remains under a trial, who allows it to do its full work in him, not
who’s depressed by it or beaten down by it, but who remains in that situation, in that tight spot,
as long as it is necessary, because there is something happening inside in his heart. That is the
person who is happy. It is not circumstances that make us happy. It isn’t.
Brothers and sisters, we are all in the same boat; we all think the same way. Samuel Johnson, in the
18th century, said, “Man always thinks that if he could only change his circumstances he would be
happy.” Loved ones, happiness is not pleasant things happening to you; it is not favorable things
happening to you. So would you stop scanning the horizon with your binoculars, “Ah I see a happy
event coming up, yippee!” Stop! But that’s us, isn’t it? Isn’t it? We’ll endure anything because we
hope there is a good time coming. Because we think that the good time coming is happy things
happening to us, favorable things happening to us. Of course it is a hideous situation, because the
world is sinful and there are usually more bad things happening than good things in a sinful world.
Many of us live our lives in absolute and continual frustration, always scanning the horizon for
some happy event and we live for that happy event.
The tragedy is, while we are waiting we live half-lives. That’s the tragedy. We live half lives
because we are always waiting for the happy event, and while we are waiting, we hardly bother with
the loved ones that we meet day by day. Stop scanning the horizon for a happy event; stop enslaving
your life to a set of circumstances that have come to be regarded by our society as happy
I’ll say that again, because you will be shocked when I describe the circumstances. Stop spending
your life looking and waiting and watching, trying to bring about sets of circumstances that are
regarded by our society as happy circumstances. A good husband, who works preferably at 3M or IBM; a
two-car garage and a rambler, it’d be great in Edina, but even Bloomington is ok; two preferably
blond-haired little children, a boy and a girl; and three weeks vacation every year would be nice
but even two weeks vacation every year. It is terrible! But I know as you and I laugh and think of
that, we guys we do it the other way. A girl, the girl with an hour-glass figure, and the
cheerleader, and all the rest of it. She must be bright, happy and intelligent as well, and
talented, and all the rest of it, and able to look after the home, make us happy, take care of the
children and do a thousand other things that no ordinary human being could do. But isn’t it true
that we all here are silly? We are becoming enslaved; we will do anything to bring that dream about
won’t we? We’ll do anything to bring that dream about. We’ll endure anything to make sure that that
happens, we will, you know we will. Both guys and girls here this morning you know that, we will
enslave ourselves for life, we will be dishonest, we will bluff, we will take somebody that we
aren’t really in love with. We will do anything in order to bring about what society regards as a
happy set of circumstances.
Loved ones, it is deception and lies. Many who are in those circumstances will now, with pain in
their hearts, tell you it was lies. Happiness does not consist of favorable things happening to you
or favorable circumstances occurring. It doesn’t! It doesn’t, loved ones, but do you see that that
is what brings us into conformity? Isn’t it? Isn’t it? That’s what brings us into conformity. That
is what takes the individuality out of us and makes us jump through any hoops that any subordinate
or any authority over us desires us to jump through. We’ll do anything in order to bring about that
favorable set of circumstances.
Do you know you could die in a dirty hole in the ground with nobody knowing you and everybody
despising you and be disgustingly happy? Do you know that, that there are men and women who have
done it? There are men and women who have lived out their lives in hovels, have died in holes in the
ground with nobody knowing they ever died, and there is such a happiness rising in their hearts that
they don’t notice the hovel, and they don’t notice the damp and cold. Please don’t come under that
deception; it is deception and lies. Happiness is not outward in things happening to you. Happiness
is in here inside.
You know many of us in our society and this is the last thing I would ask you to think of, that we
need to renew our minds in regard to the current heresy. Many of us in our society accept all that.
We still hanker after that silliness but we really do believe that in this highly unstable world
there is little possibility of favorable circumstances remaining for any long period of time. So we,
our generation, have drifted into a new heresy–happiness is a fleeting feeling of either peace or
exhilaration. We live for that moment, either in sexual experience or we live for that moment
through drugs or we live for that moment through the occult, and would you believe it, there are
hundreds of us who live for that moment in religion.
Loved ones, we are in a dangerous position, we in this society, because it is a common belief that
runs through the whole society and is behind every television commercial that you see. There is a
common belief that happiness is that rare moment of peace or magnificent exhilaration that you can
experience either through sex, through drugs, or through the occult or through religion. So we have
thousands of so-called Christians who do not live lives of principle at all. They live lives of
feeling. They live lives of feeling looking forward to the next exciting prayer meeting or the next
exciting service. But there is little principle in their lives. Happiness is not a fleeting
feeling of exhilaration or peace. You can be happy without those feelings at all. Those feelings are
moonbeams. Stop trying to catch moonbeams. Those are effervescent, they’re temporary, and they
disappear in a moment. They aren’t worth a moment’s pursuit.
What is happiness? Happiness is being. It is being a certain kind of person. Happiness is character;
it is being a certain kind of person. Your dear God put you here for a certain purpose. You don’t do
what I do, but you can do something that I can’t do. More important than that you do something that
you’ve been put here to do, whether a half-dozen other people can do it or not, you have been put
here to do something by your Maker. That’s why he put you here. Do that. Begin to do that for him
with your whole heart. That is finally what happiness is. Happiness is being — being what your
Maker made you to be. That is the whole meaning of those Beatitudes. We call them “beautiful
attitudes.” And it is the same with that word blessed. The Greek word again is “makarios”. It isn’t
actually “Blessed are the poor in spirit;” it is “Happy are the poor in spirit.” You get the paradox
if you look at the one where Jesus said, “Happy are those who mourn, and happy are the meek, and
happy are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” Happiness is being what your Creator
made you to be, whether the feelings are good, whether the circumstances are bad, whatever. It is
being what God has made you to be. Loved ones, that’s what it is.
I do think you should think again about who you are and why you are here. I tell you I think many of
us have far too blown-up and high an opinion of ourselves, but I think many of us have too low an
opinion of ourselves in this way. We think, “Me? Oh, no! I can see how God put Billy Graham here for
a purpose, I can see how God put Reagan here for a purpose, no, I am just one of the crowd.” That is
Satan’s deception to get you into this silly, futile business of pursuing feelings or pursuing good
circumstances. You are put here to do something that God has planned for you to do. Find out what
Jesus is trying to do through your life for this world. That’s it! Find that out! Maybe it is
scrubbing floors. If it is scrubbing floors there will be a happiness, a peace, a contentment, a
sense of integration throughout your life that you could not describe. Maybe it is working on
computers. Maybe it is putting in nails into the same kind of wood year after year after year.
The interesting thing is — G. K. Chesterton is right, we don’t actually need variety. Human beings
love doing the same thing. That is why he says that when a baby is delighted, it bangs its feet up
and down on the ground. You loved doing the same thing again when you are happy. And really the
issue is not actually boredom; the issue is whether you are doing what God made you to do or not. If
you are doing that, you can do it for a thousand years, and inside you will have a joy that remains
whatever circumstances are like and whatever feelings are like. That is the key. Really it is. Each
one of us here is put here to be happy. There is only one way to be happy, and that is to ascertain
what your dear Maker put you here to do, and then let his Son do that through you, because that is
the only way you will ever achieve it. Any other way you will draw a lot of attention to yourself;
you will make a lot of noise, but you won’t change the world. But if you let his Son inside you, he
will do your job in a way that only he can, and you will be able to enjoy the ride, which is nice.
Let us pray.
Dear Lord, we would just pray for each other. Pray for each other in this room, especially for any
little one who is anything but happy or for anyone who is just wearing themselves out trying to get
the right feelings through religion or through some other means. We pray for any little one here
who is praying for the moment when everything turns out right, when all the circumstances will fall
about right and everything will fall into place. Lord we pray for that little one who is living in
continual frustration and is condemned at the moment to everlasting frustration. Lord we pray for
any of us here who are trying to catch the moonbeams of feelings or trying to bring about that
impossible set up of perfect circumstances. Lord we will begin to forget this business of whether
we are happy or not. We would begin to forget living for this continual happiness and we would set
about the purpose for which you have put us here on earth. So Lord Jesus we would ask you by your
Spirit to show us each one this morning what we are here on this earth to do and then Lord we would
put our hands in yours and do that with all our hearts. Not for ourselves or for the world but for
you and for your father and we ask you Lord Jesus to come in to our lives and lift us above these
mirages of happiness and bring us into complete fulfillment.
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