What is Happiness?
What is Happiness?
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
You could call this morning’s subject, “Happiness: “What is Happiness?” The title isn’t important. God did seem in the night to make a phrase real to me — though like so many other things you wonder, “What did he say to you?” But it certainly was very real when it seemed Jesus spoke of himself to me. It’s the phrase in John 15 — and it isn’t even the first part of it – he first says, “Abide in me. I am the vine and you are the branches.” He then says in 15:11, “These things I have spoken to you.” That is, “all those things that I just said have spoken to you.”
But what he seemed to say to me, somewhere in the twilight hours or in the middle of the night, “That my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full.” It just seemed to come so vividly to me that that’s why I’m saying it this morning because I want to share what God says and not what I say: “That my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full.” It seemed obvious to me that he was seeing the joy that I have. That’s the joy that is to be in you: “My joy and then, your joy. Your own joy will be full.” And that’s the way our life will work together.
I looked up the Greek word for “joy” and it’s “chara” in English. It means “cheerfulness or calm delight”. Of course, it’s not whoopity-whoop joy but it’s just a calm delight that is always with you whatever. Jesus is saying, “That is the joy that I have and that is the joy that is in you if you are in me — and you ARE in me, so that’s the joy that you will have, my joy.”
I think our trouble is that we’ve been used to eating the food that the swine eat. I think we’ve been used to make-do joys so that we’re almost addicts to those joys — not only addicts but it’s a bit the same story as they found in introducing instant coffee here in America. Eventually, when somebody brewed real coffee Americans thought, “That isn’t real coffee,” because they got so used to instant coffee. It’s a bit like that.
We get so used to the substitute joys that we can’t conceive of the real joy. Often the real joy doesn’t seem terribly joyful to us despite of the fact that the substitute joys that we have turn out to be very superficial, shallow and transient, too. But we kind of get used to them and we get addicted to them. So this joy that Jesus talks about at first sight seems kind of boring: “a calm delight” — that’s what it is you know. Indeed, one of the definitions is “cheerfulness”. We kind of think, “Oh, cheerful!” We used to have a program on English radio and this person used to say, “Oh, it’s being so cheerful that keeps me going,” — and of course, he wasn’t cheerful at all. So often we think of cheerfulness as kind of, “Oh yeah, keep your heart up. Be as happy as you can.”
So often we think of “cheerfulness” or “calm delight” as, “Well, it’s okay you know, but it’s not nearly as wonderful as a great football match or an exciting ride on water skis or all the other wonderful things we could do here on earth.” I think that a great deal of our difficulty in finally going for Jesus’ joy is that we have so many other joys that we’ve kind of got used to – yet, we know in our hearts that they are often based on no reality. They are often based on just the fact that this experience is new to us. Paris is exciting the first time you see it, but you get used to it after a while. Many of what we call “joys” are kind of transient things that are almost more dependent on the surprise factor than on any real deep reality that is in them.
We joke with each other about treats, “Oh, I’ll have a little frozen yogurt,” or “I’ll have this little experience or that little experience,” or “We’ll have our chocolate chip cookies,” or
something that will give us a little bit of a lift. We have all kinds of little things that we kind of live off — and yet, they have shortcomings, too, because there are certain situations that occur in our lives that they don’t succeed in helping us with. There are certain dreadful experiences – well, we call them dreadful experiences — or disasters, or death of people whom we love, or difficulties with finances, or problems with our job, or all kinds of other little issues — and those joys are no use to us at that moment. They do not provide the calm delight that is able to face everything with absolute equanimity and peace.
We know in our own hearts that the joys that we’ve got used to don’t actually succeed in helping us when life gets hard — but, we are used to them. I think that’s one of the reasons why we have difficulty with this joy that Jesus talks about. HIS joy is absolutely and utterly different from what we, in this fallen world, call “joy”. And what I saw was that part of our difficulty is right there. We keep thinking, “Oh well, surely the things that we think of as joy, surely there is some element of real joy in them?” Well I think there isn’t! I think probably there isn’t.
The joys that we fallen people in this fallen world have got used to appreciating or have got used to living off, are utterly different from the joy that is real, and true, and lasting. That is the joy that Jesus talks about. I think that’s the first important thing to grasp, that the joy that Jesus talks about here in this verse, “That my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full,” — the first truth is the joy that he’s talking about is UTTERFLY different from the joys that we talk about. The little happiness that we have, the little satisfactions that we have with this experience of this nice meal, or this exciting ride in a glider, or these nice people that we have conversation with, or these circumstances that seem to be going well for us financially — it’s utterly different from all those things that we often call joy. We’re probably all prepared to call them “happiness”. We say, “Oh yes, happiness is satisfaction with what happens to you.” So often that is what we human beings are talking about when we talk about joy. We’re talking about “happy happiness” rather than joy. That’s the first thing I think — the joy Jesus has is utterly different from the joy that we talk about.
I think that’s why the Bible so often connects HIS joy up with sorrow and sadness. I think the Bible is always – or God in his word — is always trying to point out to us: “Look you’re never going to seek true joy, the joy that is in my heart and the joy that is in my Son’s heart, and the joy that actually, because my Son is in you, I have planted deep down within you, too. You will never seek that. You will never experience it or enjoy it UNTIL you’ve put away those other joys — until you have in fact, come into mourning for sadness as the world calls happiness.”
I just have a few of those verses: John 16:20, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” And I won’t begin to interpret all the complexity or depth of that verse, but you can see that God is saying, “There has to come a time when the world rejoices and yet, YOU are not rejoicing. You’re sorrowful. Because you are sorrowful and aren’t rejoicing in the way the world rejoices, you, yourself, will eventually experience joy.”
I won’t go on with that verse because it’s obviously deep, but at least God is saying, “There is going to come a time or there has to come a time in your life when what makes the world rejoice does not make you rejoice. Indeed, you actually come to the place where you SEE those things are no longer the source of joy. “Those things are no longer the things that give me joy.” Indeed, you have to come to the place where those things no longer do give you joy — where you come to the end of the happiness, or the contentment, or the satisfaction that those things bring you and you face
It’s as if God is saying, “You come to a place of reality where you see that there IS no truth in all those things.” “Yes, the chocolate chip cookie gives me a momentary satisfaction, or water skiing gives me a little bit of a thrill, or having a nice conversation with people gives me a little enjoyment” — but eventually, you come to the place where you say, “No, I’ve experienced those things before. There is a limit to how deep those can go inside me. There’s a limit to what happiness those things can bring me. No, all of that is meaningless.”
People pass away. Conversations pass away. Indeed, the little bit of excitement or interest that I get from those, I can see that it’s just temporary. It’s just a little kick. It’s just a little thrill. It just passes. If you said to me, “Do you mean that we would ever come to a place where we’re kind of bored with all those things?” Irene [my wife] and I often joked about George Saunders. He was a British film star who was very smooth, a very smooth sophisticated gentlemen. He did everything just smoothly. He always had the flowers for the lady and always handed her the drinks in the right way. And of course, as I would tumble over something or be clumsy about something, or as I would go into a restaurant and either hold Irene’s chair or know what the waiter was saying to me or not, I would say, “Yeah, George Saunders all over again!” But eventually when he died, Irene quoted what they said in the newspaper — he said, “I’m so bored with life.” And of course, to us it seemed dreadful because we don’t think he said it from the point of view of belief in God at all. We thought it was a tragedy. The man had spent maybe his whole life – it’s not fair to judge him — but maybe he’d spent a lot of his life on the surface, or enjoying what the world calls “happiness”.
If you say to me, “Do you mean that you have to perhaps come to a place where you get bored with it all BEFORE you’ll seek the joy that Jesus has?” I think that’s perhaps true. I think that perhaps is true. I know we all like to think we can have our cake and eat it. That you can keep your cake, keep it complete and full and yet, eat it at the same time. We know the danger of our society is to persuade each other that of course, you CAN do wrong and still live — you can have everything. But Jesus doesn’t say that. He often says, “Look, if you love father or mother more than me you are not worthy of me.” He’s always saying, “You have to choose this or that.” And the Bible itself is saying, “If Baal be god, then choose him. If God be God, then choose him.” That’s at the back of these verses in the Bible that say, “First, you have to come to the place where you mourn, or you are sorrowful, or you see that the joys that you’ve lived off so far are meaningless.” At last, you see that they’re meaningless. Lo and behold you see, “Then what is there?” There’s nothing.
Until we come to that, we probably will not seek the joy that Jesus himself has. Probably the truth is we will only finally go to Jesus when we’re desperate because we see, “To whom else would we go, Lord? Thou has the words of eternal life.” Only then will we come to him with such a whole and complete heart and hunger that he will actually manifest his joy inside us.
Think about it. There are many other verses, but I thought I’d just mention a few because it is so startling the way God juxtaposes joy with sadness. 2 Corinthians 7:4, “I have great confidence in you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. With all our affliction, I am overjoyed.” Again, it’s that juxtaposition of the affliction. Obviously it was the persecution and the trials that Paul was going through, and he said in the midst of all the affliction, “I am overjoyed.”
We here in this room — we know ourselves well and truly — we know that is where the rubber meets the road. That is exactly where we live. We find that when affliction comes the joy goes. We’ve
often said to one another, “Well, now I know God is in charge. I know he’s in control and I have faith, but it’s just, you know, it’s just …,” and we get to that, “but, it’s just…” “I mean — I was caught off guard. Things seemed so black. It seemed things were not working out,” or whatever it is. We find that the joys of the chocolate chip cookies, or the joys of the good conversation, or the joys of the friendship, or the joys that we experience on holiday — all the things that we call “joy” — they seem not to be present in the midst of affliction. We seem NOT to be able to say with all of our affliction, “I am overjoyed.” We rather say, “With all affliction, I forget all the joys that I’ve had and somehow, I do not have a calm delight in the midst of my affliction.”
It seems that in some way, God is saying, “The joy that my Son has is a joy that continues in the midst of affliction.” It is something that is independent of the so-called “joys” that we are used to. Unless you put away those toys, a bit like, “When I was a child, I spoke in childish ways. But now I’m a man, [now I’m a woman] I’ve put away childish things.” (1 Col. 13:11) Or, “Unless you’ve put away those childish toys, you cannot enter into the manhood or the womanhood of my Son”. You cannot.
Hebrews 10:34, “For you had compassion on the prisoners, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property.” For example, I think it was you, Sandra [ jewelry sales representative ], who had jewelry stolen. Any of us could think of moments when we’ve either lost jewelry or lost something of our own, but we’ve experienced a plundering of our property. [Do we react] joyfully? Joyfully? Oh, if we’re honest with each other, we probably would all say, “Well, I wouldn’t say ‘joyfully’. I wouldn’t say I joyfully accepted the plundering of my property. I’d say after the first shock and moment of worry and anxiety, I probably gathered myself together and thought, ‘Well, trust in the Lord and don’t despair. God knows all things and he will supply all my needs.’ I’d probably gathered myself together and philosophized a bit and got some peace about it – but joyfully accepted it?”
“Joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.” But you can see that in the Bible, God is always juxtaposing this joy — not with good circumstances, not with good things happening to us which is usually the way we think of joy — but he’s always juxtaposing it with things that mean the DESTRUCTION of what we call “joys”, the elimination of what we call “joys”. He’s always talking about his joy as something that blossoms in the midst of an absence of what we call “joys”.
You can see that it’s really different. There is a great contrast. It’s very difficult to say, “Jesus’ joy is something that he kindly adds to our joy as kind of icing on the cake.” As if we have all this and heaven, too. We have all this fun and we get heaven as well. In no way is this what God is talking about when he talks about joy. He’s obviously talking about a deep joy that is only possible to people who have finally come to the place where they don’t regard those things as joys — where they do not get their kick from those things — where indeed, they have come to the place where they see through all those things. Not only do they see the terrible emptiness of those things in a kind of philosophical safe secure way — but they see the emptiness of them with eyes that have been drained of the happiness that comes from those things.
If you like to say, “Do you mean like George Saunders on his death bed?” I think that it is that kind of thing — where you come to the place where you see, “This holds nothing for me. This is kind of boring. This isn’t happiness. Is there happiness anywhere? Is there anything lasting?” Then a voice comes, “My joy will be in you and your joy will be full.” It seems to me that’s it. I don’t think it’s any less than that.
James 1:2 is a well-known verse: “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials.” Well, I don’t know how often you’ve quoted that verse. I know the hundreds of times I’ve quoted it verbally and to myself. “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials.” It just seems an absolute paradox! It just seems incomprehensible. However much you try to encourage yourself to see, “Well, that’s God’s word, you know, and we ought to believe that and that’s the way we ought to think”. It just seems so – I cannot say the word because it’s his holy word, but it seems so “stupid”. It seems that can’t be true. Count it all joy when you meet various trials? It’s a contradiction! “Trial” means “unhappiness”. “Trial” means “a lack of joy”. How can you count it as joy when you enter into various trials?
But do you see that it is God saying so plainly: “That real joy that is in my Son’s heart is only possible when the trials that you are going through have separated you absolutely and utterly from any hope of happiness in this world.” For all of us in this earthly world, “trials” mean things that take away from us the normal comforts, or the normal encouragements, or the normal reassurances that we receive from the world. It usually means the failure, or the absence, or the disappearance of some of the things that we normally depend on. A financial trial is when we don’t have the money that we need. A family trial is when family suddenly seems no longer to be our stay, and our strength, and our comfort. A friendship trial is when you lose a friend. Normally what we mean by trials, we mean things that take away from us the worldly circumstances, things and people that make life bearable.
God says, “Count it as joy when you come into that situation. Only then will you be in a position where you are able to hear my Son. Where you are able to hear my Son speak to you,” and where you are able to suddenly see that HIS joy is the ONLY joy in the whole universe. You can have that joy only because you are part of him — part of his heart — and want to feel what his heart feels and want to experience what he experiences. Only when you want him as badly as that will his joy begin to be manifested in you.
There’s no mystery about his joy. His joy is not in ice cream. His joy is not in loyal, faithful friends. His joy is not in a comfortable living situation. His joy is not in security about his worldly future. His joy is not in this experience of thrill or excitement. HIS joy is in one place only. I would say there are almost as many verses that say this as talk about joy being juxtaposed with affliction and with trial. “Rejoice in the Lord always.” In the “Magnificat”, Mary rejoicing in God my Savior. All through the Bible, Jesus enjoys his dear Father. He is FULL of joy in his Father. He is full of joy in his Father. His joy is in his dear Father. That is the only joy that is possible and it’s as bewildering and baffling and beyond explanation as the joy that one person has in falling in love with another person.
It’s the joy that friends have when they sit opposite of each other and they’re not getting anything from each other. They’re not giving each other money. They’re not giving each other ice cream. They’re not giving each other thrills and excitement. They’re just there with each other. It’s that joy that Jesus has. The whole purpose of this world was so that we would look through all these things: look behind Santa Claus’ beard, look behind his red cloak, look behind his reindeer, look behind his trees, look behind his lakes, look behind his skies, look behind the gold and silver and his money, and his rivers, and his oceans, and his waves, and see, “There he is, my dear” – and forgive me using the word – “my dear and darling Father! There he is! There is my Father.”
We are part of his only begotten son Jesus. As we YEARN for Jesus and hug him to our hearts because
we have nothing else — (and that’s the only way we’ll ever grasp him in that way — we hug him to ourselves with ALL our being) — lo and behold, his joy in his Father fills our hearts. We find ourselves enjoying the joy that Jesus has in his dear Father. That’s it. That’s it.
It won’t come any other way because that joy is joy in God. You and I can’t get that joy from trying just to get through the beard, and the red cloak, and the waves, and the trees, and the mountains — we can’t get through that with our miniature minds. We can’t get through that to our Father. That’s why there is no way to come to our Father but by Jesus. There is no way through to the Father but by Jesus. We cannot get straight to him. We hug the Savior to ourselves. Hug him? We don’t need to! He is in us! He said, “Thou Father art in me and I am in them.” He said to us in John 15, “Abide in me and I in you. My Father has created you in me for good works which he has prepared beforehand that you should walk in. You are in me. You are individually members of my body. You are part of me. Remain in me. Seek me alone with all your heart and my joy will rise inside you.”
I think we are made so that we have to first say, “No” to the other joys. Until we’ve really come to the end of those, I don’t really think we can hear him speaking. I think we hear the words, “My joy may be in you and your joy may be full,” and we think, “Oh goody, goody! A little of that will help, too. But we’re glad we’re pretty happy despite some of the evil things in the world. We’re reasonably happy, but that’s good — I’m glad that I’ll have a little of this, too.” So I think that the only way that we’ll be finally happy is if we come to the place where we hear Jesus himself say to us, “My joy I give you. My joy is in you and your joy now will be full.”
Let us pray.