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We live in a time were life has been set-up in way that promotes personal happiness. Statements like: “As long as you are happy” “Your happiness comes first” and “If you are not happy leave”, reflect the prevailing outlook that is currently shaping and forming people’s perceptions about life.

In the United States of America, the pursuit of happiness is perceived as a fundamental right mentioned in the Declaration of Independence. Under the Declaration of Independence, the pursuit of happiness is to freely pursue or chase joy and live life in a way that makes you-and only you-happy, as long as you don’t do anything illegal or violate the rights of others.

The assertion here is that if I am happy, then my life is meaningful. Personal happiness thus becomes the standard through which the quality of life is measured. The fundamental question that we should grapple with is: Is happiness a high enough standard to measure meaning and purpose of what we do in our relationships, careers, and calling?

Our society has an underlying desire to control not only things but also people in order to serve its happiness. The world insists on wanting us to believe that our happiness comes first. It is all about “ME!”, what I want, what I must have, how things should be, the time and sequence which things must happen in order for me to be happy.

Unfortunately, many of us have adopted this outlook into our lives with or without knowing and as a result, we are an unfulfilled, stressed, and anxious generation. Nothing seems to be going right because no matter how much we try, happiness eludes us! 

Alternative outlook

The gospel of Jesus Christ provides an alternative outlook through which we can base and live our lives. We do not need to stumble over popular opinions that rule the world, because our soul has the light of life and we are anchored in Christ Jesus.

“For God, who said, Let light shine out of darkness, has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2 Corinthians 4:6.

We live life by the light of the knowledge of God and not by popular opinions that are promoted on tv, social media and on the internet. Our lives are governed by a different system all together.

Christianity is for you but not about you; Christ died for you so that you can live for Him, 2 Corinthians 5:14. Your life matters only as it relates to God and His glory. You were made a new creation for His glory, Isaiah 43:7 and 21. Meaning, we now have a superior purpose than happiness and that is a need to glorify God. Personal happiness is secondary to the primary and fundamental call of glorifying God with our lives. Thus, it matters less whether we are happy or not because we live to glorify God!

To die to self means that you are no longer as concerned about your own personal happiness, as you are about God’s will and His glory. Hence Paul says

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20.

The gospel that brings salvation to our lives also forms our convictions, and our convictions informs how we act and react to life. The gospel of Jesus Christ moves us from a simplistic and romantised view of life to a redemptive, meaningful, and purpose driven life. Thus, for a Christian to live a life in pursuit of happiness, means that one needs to water down the gospel so to accommodate this pursuit of happiness. In other words, a Christian who is solely pursuing happiness is likely to personalise the gospel in order to suit their desired life. The personalised gospel is one that is adjusted and tailor-made to suit and serve the individual’s pursuit of happiness instead of the pursuit of God’s will. In this case your interests come first, and this is justified by this man-made gospel. Basically, believers materialise the gospel to serve their materialistic lifestyles.

Individualistic way of life

If you make life to be all about you and your need to be happy you will never live in the will of God or please God. You will find it difficult to please God in your relationships, marriage, career, calling and ministry. Christianity is a call to be selfless, to seek not your interests but the interests of others.

“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” Romans 15:1-6.

The pursuit of happiness is a very individualistic way of life that commodifies friendships and relationships. Everything around you must make you happy! Christians who live with this outlook will always prioritise their happiness at the expense of fellow believers and will always prioritise their happiness above God’s will.   

The more we pursue happiness in this life, the more selfish we become without even realising it.

Your plan vs God’s plan

I have seen firsthand the overwhelming happiness that young women have when they are proposed to. I also know the excitement of getting a ring and planning a surprise engagement. I guess this was also the case with Mary, she was happily engaged to Joseph until God introduced His divine plan. God’s request to Mary and Joseph disrupted their “happiness” big time. God did this so to fulfill His divine purpose concerning humanity – they had to endure the scrutiny of society about a child who was seemly conceived out of wedlock.

I remember how excited I was and how happy my family was when I got accepted to study teaching at the University of Pretoria. It was great! But God redirected my career and I had to study theology. My decision to follow God’s voice was an anti-climax and it brought sadness to many people in my life.

If we are going to live in the will of God and glorify Him, we need to shift from an egoistic view of life – that all things must serve my happiness and make my life more comfortable.

If I may ask, what sort of things makes you unhappy? To put this question another way: What are your deep concerns in life? Is it your age, marital status, career, health, or lack of clothes? What does the Word of God say about these things? Honestly, what is the source of your unhappiness?

Yes, happiness is an important part of human experience and it is a necessary ingredient to life but not as a principal pursuit and definitely not at a cost of God’s glory.

Conclusion

In the movie ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’ Will Smith observed “They all looked so damn happy to me. Why couldn’t I look like that?” As we scroll on social media we also wonder; “People are so happy in life, why not me?” Then we live our lives unhappy not because anything is wrong in our lives but because others seem to be doing so well. Sin looks like happiness sometimes, let us rather be in pursuit of God – because only God has eternal value. 

The outlook that is prevailing in the world goes against everything that we are and stand for in Christ. We need to look deep into our lives and uproot any form that is inconsistent with our Christian nature. If not, we will never fully know and experience the purpose, the love and the abundant life we have in Jesus Christ.

Of course, happiness is a necessary component of experiencing life and living it fully, but it is surely not a reason to live for. Happiness is not and should not be an end in itself. We should not get married looking to be happy, we should not choose our careers for happiness sake, and certainly we should not live our lives in pursuit of happiness.

Thabang T. Letsie

Pastor at Resolved Church in Pretoria, South Africa. Life is more meaningful when lived with eternal perspective: the gift of God is ETERNAL LIFE and not just life. I love reading, writing, and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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