In your life you're going to experience a paradox of good times and bad times. Your happiness is important to God in all of this and that's why you must learn happiness.
I have a confession to make. I like going to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not — you know, where they show all the bizarre things and the world records. I’ve been in a number of them across the country and really enjoyed it when I had children, because I had an excuse to go in to see Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. And, of course, they have a lot Guinness Book of World Records in there. And there’s one world record that I found very fascinating. It’s probably the saddest of all the world records, also.
The woman’s name was Hetty Green. Hetty is known for holding the world record in a very special category. Hetty actually was the first woman millionaire in the United States back in the early part of the 20th Century. She became known as the Witch of Wall Street. Hetty was so tight with money that she wore one black dress and one pair of underclothes. And she wore the same thing every day until they wore out and then she would go and buy a black dress and a new pair of underclothing. She actually worked in a small space in a bank. They gave her this space because she was too tight with money to actually rent an office space. Hetty was so tight with money that her son had need of a minor operation and she wouldn’t pay for it and he lost his leg. She would not use hot water and she would not use electricity in her home because it cost money. When Hetty died in 1916, she was the wealthiest woman in the United States, but the reason they gave her the world’s record is that she was the greatest miser. She held the world’s record for being the greatest miser. She had all this wealth — she had everything that people thought would make them happy — and in the end she died — probably one of the most unhappy people in all of history. No one liked her. She had no friends. And what she was called was the Witch of Wall Street because she was so mean to everybody else.
What would make you absolutely happy? What is it that can happen in your life that can make you absolutely happy? You say, “Well, if I just had enough money, I could be absolutely happy.” The Constitution of the United States says you have a God given right to pursue happiness. Well, good. Let’s go find it. Let’s go chase it down and let’s go get it. Well, what is it? What is it that would make you happy? Is it romance? Is it the right car? Is it the right job? If you made a list right now, you say, “Okay, let’s make a list of the five things that would make me happy. If I had these five things, I would finally be happy,” what would they be?
You know, happiness is a very serious issue. I have a book on my shelf in my office that says happiness is a serious problem. God is concerned with your happiness. Now, we think of all the concerns of God and we think about God as concerned with us being good. God is concerned with a lot of rules and regulations. When you are a young person, it seems like He is really concerned with a lot of rules, right? God is concerned, I guess, with running the universe. But God is actually concerned with you — I don’t care who you are or how old you are or how important you think you are — but God is actually concerned with your happiness.
Now having said that, let me tell you about two — what’s plural of paradox? Paradoxes? Paradoxses? Let me tell you about paradox #1 and paradox #2. First paradox: the more you try to find happiness by being selfish, the more you try to find happiness by being happy, the less happy you will be — first paradox.
The second paradox is that your life is going to have good times and bad times, and it will have its share of both. You can say, “Well I have no chance of being happy, do I? I mean, if the paradox #1 is that if I can’t get what I want and if I do get what I want I won’t be happy, and if paradox #2 is that bad times are going to happen in my life, why even try? I guess Christianity teaches there is no happiness.” No, it’s the exact opposite. What Christianity is about — it’s about God saying, “Let me explain to you how happiness works.”
It’s a funny thing about happiness. We don’t like to think that it is a product of something. We like to think it’s just a feeling. In reality, happiness is a product of other things. And I’m going to show you what I mean by that. Today I’m going to go through four aspects of happiness that if you understand these things you can be a happier person. And some of these aren’t going to make sense at first because, you say, that’s not what makes me feel happy, but happiness is a product.
Now, happiness isn’t a destination. You don’t wake up one day and say, “Whoa, I’m happy and I’ll never cease being happy the rest of my life.”
You know, I was happily asleep yesterday morning and my wife woke me up and said, “You’ve got to come out” because it was just pouring down rain in San Antonio. She said, “You’ve got to come out. The roof’s leaking.” So I got out of bed and I sort of stumbled around trying to get awake and I remember saying, “Don’t let this upset you. Don’t let this upset you.” So I went out and looked and there’s the fireplace and there’s water running down the fireplace. So I went and called someone to come and take a look at it. “It’s okay. It’s okay.” That’s one problem. I went in a turned on my computer — thought I’d try to get some work done while I was waiting for the roofer and my computer completely crashed. At this point I’m starting to feel very unhappy. About 15 minutes later I get a call and someone I know in one of my congregations — someone we all love and know — had died. It all happened within an hour. You say, can you be happy in that. You know, at that moment I did not feel happiness.
You say, “Can you ever feel happiness? Is life just bad thing, after bad thing, after bad thing?” It is not a destination. You don’t just wake up and you are happy. Happiness is a journey. It’s a journey you are on. You are headed towards some place and happiness is the going. It is a product of a way of thinking and it’s a product of how you relate to other people and it’s a product of a way of life. And God is very serious about your happiness.
So I want to look at four basic principles today. Now, each one of these — these are broad principles. They are very broad principles and I could spend an hour on each one. What I want to do is give you the broad principles and you need to think about them. You need to process this information. You need to think about this in your life. What is it that God wants from you? If God cares about your happiness, then how can He teach you to be happy?
The first principle I learned from my dad. My dad whistles all the time. Even today in his 70’s, you can know where he is in the house. He is whistling a tune. I mean, the man whistles a tune — he is either whistling or singing all the time. And I remember when I was young; you know, we would just ask, “Sing us a song, Dad.” And he would sing us these songs. He would be working - he would be working and he would be whistling and I can remember when I was a young teen-ager thinking. “How can that man be so happy,” because I was working along side of him and I really didn’t want to work. We sanded floors, which is not easy work. I’m thinking, “How can he be so happy?” And then a man asked him one time. He said, “You whistle all the time. You must be happy.” He said, “Oh, no, I don’t whistle because I’m happy. I’m happy because I whistle.” And at the time I thought that sounds stupid to me. But over time I started to understand. Happiness is, in some ways, a product of what you do. “I’m going to sit around and wait for happiness to come. I’m going to sit around and wait for me to feel happy.” Happiness is, in many ways, a product of what we do.
So, what are we supposed to do? What can we do? “Oh, I know. I can go out and party with some friends — that’s what I will do and it will make me happy.” Uh, wait a minute; let’s step back from this for a minute. What is it that we do that lays a foundation for happiness?
Well, part of the answer lies in understanding and reading the words of a man who was incredibly unhappy. I mean this man was depressed. Reading his writing makes me depressed. Let’s go to Ecclesiastes, chapter 2. I’m going to read this from the New International Version just because it is easier to read out loud. Now let’s stop for a minute. We have a man here that has everything you think will make you happy. He has it all. He has all the money you could dream of. He has beautiful houses. He has everything you think could make you happy — women, if you are a guy, he’s got all the women. If you’re a girl, all the guys — you could have all the guys. He’s got everything. And he got all this stuff and he came to a terrible conclusion.
Ecclesiastes 2:1 Ecclesiastes 2:1I said in my heart, Go to now, I will prove you with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity.
American King James Version×— Solomon says, I thought in my heart, come now. I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good… he says, “You know what? I just want to have a good time. I’m gonna party like there’s no tomorrow because I can party like nobody on the earth. I’ve got it all.” He said, …but this also proved to be meaningless.
I don’t know. Sometimes I think, “Wow, how could that be meaningless?” And then you read through what he says.
Verse 2 — Laughter I said is foolish and what does pleasure accomplish?
He says, “You know, I’m to the place I don’t even like to laugh anymore. It just doesn’t mean anything to me anymore.” He had lost all concept of even any kind of happiness or joy or having fun. You know, sometimes we can confuse happiness with having fun. Fun can bring temporary happiness, but if happiness was fun, you’d have to live at Disneyland and after a while guess what Disneyland would become? Meaningless. You can only ride the roller coasters so many times and then it’s not fun anymore.
He says, verse 3 — I tried cheering myself with wine… He says, do you want to know what it’s like to say, “I’m just going to drink — I’m going to have a drinking party.” He could bring in the best booze in the world. He says, “I tried that, I tried cheering myself. I tried finding happiness through alcohol, drugs.” He says, “Well, you know, I’ve been tempted to find out what drugs are all about.” Well, Solomon says, “Been there, done that. Did it all.” He used all the drugs of his day. He said, “I tried finding happiness that way.” …and embracing folly my mind still guiding me with wisdom, I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven in the few days of their lives.
Verse 4 — So I undertook great projects… He said, “I’ve got a great job. I’m King. It’s about as good a job as you can get.” So he said, …I got a great job and I built houses for myself… He said, I built the greatest - not house - houses. He had a house on the coast and a house in the mountains, a house in the city. He said, …I have vineyards,
Verse 5 — and gardens, and parks. I planted all kinds of fruit trees.
Verse 6 — Then I made reservoirs of water and groves to furnish trees.
Verse 7 — I bought male and female slaves and other slaves were born in my house. I also own more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me.
Verse 8 — I amassed silver and gold for myself and the treasure of kings and provinces… He goes on and on. He says, “I got it all. In fact, you know what really would make me happy? Music. I like music. I listen to music sometimes to make me happy.” He said, “Well, wow, if I could just listen to music 24 hours a day, I would be happy.” He says, …I acquired men and women singers and a harem as well to the likes of the heart of men,
Verse 9 — And I became greater than anybody else… he says, …you want fame? He was known all over the world. He said, …I had it all. You can say, “Wow, it’s so neat to go to a concert.” Solomon could say, “Tomorrow night I want ………..” And that group showed up and performed the next night just for him - just for him and his friends. And they could sit around and drink themselves sick. They could do it all and according to what he said, he says, ”’I did it all because I wanted to find out how to cheer myself up — I wanted to find out about happiness.”
Now I won’t read all of this because if you go through chapter 2 — the whole chapter — you will become depressed. He says, “And I did this, and I did this, and I did this…” And as you go through it, it’s everything that you have thought about and I have thought it, too — that would make me happy - although I’ve got to tell you guys, having a harem is the stupidest idea in the world. One woman can make you happy. More than one is a sure way to become miserable.
But in verse 17 he says here’s what it’s come to. He says, So I hated life; I hated life because the work that is done under the sun is grievous unto me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. He says life had become so empty you had might as well try to catch the wind in a jar. Right? He says, just chasing wind —that’s all it is. It’s nothingness. He had it all.
Now there’s a reason that God let him write this and put this in here because when we say happiness is important to God, he says yes. And then he says, now let me tell you how not to find it. And then let me tell you how to find it. And the way Solomon looked for it is the same way you and I look for it. The reason this is here is because this man decided, as he got older, “I need to tell people it doesn’t work.” In fact, when you read the book of Proverbs, it was written for young people. The book of Proverbs is supposed to tell us how happiness works. The book of Ecclesiastes is basically, “Now, let me tell you how I found out what doesn’t work and how you can trap yourself into unhappiness.”
It’s amazing how people sometimes will look at this and say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, but I need to find out for myself.” And then when they are miserable and unhappy, they say, “Oh, it’s time to get my life turned around. I don’t like where I am.” And many times the damage has created some very difficult issues of life that they wrestle with for years — sometimes the rest of their lives. It’s a whole lot easier the younger you are when you decide ‘this way won’t work so let me find the way that will work.’ The younger you figure that out, the better your life will be. Now, I didn’t say your life won’t have all kinds of problems. You’re going to have that no matter what. I mean you’ve got to be real here. You’re going to get sick; there are going to be accidents; you’re going to lose jobs; your hair’s going to fall out in some cases; you’re going to get old. Now I’ve known Mr. Treybig for years. We stayed with him last night. That guy’s — that dude’s getting old. That’s going to happen. That’s reality. So, you say, well if all those things happen, I’ll never be happy. Mr. Treybig is actually a very happy man. He’s a happy man because God had helped him find the way to happiness.
Happiness begins with understanding it is a product of what you do. And you say, “Well, what do I do? What do I do?” Well, let me give you two simple approaches of what you do. Okay? Now you could expand this out into a lot of things, but let’s just start with a simple ‘What do I do?’ Ecclesiastes 3:9 Ecclesiastes 3:9What profit has he that works in that wherein he labors?
American King James Version×he says,
Ecclesiastes 3:9 Ecclesiastes 3:9What profit has he that works in that wherein he labors?
American King James Version×— What does the worker gain from his toil? He says, why even work? Why have a job? Why have a career? Why even do anything? But then he answers his own question.
Verse 10 —I have seen the burden God has laid on men; He has made everything beautiful in its time… He stood back and he said, you know — because right before this he had said there’s a time for peace, there’s a time for war, there’s a time for dancing and there’s a time for mourning. He realized in life that life was always going to be a mixture of good and bad. That’s the great paradox. And then he stood back and said, …but God has made it beautiful.
Verse 11 - He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men if they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end,
Verse 12 — I know there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.
How do you be happy? Well it’s not from drinking, it’s not from having a harem, it’s not from having every group perform for you personally, it’s not from having big houses, it’s not from having all the gold and silver, it’s not from being famous. What is it? It is to do good. That’s where it starts. You do good.
So at the end of this — and if you’ve ever been to a teen Bible study in your life, you’ve heard the end of Ecclesiastes, right? Let’s go there.
Ecclesiastes 12:13 Ecclesiastes 12:13Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
American King James Version×— Now all has been heard… he says, “I have said everything I have to say.” …here is the conclusion of the matter, fear God and keep His commandments for this is the whole duty of man.
When you do not lie, you will be happy. When you lie, you will be — inside of you — unhappy. It’s a law you can’t run away from. You can pretend it’s not there, but it’s real. When you cheat, you are unhappy. You can pretend you’re not, but you are. When we commit sexual sins, we are unhappy as human beings. When we dishonor our parents, we are unhappy. When we covet, we are unhappy. But there is part of you and part of me that says, “Oh no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Those are the things that make me happy.” Then remember; let’s go back to here. …Do the commandments. That’s where you begin to understand happiness.
When you don’t steal, you are happier. That’s just the way it is. When you do these things, you are happier. When you don’t do those things — when you do the opposite — you are unhappy. Basic core idea. This is down to the most basic core concepts of life. This is where you start, folks, your start with ‘do this’. That’s what God says. “Do this. I can save you a whole lot of trouble,” God says. He doesn’t make us do it. It’s that strange thing of free will, but He says to us, “You do this, I guarantee you will be happier. Don’t do it, ahhhh, you’re going to be unhappy.” And part of us says, “Ah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah. That’s not what I want.” God says, “Okay, but you will be unhappy.”
So you start with just doing the commandments. This is what you do. This is whistling to make you happy. “Well, I’ll do the commandments when I am happy.” Nah-ah. It doesn’t work that way. You whistle first. It’s the action that creates the happiness. When I realized what my dad was saying, I was thinking, “Well that old man really knows more than I thought he did.” I thought I was smarter than him. He is happy because he whistles. And in his 70’s today, guess what he does all the time? He whistles and most of the time he doesn’t even know he’s doing it because it just happens. It’s just what he does. And he’s smiling and he’s happy because he’s whistling. You do these things and you begin to feel happy.
The second thing we do is simple acts of kindness towards other people. Simple acts of kindness towards other people. When you’re polite, you feel happy. Do you want to test this? I tell you what. For the next week, every place you go, when you walk up to a door and there’s somebody walking behind you, stop and open the door and let them go first. And when they say, “Why, thank you.” That feeling you have — that’s called happiness. I don’t know why it happens. It’s just a law. It’s just the way it is. When that checkout person has been chewed out by everybody else and you’re so frustrated because you’ve been standing in line and they have to check something three times because it was three cents off, and you walk up and say, “It’s been a hard day, hasn’t it?” And the person says, “You have no idea.” And you say, “It’ll get better.” And you say, “Well, a minute ago — 30 seconds ago I was angry and frustrated. What’s that I’m feeling now? What changed?” You simply did an act of kindness for somebody else. And when you do those acts of kindness — when you do them, something changes inside you. It’s a law. I can’t explain it. I can only tell you it’s there. It’s like gravity. I can’t explain it, but it’s there. It’s like Einstein’s theory of relativity. I tried to understand that. But I know part of it at least is true. You can measure it — I don’t know how, but it’s there.
Acts of kindness — now this doesn’t mean just to your friends. You see there are these paradoxes. “If I am kind to my friends, I’ll be happy.” No, this means to everybody. It means you do not stand around trying to figure out who deserves your kindness and who does not deserve your kindness. You are just kind and when you do those actions, it changes how you feel. It is just reality.
So, actions help you be happy. Now that’s a whole subject in itself, but that’s just one point. I want to make sure I give you a number of concepts here to work on. Actions help you be happy. The right actions help bring long-term happiness. Now that doesn’t mean wrong actions don’t sometimes make you feel happy. They simply make you feel happy for a short time and then usually there’s a bad consequence that happens next. You know, it’s like diving off the high dive for the first time and not knowing what you are doing. There’s about a second and a half of ‘wheeeeeeeeeee’ and then there’s the pain. I’ve gotten to the place where I do nothing but cannon balls — okay — because I just can’t stand the pain. So, yeah, bad actions can bring moments of happiness, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about a happy life. I’m talking about a journey.
Let me tell you a little story that will bring about the second point. This actually happened. There was a football game in Los Angeles when a couple of spectators came down with food poisoning. They brought in the doctors and they said it was food poisoning. They tried to figure out if there was a commonality for these people. And they found out that both of them had had a drink from the same soft drink dispenser. So they announced, “Everybody that drank from this specific dispenser — if you went up to this booth and you got a drink from that dispenser — you need to go to this infirmary because people have gotten some sickness from it.” Within minutes, there were 200 people at the infirmary — vomiting, diarrhea, doubled over with cramps. And then they found out that the two people got sick from something else and they announced it and the 200 people got well. Now, was their pain real? Yes. Was their vomiting real? Yes. What happened? That is the power of your thoughts. That is the power of how you think.
There is an interesting proverb in Pro. 17. Let’s go to Pro. 17 and verse 22. Solomon says,
Proverbs 17:22 Proverbs 17:22A merry heart does good like a medicine: but a broken spirit dries the bones.
American King James Version×— A merry heart does good, like a medicine… When we experience happiness and joy and good things, we are healthier. …But a broken spirit dries the bones.
How we think has a dramatic affect on our physical health. But this is one of the most important and difficult lessons of life and you will spend a lifetime mastering it. I have never met a person yet that has mastered this. The only one I know that has done it is Jesus Christ. And that is, how do I get control of my emotions? Well, there are all kinds of schools of philosophy and psychology that will tell you how to do that. There is only one way to get control of your emotions. You get control of your thoughts. You control the way you think and eventually - and it doesn’t happen right away — this is the difficult thing, you see, we program our emotions through thoughts.
Now there are certain things that are just natural. I mean, you walk into the woods and there’s a bear. You scream and run. That’s fear, okay? That’s just natural. But you know what? You’re not supposed to do that. Why? Because bears chase things that run. Right? So what keeps you from running? Is it the emotion? It’s the thing in your head that says, “Don’t run, don’t run. He’ll chase you. Don’t run. Take a big breath. Pray. Pray hard.”
I’ll never forget my brother-in-law and I, walking through the woods in Tennessee. We walked around a corner and there’s a bear just staring at us. We stood there, we looked at each other, we looked at the bear — a black bear — it wasn’t a big one, a yearling. We looked at each other, looked back at the bear, looked at each other and my brother-in-law said, “Shouldn’t he be more afraid of us?” He was a little uncomfortable. This wasn’t a very big path. But we didn’t run. We didn’t run because why? There’s a thought process that says, “Get that emotion under control.” That’s the way it is with all emotions. It is your thoughts that eventually change emotions. That’s a hard lesson to learn.
You know, the fact is — what happens is — we program ourselves to see what we want to see to our feelings. We program ourselves to see life the way we want to see it to our feelings. I mean, if you feel like everybody is out to hurt your feelings, guess what everybody’s going to do because you will find a way to let everybody hurt your feelings. If you believe that everyone is mean and you look for the meanness in people instead of good qualities, guess what you will find? Meanness in everybody. Right? All of us have something in us that is a little mean and you will find that in every person you meet because that is what you will be looking for because that’s what you feel. And then you can be justified. “See, I knew they would be mean to me.” Do you know what you are doing? You are justifying your failures. That’s what you are doing. “I can fail in life because I have an excuse now because everybody else is…” As soon as you say ‘everybody else is’, you are now justifying your failure. You are now justifying a feeling that you should not have. You are justifying the thought process that’s wrong.
I know this is hard, but do you want to be happy? Because you can keep going the way you are and you end up in the exact same place every single time. You put this puzzle together the same way every time unless you say, “Wait a minute. That’s the wrong puzzle. I’ve got to get some more pieces here.”
You can decide to be thankful for what you have or you can decide to be unhappy and unthankful for what you don’t have. That’s your decision. If you only see life in terms of what you don’t have, God can give you blessing, after blessing, after blessing, after blessing and guess what? You’ll never see it. God gives you blessings every day and we miss them much of the time because what we are looking at is what we don’t have. And so we are unhappy instead of looking for God and what He does for us.
You know this is why — this is such a powerful verse in Philippians chapter 4. It is a verse I have never mastered yet. I’m trying, but I haven’t.
Philippians 4:8 Philippians 4:8Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
American King James Version×— Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of a good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate… think …on these things.
Think this way. Now, that is a two-hour sermon or two one-hour sermons right there. Now I find it interesting. He says, whatever is of a good report. Let’s put this into context for us. What if there’s a big neon sign attached to you and everything you are thinking was being put across that. Some of you are right now saying, “Oh, man, I wish he’d hurry up, get this over with.” Some are saying, “Man, I can smell the food back there.” Some of you are saying, “Man, I hope that cute guy over there notices me.” Okay. And we would all say this stuff. Go on. We would all say this stuff. And we would say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa! I wouldn’t want everybody to read my thoughts.” Your boss says, “You know what, if you want to be happy, think only things you’d want everybody else to know what you were thinking.” Only think things that you wouldn’t be embarrassed if someone said, “What are you thinking?” And you could tell them what you were thinking and not be embarrassed.
Huh. Boy, that’s a whole new way of life, isn’t it? That’s what He says. But if we spend much of our time thinking on things that are ignoble, that are unjust, that are impure, that are ugly — that’s what we spend most of our time doing because that’s the way we think. Guess what happens in our emotions? They are not noble, they are not just and they are naked and ugly emotions because they are products of what we think.
Let’s go on, another couple of other verses here because this will lead to our next point. Verse 11. Paul makes a remarkable statement here from a man who suffered a lot in life. I mean, if anybody would be miserable, it would be this guy. Every place he went, people hated him. They threw rocks at him, they beat him up, he was shipwrecked, he didn’t have any money, he ran out of food at times. You know, at one point they took him in Ephesus and the stuck him in the arena, gave him a sword and said, “Here, fight this animal.” The man must have looked like — I can’t imagine what he looked like. Ears ripped off, face beat up, limping — his body must have been a wreck. And what does he say? He says,
Verse 11 — Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:
Now he didn’t say ‘to be complacent’. “Uh, I guess everything’s bad, I’ve just got to be bad.” That’s not what he said. He said, “I’ve learned in the good times and the bad times to stay focused and be content” — not to be overwhelmed.
Verse 12 — I know how to be abased… he says, “You want to know about bad things?” He says, “I’ve experienced a lot of bad things. … and I know how to abound… I know how to have good things. He says, “I’ve had some great times in my life.” …Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry… and he means that literally. He says, “I know what it’s like to sit down in absolute feast and I know what it’s like to be hungry for days.” …both to abound and to suffer need.
And then verse 13 - I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
There is a spiritual aspect of happiness that is very, very important. Would you like to have a blessed life? I mean, if I asked you, “Is there anyone here that would like to have a blessing from God?” I imagine everybody would raise their hands — except the six or eight people that are asleep. Everybody would raise their hands. “Yes, I would like to receive a blessing from God.” Well, you know, in the Sermon on the Mount, there is the opening segment that is called the Beatitudes. Do you know what beatitude means? It’s an old English word. It means perfect happiness. So there’s a list of things. Jesus says, “I’m going to tell you how to live life. Let Me start by telling you about happiness and how to be blessed.” And then you read through the Beatitudes and you think, “This is blessed?”
Now we could give six or eight sermons — and I have, just on the Beatitudes. But I want to look at just the first one because I want you to study the Beatitudes. I mean, it’s your happiness. If you want to be happy, start with the sections where Jesus says, “Let Me tell you about happiness and how you can be blessed.”
So let’s look at #1. Matthew chapter 5. The whole first part of this — in fact, the whole Sermon on the Mount — should be required study for all on a regular basis. If you’re serious about happiness, then the Beatitudes are very important. And the first one is,
Matthew 5:3 Matthew 5:3Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
American King James Version×— Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Now this one says, “Now wait, wait, wait, wait - wait, okay. I’ll take some of this doing good stuff. Okay, I’ve got to learn to think a little better, but you’re telling me I have to be poor in spirit. What makes me happy is getting what I want and I want to feel good about myself, which means I have to be rich in spirit. So this is the opposite of happiness — so this won’t work.”
Well, let’s look at this for a minute and say, well, just what did Jesus mean by being poor in spirit? He didn’t say that being poor in spirit means walking around and being depressed or unhappy because this is when you are blessed. Being blessed means to be happy. So it has nothing to do with the idea that being poor in spirit means I have to be depressed and bad all the time and that I am rotten. That’s not what it means.
If you wish to find happiness — if you wish to find perfect happiness — you start with you have to be poor in spirit. Let me explain. What poor in spirit means is that you have to come to a fundamental understanding that without God, you are in absolute poverty. And who you are as a person — without God you are a chemical being that lives for a while and dies. You have some good times and some bad times just like everybody else. And, believe me, everybody in this room has lots of good times compared to people who live in Haiti. Their average day is your worst nightmare and now they have the other problems from the earthquake. But their average day before is your worst nightmare. And it’s easy to say, “Well that’s them — it’s not me and I’m unhappy because that cute, blond haired girl didn’t say ‘hi’ to me.” I’m not making fun of that because I understand. I used to feel that way, too. Well, actually if my wife doesn’t say good morning to me, I get upset still. But you have to come to an understanding that without God you can’t make this life work. “Without God, I can’t make this work. I can’t. I’m not big enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not strong enough, I’m not wise enough. I can’t make this work without God.” And a strange paradox is once you figure that out, it gets easier. “Wait a minute. I’ve got to figure out I can’t do it? And that makes it easier?” Yes. It’s when you figure out the poverty of your spirit without God that you begin to understand that you can be something else. You can be blessed. So we have this strange statement You are blessed if you realize that without God you haven’t anything. Isn’t that strange?
Look at a parable of Jesus in Luke 18. We will quickly look at two parables here. Once again, I’m giving you these four broad ideals. I tried to decide if I should just give one of them, and I decided I’m going to give all four of them - give you something to work on here. You understand that happiness begins — it is a product of what you do. It is, secondly, a product of learning the control of your thoughts - and the younger you learn that, the better off you are - and your thoughts then change your emotions. And you are even told what to think about in the Bible. And, thirdly, it is understanding those Beatitudes, those blessings, and we are just going through the first one. You need to study all of them.
Lk. 18:9 — Jesus spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
These people believed that they knew how life worked and they looked at everybody else and said, “Huh, I know how life works and you don’t. I am right and nobody else knows what’s right.” And they thought they were right before God. You know the parable, but let’s look at it.
Verse 10 — Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
Verse 11 - The Pharisee stood and prayed thus within himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.
Now you know what? The truth is this man probably was not an extortioner, he probably had never committed adultery, he probably wasn’t in some ways unjust, that’s probably all true. But what he saw in himself was “Look how good I am.”
I read an interesting set of research they did one time. They were trying to find out which people have the most self-esteem. Now, we do have to have a certain view of ourselves that is good — that’s a whole other subject, but it has to be based on coming from God. This man had a great self-esteem based on what he saw in himself. You’re supposed to feel good about yourself, but you either feel good about yourself because of something you make up or you feel good about yourself because you get something from God. Those are the only two choices. In this research they did, they thought, of course, who would have the highest self-esteem. Lawyers? Politician? Doctors? Teachers? Nah, it was men in prison. They felt the best about themselves. I thought that was fascinating.
Verse 12 — He said, ‘I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And that’s true. The man fasted twice a week and the man tithed — first tithe, second tithe, third tithe, fourth tithe… Some of you are falling asleep, so I………
Verse 13 — And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beating his breast… In other words, this is such an emotional outpouring. At this moment is he feeling happy? No. He’s beating himself and he’s saying, “You know what? Before God, I am nothing. This is the being that created the universe; this is the being that made everything. This is the being who’s never made a mistake and never sinned and made me. And I have lived a wretched life.’ And he pounds his chest and all he could say is …God, be merciful to me, a sinner!
And you’re fifteen and saying, “What’s this have to do with me?” I’m telling you right now, if you’re ever going to be happy, some day you must do this. There’s no other way to get there. There is no other way to get there except that some day you go before God and you pound your chest and you say, “I am nothing.”
There have been lots of people that have claimed to know God and have never gone through this and I’m telling you that if you truly wish to be what God wants you to be, we all have to do this. I wish I could tell you it only happens once in your life. It doesn’t. You will do this over and over — but that’s not happiness, is it? Strangely enough, yes it is, because of the next verse:
Verse 14 — I tell you… Jesus said …this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
Justification has to do with God giving you the right to come to Him. You and I don’t have that right. You think the Holy God of the universe — we just have the right to go knocking on the door and say, “Hey, just dropped by. Wanna have a beer?” That’s not how this works. God gives us the right and that’s what this was. When this man realized his poverty before God, God said, “You, come.” Do you understand that your life — until that happens — your life is nothing but snatches of fun, snatches of romance, snatches of bad things? It’s just a jumbled mess of good and bad things. That’s all life is until this happens. But when this happens — this poverty of spirit, you begin — you begin your journey to happiness. You say, “Well I don’t know how to do this.” You can’t hide from God.
You know, there’s another parable in the Bible where Jesus talks about a man who owned all this stuff. And he said, “You know what, I’m just going to keep building bigger and better barns and bigger and better houses and own all this stuff and I’m going to say, ‘You know what? I’m going to retire early and just have a good life.’” He said, “You know, this is really unwise because tonight you are going to die. Now what would your life really have meant?”
You have to understand, as all of us do, that we only have so much time. And in that time it comes down to instead of running away from God, running towards God. There are only two ways of life. You are either running away from God or running towards God. That’s it. I knew a man one time who thought happiness would be — this was 30 years ago — he wanted to take his family and move out into the mountains and live in a cave because he believed he would have no troubles. He would sell everything he had, pack it full of food and hunt for…. Well, of course, his wife and children were in a panic. So if we could just run from the problems… Understand, running from your problems won’t make you happier and you know why? Happiness is something that comes from inward, not outward. Now that’s tough. I mean, there are bad things that happen to you. You don’t feel happy at that moment, but can you learn to be content? Yes. If you learn to be content, happiness will keep coming back to you. It will keep coming back. It is a way of life. It’s a journey.
If you want to be poor in spirit, I’ll tell you what you do sometime. Go to the edge of the Grand Canyon and sit there and watch — just look out over that for about an hour. You’ll start to have poverty of spirit. Go outside on a clear night where it’s totally dark and you are by yourself and look at those stars for a while. Pretty soon it’s like — “Well, it’s a lot bigger than me.” Ah! The guy who made that — and I don’t mean to be disrespectful to God — the God who made that, that’s big! And the God who cares about your happiness — your name, whatever your name is — say your name. Say, “God cares about my happiness. The One who made that cares about me! And my happiness is important to Him.” Because that’s true. And then go to Mat. 5 and read about the blessings. Blessed are those who do this. You want that blessing? You can go ask for that blessing. You can go to Mat. 5 and say “Blessed are those who are poor in spirit. God, give me that blessing. Oh, good, I get the Mustang.” When you say I want to be blessed by being poor in spirit, be prepared to be led to the place where you are beating your chest and saying, “I am nothing.” And God says, “Ah, now you’re blessed.” And at that moment you begin to learn happiness. You say, “That doesn’t make any sense to me.” The laws of happiness don’t make sense to human beings. That’s why we are so self-destructive. Do you really think everybody’s all happy out here? This is the most unhappy world.
And this leads us to the last point because when God helps you become poor in spirit, there is something else that happens. And this happens over time and you may not get this yet at twelve, but you can get it over the next decade until this becomes part of you because happiness - happiness is a fire that God lights in your very soul, in your very being.
You know, we talk a lot about the importance of doctrine in the Church. And without doctrine — without basic core truths — why are we different from anybody else? Doctrine is important. And then we say, well what are the most important doctrines? And, you know, we could sit and discuss, “Well, let’s see, what are the most important doctrines? I mean, you’ve got to understand God first. So I guess God’s the most important doctrine.” But beyond that, if we step beyond that concept of God, what is the most important doctrine? One would say, “Well, I think it’s the Sabbath.” Someone else would say, “Well, I can beat you with that, it’s the entire 10 Commandments. There you go.” “No, it’s understanding that you don’t go to hell.” “Well, it’s…” And we can all discuss what is the most important doctrine. I’m going to tell you that after you understand God, the single most important doctrine — and all the other doctrines hang on this doctrine — remember when they asked Jesus about the law? He said, “I can break it down into two. All the other laws hang on these two laws. Okay? Love God. Love your neighbor.” He says, “That’s it. Everything else explains that. All the other doctrines explain this one so they’re all important because they explain it. But this is it and this is the fire you can have.”
You know, we talked about the good news, the gospel of the kingdom of God. The gospel. It’s good news. It’s not just the good news, folks, it’s the only news. Nothing in this world works. Nothing in this world survives. That’s the truth and you if live long enough, you figure that one out. Nothing survives. The gospel is the only news. It’s what this life is all about.
And let me explain it to you in a couple of sentences. #1, you were created in the image of God. “But I’m only thirteen.” You were made in the image of God. You have a mind that works, you have a spirit that is different from any other mammal on the face of the earth. There’s nothing like what we are. You were made in the image of God, but you also became a mixture of good and evil, which means you are messed up. That’s the problem with the gospel. It’s good that begins with, “Boy, are you messed up! There’s something wrong with you. You are a mixture of good and evil.” “Well, that’s a good way to happiness. You’re sitting up there insulting me.” It’s the truth!
Okay, I want everybody to do something. Just sit there for a second — especially all you young people — I want you to close your eyes for a minute. Just sit there. Let everything else go — then tell me you don’t know something’s wrong. There’s something wrong. You feel that? You’re not a complete person. There’s something missing in here. What is it? Well, you’re a mixture of good and evil. I’m a mixture of good and evil. Everybody in this room is a mixture of good and evil. That’s the problem. We were made in the image of God. It’s like someone took a nice statue and took a hammer and just beat it all to pieces and that’s what you look like. You say, “Well, I think it’s sort of a human being, but someone’s beaten it all up.” That’s you. That’s me. We’re in the image of God and we’re all beat up. Jesus Christ came from heaven — the Son of God — to this earth because here’s the problem. As a beat-up image of God, God will not give you eternity. You can’t live forever. You will simply die. That’s the truth. You and I don’t deserve to live forever. We don’t. By ourselves — you say, “Well if I could just feel good enough about myself, I could live forever.” Resurrect yourself. You can’t live forever and neither can I. None of us can. Jesus Christ came and became a human being, lived as a human being to show us how to live, to show us the way to happiness and then died to take your place.
All other doctrines are built off of what we are talking about right now. Jesus Christ came and died for you because there is no other way for you to survive. And He was resurrected and then God set down, “I’m going to choose people to make them My children.” And He chose you. “So, I’m not baptized yet.” I didn’t say you’re into that step of the process. I’m saying you’ve been called. You have to be chosen, but you are already called. You are called to be a child of God. That’s your purpose in life. Everything else now comes into focus if that’s who you are. It’s not what you do and what you are and what abilities you have — in the end, what the only important question in life is, “who am I?” And the only answer is that literally makes you happy is “I am a child of the living God.” You see, that’s who you are. You’ve been called to that. God wishes to forgive you, God wishes to change you. He doesn’t just want to forgive you, He says, “Now, let me make you better. Let me start working on this image so you’ll look like Me.” Right?
Who do children look like? Their parents. So your Father says, “Let me begin working on you so you can look like me.” People say, you can’t tell this message to sixteen year olds — they don’t get it. That’s not true. I know you get it if your heart’s open because I got it at sixteen. I really did — in a very minor way, but the fire was lit. And then you have a purpose and you have a goal. Jesus Christ is coming back to establish God’s kingdom on this earth and it’s yours. You say, “No, it’s God’s kingdom.” “No,” He says, “I’m going to give it to you.” You will receive — you are co-heirs then with Jesus Christ. What does an heir do? An heir receives the father’s possessions. You receive the kingdom of God. You receive the universe. You receive all things. “Well, all I want is a car.” “All I want is for the blond haired girl over here to look at me and smile.” Uh-uh.
Open your mind for one moment. You receive everything! That’s what the Bible says. Does that light a fire? I hope so. Does that light a fire, because He’s coming to set up that kingdom on the earth and of all this sea of humanity, lost and struggling through life, you have been given the chance — you have been given the chance to live the gospel. I fear sometimes that we are a people who know the gospel, but we are not a people who live the gospel. And if we don’t live it, all of our other doctrines will deteriorate because all the doctrines hang on the gospel. Why you were made, why you are messed up, how God is going to save you — what you have to learn… “Well I learned the ten commandments. Okay, I’ve got to learn to do things. I’ve got to learn — I’ve got to learn these doctrines. I’ve got to learn how to live. I’ve got to learn how to be kind. I’ve got to learn how to be a husband and a wife. I’ve got to learn all these things so I can learn about this journey I’m going through so that in the end I receive all the blessings in the kingdom of God.” That’s the fire. That’s the gospel.
And once that fire’s lit, I’ve got to tell you something else because it will bug you for the rest of your life. You’ll have to share it with other people — to your own detriment at times — but you won’t be able to keep your mouth shut because it’s the fire — it’s the fire that burns that “I am becoming, I am in a relationship right now as a child of God.” You see, you have a right. When you get on your knees at night and you pray to God, do you realize the creator of the universe says, “Oh, Buck, how are you doing?” He knows you. “You happiness is serious to me, but I’m also concerned, some of your actions today are not bringing about happiness. They’re really messing your life up. You know that?” You go before the God of the universe and you talk. But we forget to stop and listen as He talks back. He talks back to you every day in those thousand of little things He does for you. He does it every day. And then He says, “Come, just be My kid. Let me change you into what I made you to be.” You say, “Well, what are my abilities?” God knows them. “What can I do in life?” God knows. And, you know what? When you say to God, “Well, God, you know you didn’t give me any abilities. You made me ugly and You made me short. You didn’t make me a middle linebacker. (sniff)” And God says to you, “Hey, kid, I don’t do bad work. I’m just not done with you yet.” He doesn’t do bad work. He’s not done with us yet, but if you don’t get into the relationship, then none of this happens.
Once you get this fire lit, you’re going to have to tell others. You’re supposed to. We’re supposed to. In your life you’re going to experience a paradox of good times and bad times; the paradox of getting sick, having people around you die, losing jobs. Ask any of us adults. We’ve either had it happen to us or it’s happening to us right now. You will experience fun. You’re going to experience romance — hopefully, sadness, grief. Your happiness is important to God in all of this and that’s why you must remember you must learn happiness. It is not a destination. It is a journey. It is a way of life. And when you go to Matthew, chapter 5, and you study the Beatitudes, you will discover what everybody else is looking for: you will discover the ways to be blessed and the only real way to happiness.