The average book store anywhere in Sydney would have a big list of books about happiness. Have a look sometime and you’ll see what I mean. Everyone wants to be happy. Ask your friends this question: What do you want out of life? They will probably say, I just want to be happy.
Sounds simple, but what does it actually mean to be happy? Is it simply getting what you want? Problem with that is so often, even when they get what they want, they are not really happy. Is it all just in the mind? Why are some people always happy while others seem doomed to a life of misery? Is it love, money, or in the family genes?
The Meaning of Happiness
I think part of the problem is the word ‘happiness’ itself. ‘Happy’ comes from the word ‘hap’. And guess what—‘hap’ means ‘chance’. That’s why William Barclay said that “…a change in fortune, collapse in health, the failure of a plan, disappointment of an ambition, even a change in the weather, can take away our happiness”.
And that’s very true. Happiness or a sense of wellbeing based on circumstances can last a short time or suddenly change. That’s why we become so disappointed, distressed, and unhappy when life changes. Isn’t there something more reliable than this? Yes, there is.
George Gallup of Gallup polls has worked out in the US that fewer than 10% of Americans are deeply committed Christians. And this group of people are far, far happier than the rest of the population. He found that committed Christians are more tolerant, more involved in charitable activities, and are absolutely committed to prayer.
So what is happening here? They have discovered God in a real way, and try to put into action the principles found in the Bible. They are very committed to following God and his Son Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ Principles of Happiness
I want to share with you a few principles of happiness which are really amazing statements given by Jesus in what is known as the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5. If you’re not familiar with these, have a look. You’ll be amazed at what they say, and they still apply to our lives today. This section of the gospels is also known as the Beatitudes.
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Do you depend on God or yourself?
If you want to be happy, you need help. That’s the first thing I want to say. Matthew 5:3 says, “God blesses those people who depend only on Him. They belong to the kingdom of Heaven”. Does that mean I have to be destitute? Being poor is not very nice by anyone’s standards and it is hard to understand why Jesus should say that anyone who is poor is blessed. The older translations say blessed are the poor in spirit.
No, but it does mean being ‘poor in spirit’, and admitting I can’t make it in life on my own. I need God’s help in my life each day. I need to depend on him. It goes against the grain for we are taught to be self-sufficient. So it can be difficult—I think it means how happy are those people who know of their essential need for God—they know without relying on him; life is very difficult and frustrating, and sometimes pointless.
How Can We Become Poor in Spirit?
One Bible translation puts it like this: “Happy are those conscious of their spiritual need, since the kingdom of God belongs to them”. It’s the opposite of pride and reliance on oneself, saying There is no God and I am not accountable to anyone except me. The Message (version of the Bible) translates it simply as, “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.”
It would seem from these versions that the word ‘poor’ can be understood to mean much more than merely a lack of money or material goods. Being poor in spirit is a good thing. Everything we have in this life comes from God. Nothing belongs to us, not even our own lives.
So, the ‘poor in spirit’ are those who have come to see that everything in life is a gift from God—and because they see God in every little thing of life, they are greatly blessed. For, we are poor in spirit when we understand that we depend on God for everything we have and are.
Two Different Prayers
In Luke 18 Jesus tells the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went into the temple to pray. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself, what a good fellow he was: he wasn’t greedy, dishonest, unfaithful in marriage, and he was better than the tax collector.
But the tax collector said, God, have pity on me. I’m such a sinner. He was so sorry for what he had done. Jesus made the comment, “It was the tax collector and not the Pharisee who was pleasing to God” (verse 14).
Do you depend on God or yourself? So often we struggle away at our problems determined to sort them out ourselves, almost fighting against the support and help that God is offering us. Inevitably this gets us nowhere and it is only when we realise that we cannot manage without God’s help—that we are indeed poor in our ability to go it alone in life and we turn to God and trust him to help us—that we become blessed because it is then that we are able to accept God’s help to the fullest extent.
When we trust our lives into God’s care and support, then our lives are blessed because we are released from the anxiety and fear that comes when we think we are all alone and have to survive in our own strength.
So it is that I think this beatitude means that when we have a focused dependence on God, then we are truly blessed.
(Read Steps to Happiness – Part 2)