There are two songs guaranteed to make my heart bounce happily: Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and just about anyone’s version of “Winter Wonderland”. So imagine my grins when I put on my new Christmas album and heard this:
The months of winter, though, can be more a wasteland than a wonderland for some people. Yet I suspect happiness can be found in both the winter drear as well as the winter cheer.
It depends on what you mean by happiness.
What does the word “happy” bring to mind for you? Most people seem to equate happiness with feeling good coupled with a big dose of laughter and smiles. But this is a limited understanding of “happiness”, and is a fairly modern take on the word.
“Happy originally carried the meanings of “favorable, propitious; successful, prosperous … appropriate, fitting, opportune, pertinent” according to Dictionary.com, with the modern meaning of “happy”being almost synonymous with “glad” not occurring until the end of the 14th Century. (It’s not that no one had a word for what we call happiness before that of course, but the English word “happy” did not take on the modern meaning until then.)
The older senses held on for a few more centuries, such as in the United States’ Declaration of Independence with its assertion that everyone is entitled to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” That statement is not a guarantee that everyone has a right to feel happy about life and go around with a smile on their faces. Rather, it is an assertion that everyone has a right to pursue success, prosperity and a life that is most fitting and appropriate.
But what does such happiness look like, the type of happiness that is found in a prosperous and fitting life?
To Be Happy In Jesus
When John H. Sammis wrote the hymn Trust and Obey, he included this short chorus between each verse:
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
I think he got it wrong.
Our happiness – in the older sense of the word – is not due to our obedience to Jesus but due to Jesus himself: the life he lived for us, his sacrifice, the way he fulfilled all requirements of fellowship with God on our behalf, and the fact that he was fully obedient to the Father while we were still dead in or ability to do anything at all to help ourselves let alone obey God.
We experience this happiness no matter how bleak the circumstances are around us. As David said:
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me. (Psalm 23:4.)
And as Paul explained, this happiness comes to God’s people under the New Covenant too:
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12-13.)
The people who wrote the books of the Bible knew how hard life could be; they suffered imprisonment and depression, deaths of loved ones, and being exiled from their homes. Still their focus was not on escaping a life of hardship, but on their life in the Lord.
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4.)
Your new life is securely hidden in God because Jesus himself is your life. Set your minds on things above; after all, that’s where your life is – in Jesus who sits at the right hand of your heavenly Father. And he’s coming back for us.
That makes me happy.