Summary: A comparison of popular self help ways to find joy with the biblical ways.
I have two different books with me today.
Anyone know what this one is?
The other one is a generic self-help book. We’ll call it, “The Generic Guide On How To Be Happy.”
Now how many of you want to be happy?
How many want to be miserable, depressed, obnoxious, annoying people?
How many of you have not yet decided which type of person you want to be?
OK, we all want to be happy. The problem is that life does not always work out in predictable ways and we find ourselves facing things that make it difficult for us to be happy.
Later in the service we will sing a familiar hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul.”
That is a hard song to sing, because things are not always well with our souls.
If it is well with my job, then it is well with my soul and I can be happy.
If my teenagers are behaving and my wife is happy, then it is well with my soul.
If my doctor says I’m healthy, then it is well with my soul and I can be happy.
But that is not the way life is.
It is not always well with my job.
And when my teenage son is in jail,
And my doctor tells me I have cancer …
How can it be well with my soul?
How could I possibly be happy?
Our New Testament lesson says, “rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice.”
That is so easy to do when things are going well in your life.
When things aren’t going well, then joy does not come easily.
How can people rejoice when the world is falling apart? When the boss says, “You’re fired.” While undergoing chemo-therapy?
If you look in the “The Generic Guide On How To Be Happy” you will find the suggestion that we just need to decide to be happy, so let’s be happy.
In the old Broadway play, “Bye, Bye Birdie,” there is a song that suggests,
Gray skies are gonna clear up,
Put on a happy face!
Brush off the clouds and cheer up,
Put on a happy face!
We cannot find joy that lasts by ignoring reality and simply putting on a happy face.
But we try.
In May, 1996, I had just moved to Miami and was still living in a temporary apartment that was full of unopened boxes when I received a call from a Presbyterian minister in Tennessee. He wanted me to make a pastoral visit to some of his parishioners who were in a hotel in Miami.
The day before, Value Jet flight 592 had taken off from Miami on its way to Atlanta. Moments after takeoff the jet crashed.
The two or three witnesses who had been fishing in the Everglades at the time said the plane didn’t just crash, it nose dived head on into the Everglades. They knew exactly where the plane had gone down and when rescue helicopters arrived, they found nothing but fuel floating on top of the water. The plane going hundreds of miles per hour had pretty much disentigrated when it hit the concrete like layer of coral rock under the shallow waters of the Everglades. There were no survivors, and not to be overly graphic, but there were no real bodies left to recover.
One of the families of a victim was Presbyterian and their pastor called on me to visit the family, who had, like all the other families, gathered in a hotel in Miami.
Many of these family members were just numb and showed no emotion. Some looked exhausted. Some were grieving with great pain. The mother in this family was absolutely radiant with joy.
“He’s alive,” she told me. “I know it. He’s somewhere under water and he is trapped in a pocket of air. My faith in God assures me of this.”
But that is not faith. That’s gullibility.
Every few hours, the family members gathered in a conference room to hear reports about the progress of the recovery and investigation. They were all grieving deeply. Some were so angry that they seemed on the verge of violent outrage.
Except this woman. She was radiant with joy.
At least until she was told that a small fragment of her son had been recovered and identified, I don’t think anyone suffered more deeply than she did.
Joy that is based on denial and pretense is empty.
If you want to rejoice always, as Paul commended, this is not the way to do it.
Against that myth from the “The Generic Guide On How To Be Happy.” is what the Bible says in our New Testament lesson. Not long after telling us to “rejoice always,” Paul said, “I have learned to be content in all situations.”