Happy, Happy, Happy: Happy & Humble
Ask 100 people what they want out of life, and seventy-five of the 100 will say, “I just want to be happy.¨ Ask that same 100 people what it means to be happy, and ninety will say something about people, places or things. The answers would range from living in the right house to having the right job, from being loved and appreciated to feeling financially secure. Others might have to do with having the right spouse, or healthy children. We might even hear a few answers that have to do with fame and fortune, or achieving our goals in life.
Regardless of the answers we get, we are soon confronted with the reality that happiness seems so transitory, so fleeting, so circumstantial. We discover that happiness too often depends on the conditions or the people around us. Yet, there is always that moment of truth when we realize that all we have accumulated and attained, all we have accomplished and achieved has not made us happy. We find ourselves asking the question “Why am I not happy?¨
We all long to find the secret of true happiness…a happiness that withstands the ups and downs of life, the storms and trials that inevitably come our way. We want happiness that lasts, which no discouragement, no frustration, no grief, no hurricane can destroy. The more we search, the more we discover that happiness is not an exterior characteristic. Happiness is not dependent upon those circumstances of life that change so frequently. We soon discover that happiness is an inside job. Happiness begins inside us, in our hearts, and it is that kind of happiness that Jesus came to give us.
Phil Robertson, patriarch of the famed Robertson clan from Duck Dynasty, coined the phrase “Happy, happy, happy” as a description of the life he lives. The phrase even became the title of his best-selling autobiography that tells the story of his life from “romping, stomping and ripping,” to a life filled by faith, family and ducks. Phil will tell you the secret to his happiness comes from his deep-seated faith, and from his relationship with Jesus Christ.
To discover the keys to happiness that begin on the inside, we have to return to the teachings of Jesus. I find it incredibly interesting that when Jesus began his earthly ministry, when he began to teach, his first teaching is about happiness. We find those earliest teachings in Matthew 5. We know these early teachings as the Beatitudes, the beginning of Jesus’ long monologue on what his kingdom looks like. And his is a kingdom that looks much different from the one his first century hearers would recognize. It is much different from the one in which we live, too. Listen to the context Matthew sets for us, and then listen for the first key to happiness Jesus reveals in the Beatitudes. Listen again to Matthew 5:1-3:
One day as he saw the crowds gathering, Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around him, 2 and he began to teach them.
3 “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,[a]
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
You may more remember verse 3 as “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Jesus saw the multitude, and seeing them, he saw their suffering, their anxiety, their worry and their fear. He looked across a sea of faces and saw into their hearts. He saw their deepest desire…their desire for happiness. So Jesus sat down. Now understand that anytime a rabbi sat in ancient times it was, in essence, an exclamation point. He was announcing to his students that what he was about to say was very important.
Jesus said, “Blessed are…” What does it mean to be blessed? Well, biblical scholar William Barclay translates that phrase “O the bliss of the man.¨ Blessedness and bliss. How do we get happy from that? Follow me for a moment.
We must trace the Greek word that is translated into English to find its meaning. The Greek word is “Makarios,¨ which is a Greek adjective that means “happy.¨ When we think “happy,¨ we most often think of joy or pleasure. Webster’s actually defines happiness as “lucky, fortunate, having, showing or causing great pleasure or joy.¨ But Webster’s definition and our feeble minds miss the meaning contained in this simple Greek word.
Markarios was used in ancient Greek literature to describe the gods. It meant sufficiency, satisfaction, security. It is interesting that the Greeks called the island of Cyprus the “Happy Isle.¨ It was this Greek word, Makarios, that they used for happy. They referred to Cyprus as the Happy Isle because it was completely self-contained. A person would never have to leave the coastline of this beautiful island for anything. It was a “happy¨ place. The blessedness Jesus speaks of in these words is that blessedness which is completely untouchable and unassailable. The beatitudes speak of that joy, that contentment, that peace that shines through our circumstances, good or bad.
It’s more than a little shocking though, when we discover that Jesus says the first secret to this “happiness¨ is to be poor in spirit? We don’t like the word poor. The words poor and happy don’t belong in the same sentence. Fat and happy? Now there are two words that go together, but poor and happy, that’s a paradox! What on earth could Jesus mean?
There are two Greek words that were used for poor. One word carried the meaning that a man was poor, but not destitute. It meant he had to work for his living. He lived paycheck to paycheck (sound familiar?), never having much, never saving much, but always just getting by. Then there was the Greek word that described abject poverty. This word described the person who had absolutely nothing and was helpless to do anything about it. This is the word Matthew has on the lips of Jesus, but Jesus didn’t say that the happy person was the person who had nothing at all. Jesus said the happy person was the person who was poor in spirit.
What does it mean to be poor in spirit? As Jesus spoke, it meant that a happy person was the person who realized his/her own helplessness, and has put his/her trust in God alone. We are all helpless before God, no matter our place in life. We might compare our situation to two men who owed $1,000,000. One man has $1,000 and the other man has $10,000, but neither has enough to pay the debt. Being poor in spirit is knowing we owe God a debt we cannot pay. When we realize our poverty of spirit we are able to turn loose of things (those things we thought would bring happiness), and we are able to grab hold of God. We realize that things mean nothing and that God means everything.
Don’t misunderstand me here. Jesus is not saying that abject poverty is a good thing. On the contrary, Jesus would never have called blessed people living in slums with not enough food or clothes, and health rotting away in squalor. As a matter of fact, those are exactly the conditions he calls us in the gospel to address and correct.
If I could reduce the idea of poverty in spirit to one word that word would be humility. What Jesus meant was that happiness is rooted in humility in a person’s deep, inner self; in his/her spirit. Humility is not earthly poverty. Humility is not self-humiliation. It is not saying, “Oh, I’m just a nobody. ¨ Humility is simply seeing our need before God. Jesus is talking about that invisible, immortal part of us created to respond to and be infused by the Spirit of God. Humility opens our hearts and lives to the miracle working grace of God in Jesus Christ. Humility allows us to cry to God for help.
I mentioned last week a parable Jesus told in Luke 18 about an encounter between a Pharisee and a publican. You remember the Pharisees, don’t you? The self-righteous people…the religious snobs of the day, if you will. And publicans…well let’s just say they were the despised traitor class who sold out to the Romans in the first century. As Jesus told the story, each of these men went up to the Temple to pray. The Pharisee prayed this way: “I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else, especially like that tax collector over there! For I never cheat, I don’t sin, I don’t commit adultery, I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.¨ But then the publican prayed this way, refusing to even look up to heaven, he beat his chest and said, “O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.¨ Jesus said it was the publican who left justified that day. Jesus went on to say, “For the proud will be humbled, but the humble will be honored.¨
What was the Pharisees problem? The same thing that keeps you and me from enjoying the happiness God desires for us…spiritual pride. The Pharisee was sufficient unto himself. He was adequate. Spiritual pride says I can pull myself together, and once I pull myself together I can present myself to God. Spiritual pride says I have to be right before I can go to God.
God doesn’t seek entry into our lives through our success. It’s quite the contrary. See, it’s easy to give God the praise and credit for all the gifts, graces and talents I have been given. It is easy to acknowledge all we have accomplished as God’s guiding presence upon us. What is more difficult is giving to God all the aching problems and circumstances, and thinking if I prayed more, or were more spiritual I wouldn’t have these feelings of resentment, or heartache, or discontentment. No, we need God in the failures of life, the tragedies of life much more than we need God in the successes. Humility is confessing that fact. And Jesus says, “Happy you are when you admit how much you need me.¨ Lloyd Ogilvie, who was one-time chaplain of the U. S. Senate, puts it this way, “Happiness is the freedom to holler ‘help’. ¨
Listen to the words of this poem entitled, “The View.¨ I don’t know the author, but the words are striking:
Jesus went upon the mount that day
To begin his ministry.
He gazed across the fertile ground,
And what did he see?
He looked upon the countless faces;
He saw the pain of un-numbered homes,
And the doubts of a thousand places.
His view was not limited
To what he saw that day.
He looked across eternity
And he saw you me,
And oh, so many others
All along the way.
God’s grace he shared with words that day,
“Happiness can be found
no other way.¨
The path is found in humility
When you know your own poverty.
Not poor as the world defines
But poor before God, he chimed.
When in life you’ve found this key
Jesus said you’ve found eternity.
So when you think your life a mess,
I do declare
Jesus came to bring you happiness.
A spirit of humility. Jesus says that’s what makes us “Happy, happy, happy!”