the false pursuit of happiness

The False Pursuit of Happiness

One of the founding principles of our country is that all men and women have the inalienable right to “the pursuit of happiness”.  Perhaps this is a good principle to include in our founding documents as a country, but it is not a good principle to live by.

Let me explain.

Happiness is an elusive phantom that disappears the minute it is gazed upon.  When you pursue it, it becomes impossible to grasp.  Tim Keller sums it up best when he says,

“Happiness can never be found directly…. happiness is always and only a by-product of seeking something else more than happiness…. The person who is happy is always the one who has stopped trying so hard to be happy…”

Happiness is a by-product.  True happiness comes when we lay our lives down for another in an act of worship to God.  God designed us to give, not to take.  It’s how our souls function best.  No one ever found joy or happiness serving himself.

The Drudgery of Me

As a pastor of a church here in Greensboro, NC, I find this dynamic play out quite often.  People approach the Church with a taking posture.  They want to know what it can do for them.  They want to be fed, not to feed.  They want to receive, not give.  They want to be blessed, not to bless.  They want to be encouraged, not to be encouraging.  They want to be served, not to serve.

This is exemplified in comments that I hear often like, “I’m just not getting anything out of church” or “I don’t feel led to do that ministry” or the old American standby “I don’t have time”.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying this from some bitter, tired, pastor mentality that believes “all sheep are lazy”.  I have seen time and time again that the work God wants done will get done, no matter how many people you have ready to serve.  I’m saying this from a pastoral heart of concern because those people that approach the Church this way are never happy.  They are never growing in maturity in Christ.  They never have deep, meaningful relationships.  They are never vitally connected to the Body of Christ.

Christian life in modern America can be drudgery, plain and simple. It often amounts to standing around in lobbies with name cards and saccharine smiles on our faces as we greet more potential faces into the fold. It’s distilling the radical Christian life down to sanitized worship experiences, discipleship classes, and handing out church-branded water bottles in Chic-filet parking lots while the youth group washes cars.

And it’s a dirty crime.

The reason?  Among others, it’s this simple truth:  It’s not about you.  But ironically, you will be the happiest when you don’t make it about you.

Here’s the thing.  The Church is not designed to serve you.  And you are not designed to be served.  The Church is designed to be served.  And you are designed to serve.  If you try to connect to the Body of Christ with a “taking” mentality you will always come up short.  You will always be frustrated.  And if you live your life in a way that only makes room for you being served, you will never be happy.  Not ever.

The Church is People

This only works when we realize that the Church is people, not an organization.  Maybe a big contributing factor in why we tend to be takers and not givers is that we forget what the Church is.  I’m not calling you to come serve a cold, impersonal, corporate machine.  There’s no joy in being another cog in a wheel.  I’m calling you to come lay your life down for other people.  The Church doesn’t need more Oompa Loompas to keep the factory going.  We need people loving people.

How you serve depends entirely on the needs around you and the gifts God gave you.  But “the how” takes care of itself, in my experience.  The simple willingness to live outside yourself, and prefer others over yourself is the only requirement.

Who is your neighbor?  Go serve them.

Stop pursuing happiness and pursue someone else’s happiness.  Stop trying to fulfill your dreams and help someone else fulfill theirs.  Put other people before yourself.  Live as if other people are more important than you.  Look around, and find the real needs in people’s lives and use your gifts to meet them.  And you know what will happen?  Happiness will happen.  Joy will happen.

2 replies
  1. Marite Clifford
    Marite Clifford says:

    TRUTH. “Live AS IF other people are more important that you.” HA. “as if…” You don’t even have to believe it at first, just do it “as if” and you’ll see that IS where the joy is found. Go serve the person next to you…you know, your neighbor.


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