Thursday, July 8, 2010


My Spirit Has Wings, Jamestown, NC

If you pursue happiness, it will elude you.
But if you focus on your family, the needs of others, your
work, meeting new people, and doing the very best you can,
happiness will find you.

One of those seemingly eternal truths that I think I’ve finally discovered after living and struggling to the official age of social security retirement benefits is that there is a profound difference between happiness and joy in life. On the surface, they seem to be compatible synonyms. In fact, the Webster Thesaurus lists joyous as the first synonym of happy. Perhaps I'm just parsing words. So, what’s the big deal? Well, for one thing, I think you could also consider these two words as complete antonyms. Our culture considers the path to happiness strewn with all imaginable sorts of worldly stuff which the Mad Men of Madison Avenue subliminally and not so subliminally barrage us with over the course of almost every waking hour on the planet. Best Buy’s latest motto says it all; “I want it all and I want it now”! We’re definitely an “instant gratification” society.

We wish each other a "Happy Birthday" and a "Happy New Year". We close our writings with "Have a nice day", appended by a happy face icon. We expect to be happy and when life doesn't follow the script of a typical TV sitcom, we get depressed because it's not supposed to be like that--or is it? Our American culture has more wealth and stuff than any society that ever walked the planet and we’re not very happy. Maybe we need more joy in our lives.

One of the main purposes of our spiritual journey in this life is to develop our character. God did not create us for perpetual happiness. Happiness is temporary, lasting 30 seconds to an hour or two, because it is based on external circumstances, like buying stuff. But joy is a lasting, prolonged state of being because it is based on God’s presence within us which leads to contentment and an understanding of the future he has for us. Jesus taught Martha that Mary had found the one true secret of life—to remain in His presence. Jesus teaches us in John 15: 9-11 that “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow”! The assurance of God’s presence within us is validated in Luke’s writing in Acts 13:52, “And the believers were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”

We oftentimes reach a crossroads in life where our material demands and our spiritual growth are intersecting! We can maintain our momentum as long as we continue to align our time, talents and treasures (our will) with our best view of God’s will. A child of God has the assurance of eternal life and the faith to trust God to direct their lives to achieve that assurance. As Paul writes in Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.” Our intention should be to seek the fulfillment of God’s purposes in all we do, not merely what we do with our resources. Jesus taught that we should be mindful of where we find ourselves spending our time. That reveals where our heart resides. And that reveals what gods we worship in life.

As the Spirit continues to work in our lives, we find more joy in doing more selfless things than we ever did in doing things for ourselves. As Jesus said, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). Life is a gift, and everything belongs to God. God owns it all. “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it (Psalm 24:1).” We do not inherit the earth from our parents. Rather, we borrow it from our grandchildren and our creator. God freely blesses us and expects us to take care of our earthly home, our needs and our children. He wants us to enjoy life, but not only focus on ourselves. And when we become vessels dispensing God’s grace to help others by returning a portion of our blessings, we are blessed with joy.

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