Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Good Life

That’s our grail isn’t it?  The vast majority of people are looking for something we call “the good life” – also known as living abundantly.  But do any of us know what either of those phrases really means?  Would we be able to tell if we were living abundantly?  Or is the good life something you only find in memories

I tried to find a good definition for abundant life and nothing I found really helped.  I did find out that to most folks it’s code for monetary wealth.  For the new agey people, it means becoming one with yourself and the universe.  And neither of those really fit with the text, The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10 ESV)
This is what I got from the dictionary:  
"present in great quantity; more than adequate; oversufficient: an abundant supply of water; well supplied; abounding: a river abundant in salmon; richly supplied: an abundant land; overflowing” (abundant. (n.d.). Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved June 01, 2007, from website:

Very helpful, but still not exactly what I was looking for.  I did find out that the Greek word that John used there can be talking about quality as well as quantity, like living a superior life.  And then I found some really interesting and enlightening information.  First off, the word happy is from the same root word (I know, my English major is showing, sorry) as haphazard and happenstance, and it was the word for luck   So, does that mean that the abundant life depends on luck?  Oh, I hope not! 

My search continued.  Then I found a sermon from a preacher in Seattle, in which the preacher talks about the Sermon on the Mount.  He mentions that some Bible translations use the word ‘happy’ instead of the word ‘blessed’.  Which works ok for “Happy are the peacemakers”, but not so well for “Happy are the sad”. (?)  This preacher’s comment is that happy isn’t the right word in this case, and the translators should have used the word ‘joy’.

So, what’s the difference between happiness and joy then?  Don’t they mean the same thing?  Well, according to a study that I found, “almost but not quite.”  First of all, I was shocked that somebody actually spent time (and money) studying this and second, how many people have spent time (and money) to study what they call “near-synonyms” or “plesionyms”.  Apparently many, many people want to make sure that we are using exactly the right word in every situation.  In fact, there are books out there that actually compare and contrast the minute differences between synonyms so that you and I can choose the exact word we want to use.  I can see why that would be important.  Even Mark Twain had something to say about this subject:  "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug."

Anyway, in this study that I read (an actual scientific study), they were trying to find out how people decided when to use either the word ‘happiness’ or the word ‘joy’ – and, of course could they do anything to influence those choices.  Well, I struggled through all the technical stuff like ratios, testing situations, statistics, etc., but then I read something truly enlightening.  When happiness and joy are used in metaphors, “happiness has a tendency to be described as a thing to be searched for and acquired, while joy tends to be talked about as though it were a liquid that fills the body.”

QUICK!  Read that again.  Wow. 

You’ve seen those people, haven’t you?  They’re trying to find happiness all the time—trying everything they can think of to make them happy.  And usually they are happy, for about ten minutes…if that long.  Then they start looking for their next happiness fix.  Check this out: 
Happiness must be sought in the right way and from the right source. Some think they may surely find happiness in a course of indulgence in sinful pleasures or in deceptive worldly attractions. And some sacrifice physical and moral obligations, thinking to find happiness, and they lose both soul and body. Others will seek their happiness in the indulgence of an unnatural appetite, and consider the indulgence of taste more desirable than health and life. Many suffer themselves to be enchained by sensual passions, and will sacrifice physical strength, intellect, and moral powers to the gratification of lust. They will bring themselves to untimely graves, and in the judgment will be charged with self-murder.” {My Life Today 162.2}
In the same book, Ellen White says this:  They are ever trying to find out of Christ that enjoyment which is found alone in Him…There is no true joy except Christ’s joy.” p158

There it is.  Joy is not something we have to look for; we know exactly where to find it.  We just need to allow ourselves to be filled with it.  And the great thing is that joy isn’t based on luck or happenstance.  It isn’t even based on our mood.  Remember the Beatitudes?  Can you be happy when you are “poor in spirit, mourning or sad, or when you’ve been attacked, or when men give you a bad name, are cruel to you, and say evil things about you?  Probably not.  But you can be joyful in all those situations.

Why?  Well according to a sermon called, “The Ultimate Lifestyle: Living Joyfully”, Darryl Dash out of Ontario says, “Joy is not the absence of problems; joy is the attitude that you carry regardless of your problems…Joy is internal.  Happiness is external.”  And to drive home his point, Darryl points to Paul.  If anybody in the Bible had a right to be unhappy, Paul did.  He was wrongly jailed and waiting for a trial that might just lead to a death sentence.  The person who wanted him tried was Nero—definitely not a nice guy.  On the way to jail, he had been shipwrecked, stranded on a desert island (not Gilligan’s), and been bitten by a poisonous snake.  And that was just on the way!  Once he got there, he was thrown in a cell, chained up 24/7, with a new guard every four hours around the clock; he was never by himself.  Do you think the jail food was any good?

The world would really have excused Paul if he had let himself give in to whatever emotions presented themselves: anger, bitterness, hopelessness and probably a whole bunch more.  But Paul didn’t give into those feelings.  He chose something better.  In his letter to the Philippians he says,
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.” (Php 1:12-13 ESV)
Excuse me?  When I imagine myself in that situation, those are not, repeat NOT, the words I imagine myself saying!  But Paul had made a choice long before he ended up in that jail, and he kept making that choice every single day: to put his life in God’s hands no matter what happened.  Can you believe it? 
“Though he was a prisoner, Paul was not discouraged. Instead, a note of triumph rings through the letters that he wrote from Rome to the churches. ‘Rejoice in the Lord alway,’ he wrote to the Philippians, ‘and again I say, Rejoice. . . . Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.‘My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. . . . The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.’" {AA 484.3}
Paul, instead of focusing on himself and his happiness and comfort, what people thought of him, how he looked or any of those things, he only cared about one thing.  He cared that the love of Christ was being preached everywhere and to everybody.  For Paul, like for so many others, it wasn’t about his comfort or happiness or even about his life; it was about Jesus.  
But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.”  (Acts 20:24 KJVR)
Paul knew how to get joy.  Not by searching everywhere, but by looking to God and being abundantly filled.  He didn’t have any room for anything else but his joy and his mission for Jesus.
Even Jesus, Himself, focused on one thing only. 
“’Jesus . . . for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.’ Heb. 12:2, R.S.V.
 "’”These things have I spoken unto you," said Christ, "that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full."’ John 15:11.
“Ever before Him, Christ saw the result of His mission. His earthly life, so full of toil and self-sacrifice, was cheered by the thought that He would not have all this travail for nought. By giving His life for the life of men, He would restore in humanity the image of God. He would lift us up from the dust, reshape the character after the pattern of His own character, and make it beautiful with His own glory.“Christ saw of the travail of His soul and was satisfied. He viewed the expanse of eternity and saw the happiness of those who through His humiliation should receive pardon and everlasting life. He was wounded for their transgressions, bruised for their iniquities. The chastisement of their peace was upon Him, and with His stripes they were healed. He heard the shout of the redeemed. He heard the ransomed ones singing the song of Moses and the Lamb. Although the baptism of blood must first be received, although the sins of the world were to weigh upon His innocent soul, although the shadow of an unspeakable woe was upon Him; yet for the joy that was set before Him He chose to endure the cross and despised the shame.“This joy all His followers are to share. However great and glorious hereafter, our reward is not all to be reserved for the time of final deliverance. Even here we are by faith to enter into the Saviour's joy.” {Maranatha 316

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