The Pursuit of Happiness
Posted by Rev. Jeff Dixon, Senior Equipping Minister at Covenant Community Church on Jan 2, 2002, 13:00
Sonya Ely tells the story of her 5 year old granddaughter. She was playing with her toys and at one point she staged a wedding. First she played the role of the mother who assigned everyone specific duties. Then she became the bride with her groom the “teddy bear.” She picked him up and said to the “minister”, “OK, Now you can read us our rights!”
She then took on the role of the minister who performed the wedding by saying, “You have the right to remain silent, anything you say may be held against you. You have the right to have an attorney present, and you have the right to kiss the bride.”
From a child’s perspective we get an interesting view of life. In our culture we believe that each of us have the right to be happy. Of course we have forgotten where that idea came from. Let’s remember from history Thomas Jefferson’s words. . .we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights ,that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That last phrase has always intrigued me. . .notice it doesn’t say we have the right to be happy, but we have the right to pursue happiness.
How is it that we pursue happiness? Why has a joyful life and an attitude of happiness eluded so many? I have a theory, I think it is because most people think happiness is something that happens to them rather than something they deliberately and diligently pursue!
You have heard the story of the two men, both seriously ill occupying the same hospital room. One was allowed to sit up for one hour a day to help drain the fluid from his lungs. His bed was next to the room’s only window. The other man had to remain flat on his back.
The men talked for hours on end. They spoke of their wives, families, jobs, experiences, and where they had been on vacations. Every afternoon when the man by the window got to sit up, he would pass the time by describing what he could see outside the window. The man in the other bed began to live for that one hour when his world became broadened and enhanced by the activity and color of the outside world.
The window overlooked a park with a lake the man said. The ducks and swans played on the water as kids sailed their model boats. Lovers walked arm in arm though flowers of every color imaginable. Grand old trees graced the landscape with an exciting view of the city skyline. As the man by the window described the scene, the man in the other bed would close his eyes and try to imagine it.
One warm afternoon the man by the window described a parade passing by, although the other man couldn’t hear it , in his mind’s eye the man could see it all. Yet as he listened, another thought entered his head, “It isn’t fair that he gets to see the world outside the window and I don’t get to see anything.” As the days passed this idea became more and more consuming. HE should by the window. That thought began to control his life.
Late one night as he lay staring at the ceiling, the man by the window began to cough. He was choking on the fluid in his lungs. The other man watched in the dimly lit room as his roommate tried desperately to push the call button for help. He could have pushed his own button to bring help but he didn’t. In less than 5 minutes the coughing and choking stopped, along with the sound of breathing. Now there was only silence, deathly silence.
The following morning the day nurse arrived to check the patients. The man had died. As soon as it was appropriate the other man asked if he could move by the window. The nurse was happy to accommodate him. After he was comfortable, she left him alone.
Slowly, painfully, he propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look out the window. Finally he would get to see it himself. He strained to look out the window beside his bed. It faced a blank wall.
The pursuit of happiness is a matter of choice. You can decide to pursue happiness, but it doesn’t come as a gift delivered to you or something that is seen in a window. The Bible gives us an outline for living a lifestyle of happiness.
In the life of Paul we find a classic example of a man who was happy. Paul wanted to go to Rome to preach before Nero. Instead he ended up a prisoner. He was a Roman citizen with every right to appeal to Caesar.
Instead he was illegally arrested in Jerusalem, misrepresented before the court, and incorrectly identified as an Egyptian renegade. He got entangled in the red tape of political machinery and was finally shipped across the Mediterranean only to be shipwrecked before he arrived in Rome. He was forgotten for nearly 2 years. If you look up the word VICTIM in the dictionary, Paul’s picture would be there. But Paul is the author of one of the most joyful letters in the New Testament. What was it that Paul did that allowed him to live happily?
First we see that He is confident (even though he is a victim). (v.12-14) Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.
He doesn’t sound like a man who is having a pity party. On the contrary, he reminds me of the man by the window in a hospital room, looking at the blank wall but determined to see the unseen. He is chained to a guard, and says “this is good.” In the text, the word progress in the Greek means a word used to describe ancient woodcutters who went in front of an advancing army, that would clear the way through the woods and underbrush. Paul saw his circumstances clearing the way for the progress of the gospel. Could you do that; look at awful circumstances and think what a great opportunity this is?!
Next we see that He is joyful (in spite of others) (v.15-18) Some to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will, the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel, the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice, yes. . .I will rejoice
Even in the first century, the earliest and dynamic days of the church, not everyone who spoke for God was operating out of the purest motives. Some were trying to cause Paul distress. He is saying that no matter what, He is joyful, even though he is being attacked. You can as well.
Also notice, He remained hopeful (regardless of uncertainties)
(v.19-20) For I know that this shall turnout for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I shall not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ shall even now, as always be exalted in my body, whether by life or death.
These are the words of a man whose image was secure and whose reputation was not in need of being protected, massaged, or defended. His mind and focus was where it needed to be. Paul did not know what events were around the corner, yet with phrases we read in the verses. . .this shall turn out & my earnest expectation. . .reveals a quiet confidence. He refused to submerge himself in self-pity. He refused to take criticism and attacks personally. He remained strong, positive, and sure
Can we be the same way? I believe we can. We find the key in the next lesson from the passage. He was Secure (because Christ was in control) (v.21) For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain
You have heard this verse before. Since it is familiar, let’s reword it to understand its significance. . .
For me to live is MONEY. . .and to die is to leave it all behind
For me to live is FAME. . .and to die is to be quickly forgotten
For me to live is POWER & INFLUENCE. . .and to die is to lose both
For me to live is POSESSIONS . . .and to die is to depart with nothing
Do you see a pattern? The truth is that only Jesus will satisfy. He allows us to expand our horizons which means we don’t get trapped by our circumstances and allow them to rob us of joy
He allows us to remember what He thinks about us, giving us the freedom not to be trapped by what others think of us. He calms our fears regarding ourselves and our future and that gives us hope
The conclusion is simple, we have very right to pursue happiness, but it can only come when Jesus is a the heart of it. Our definition of happiness revolves around Him. . .So how about it are you going to pursue it?
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