If Christians aren’t the happiest people in the world then our religion probably isn’t true. Jesus Christ said He came to earth so we might have life in abundance. I cannot conceive of any version of abundance that does not include happiness. Not that anyone is happy all of the time. Of course not. That would actually be its own kind of hell, I think. But that’s an entirely different discussion.
So I’ve been thinking and researching and writing on happiness for a while now. And I think I’ve come up with something significant. I call it The Jesus Secret (TJS). It’s a project that can be described like this: a Christian personal evaluation and refocus project that uses principles found in Scripture and psychotherapy to guide readers toward a happier life.
My hope is that TJS becomes a book with an entry for every day of the year. Then when the year is over I’d like to publish a new edition for the new year. And then I’d like to keep doing this—forever. Because the journey toward happiness is a never ending one. Because happiness is a choice that must be made every day. And I don’t know about you but I need help making it—every single day.
So I launched this project on Monday via an email sent through Constant Contact. (Those participating will get an email every day). I asked a few friends if they’d be willing to read some of this material and give me their feedback as to whether or not TJS is an effective tool for happiness. I thought we’d start the project with a handful of people. We got more than that. The first email went out to 93 people, which surprised me. I thought we’d have maybe 30 because, honestly, there is a stigma attached to the pursuit of happiness. A lot of Christians view happiness as an unworthy goal in life. “God wants us to be holy not happy,” is what I hear most often.
This doesn’t surprise me. In some ways my critics are right. Nowhere in the Bible does God promise us a happy life. Not once does Jesus say, “Come, follow me, and I’ll lead you to happiness!” What he says is actually much darker. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).
If that’s not the epitome of an unhappy sentence, I haven’t read one. Because while I can’t say for sure (I wasn’t there) I’m fairly certain no one in the ancient world picking up a Roman cross was happy about it. Crosses were heavy, and when you put yours down, that meant it was time to die. So if I’m going to talk about happiness within a Christian context, then I do have to deal with this whole business of following Jesus and denying ourselves. Which I will do on this blog in the coming days.
But here’s where we are today. This morning’s email went out to 111 people and new people are getting added constantly. So this tells me that while some folks are skeptical of the project there are a lot of people who need and want the project.
And that makes me happy.
So, I’ll stop here for now but in the coming days continue to elaborate on the ideas contained within TJS and why I believe they’re so needed.
Peace and Love.
P.S. You can subscribe to TJS here
I got on Amazon and searched for books with the word “greatness” in their title. “How to be Great”, “The Secret to Greatness”, that sort of thing. Do you know many titles I found?
26,000 books telling me how to be great.
Jesus boiled greatness down to one thing. No formulas, no gimmicks, just one simple truth. The great person is the one who serves.
You can listen to my sermon here.
This is a deeply personal sermon I gave in June about hunger and the pain of not having enough money. A lot of us have been there, but we don’t often talk about it. But we should. It helps knowing we’re not alone.
I hope you’ll be encouraged by the closing story to keep your hearts soft and your hands open.
A few words on saying thanks in the midst of blessing and heartache.
Steve Prefontaine was supposed to be the greatest distance runner in American history. Had he not died at the tender age of 24, he probably would have been.
Pre, as he was called, liked to run out front, way ahead of the pack. He made a show of racing because he thought of running as art. His coaches begged him to run with strategy, to hold back and let others do the work. But Pre was famous for saying that he ran, not to win, but to see who had the most guts.
Because of that, he sometimes lost races he could have won.
The world says we should temper our love, look out for ourselves first, and be suspicious of our enemies. But Jesus says to turn the other cheek, give to those who ask, and pray for our enemies.
It wasn’t logical for Pre to run like he did. He would have been more successful had he not. But Pre said that when he ran he wanted people to stop and say, “I’ve never seen anyone run like that.”
Sometimes people ask me why Jesus had to die on a cross. It’s a good question. And there are probably a handful of good answers.
But one of them has to be that he wanted us to see him there and say, “I’ve never seen anyone love like that.”
The first funeral I recall attending was for the dad of a classmate who lived up the street from me. Her dad died suddenly and it scared me to learn this was a possibility. This meant my dad could die. My mom could die.
I could die.
I didn’t want to go to the funeral but my dad said I needed to go. So I went. I’ll never forget watching my friend walk into the church, her arms draped around her mother’s waist. I had never seen anyone cry so hard. Her entire body shook.
Afterward, I asked my dad why I had to go. “Because,” he said, “that’s what friends do.”
That’s what friends do.
It is, isn’t it? Friends go down to the valley with us. Friends aren’t afraid of the shadows. Friends don’t shy away from pain. They move closer to it. They make sure we’re not alone.
As I grew older I watched my father make great effort to attend funerals, sometimes for people he seemed to barely knew. I didn’t understand.
“Adults get invited to a lot weddings,” he explained. ” Someday you will, too. When that happens, make sure to go. But don’t forget about the funerals. Everyone loves to celebrate, fewer choose to mourn.”
I eventually learned my father got this from Jesus, the God of suffering. The God who hung on a cross to make it desperately clear there was no suffering he wasn’t willing to enter on our behalf.
Jesus doesn’t just show up at our weddings. You’ll find him at the funerals, too.
He is a suffering God. And this is good news because we are a suffering people.
As many of us know…when it’s our turn to pass through the valley, we need more than the alleluias of Easter. We need the cries of Good Friday.
And for that, I’m terribly grateful.
If you’re suffering today, please know that you’re not alone. And never will be.
Irvin Yalom tells a story about a man named Dave who was having trouble being honest in group therapy. The other members of the group called him out on it. Dave defended himself, saying, “If I start being honest then I’ll have to talk about how much I hate growing older, how much I fear death.”
Yalom said, “You’re not the only one who has these fears, Dave. Maybe it would be helpful to find out everyone’s in the same boat.”
“No,” Dave said, “that’s the most terrible part about dying—you’re alone in the boat.”
Another group member spoke up. “Even so, even though you’re alone in the boat, it’s always comforting to see the lights of the other boats bobbing nearby.”
Yes, yes, it is. When the darkness descends, may we fall to our knees in prayer. But don’t forget to reach out your hand and grab someone. There are lights bobbing all around you.
A few words on how and why we forgive.