I love sitting in church listening to a sermon, and having God underline something. Last week, the pastor said, “If you are pursuing your own happiness, you will not find it.” God might as well have taken a great, big, neon highlighter for that point, because it was central. Relevent. Astoundingly true. So I wanted to write about it here, like taking notes in a class, because it’s something I don’t want to forget. I’m passing them along, in case you were absent that day. (Which reminds me, you still owe me two dollars for those chocolate almonds I gave you the other day from the band fundraiser stash. Okay. ‘Nuff highschool references.)

“If you are pursuing your own happiness, you will not find it.”

That’s so antithetical to our way of living, isn’t it? The American dream is all about achieving your goals, realizing your potential, achieving your utmost happiness. And we’re given a thousand paths to follow to that golden utopia. Academics- a college degree- traveling- knowing thyself- going green- being creative and different- getting away from it all- Jack Kerouac- writing the next great American novel- Martha Stewart- enlightenment- any way it comes. We are encouraged at every turn to self fullfillment. Whatever it might be, just find out what makes you happy and do it. We mistakenly believe happiness is found in having our needs met, emotionally, physically, and financially. So we navigate life according to the greatest accomplishment of those things. We seek our own ends. And, sadly, left to our own devices, we will find it.

But, happiness has never been over the next hill. It’s always been right here, but it is known by another name. “Obedience”. They are one and the same. We know it on a cellular level, though we rebel against this truth from our very marrow. It is our nature, to seek happiness outside of God’s will, because we are sinful. So it is not surprising that we come up with a thousand false paths to happiness, because we do not want to walk the True one. It is no small wonder that we have constructed an entire society based upon the principle of attaining happiness. We have believed the lie that our happiness is something we can give ourselves, when truly, it is a gift from God, a reward for obedience and righteous living.

Consider for a moment, if the American dream was the Biblical one. What if, everywhere you turn, our society was broadcasting the laws of God? What if the themes of our shows and songs and politics were “Serve others!” “Be humble!” “Forgive!”? What if our movies encouraged chastity and modesty and charity? What if our books and magazines and the internet painted beautiful pictures of married fidelity and joy, and scorned lust and perversity? It seems silly, doesn’t it? It wouldn’t fly. It wouldn’t sell. That’s not our idea of happiness, because it would mean giving up things. Sacrificing our selfish desires, putting to death our own wants. It would mean giving up and condemning our sins, and that would be an unpleasant experience, wouldn’t it? So there is a glaring, undeniable truth there for us as Christians. The American dream is irreconcilable to the Christian. It is the antithesis of our calling. It is a snare laid to mislead and delay and derrail. It might be colored with lovely ideas, but, it leads to destruction and frustration, and fruitless labor.

Ecclesiastes 2:26, “To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”

And if that isn’t clear enough, then Isaiah 1:19 is pretty blunt. “If you be willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land”

We cannot have happiness outside of obedience, no matter what we tell ourselves, or how tightly we embrace our self-deception. We can numb ourselves to the truth with all the trappings of the American dream, but there will always be something missing within. There will always be an unfilled place, because we are not made to fill it ourselves.

So, all that to say…

Instead of pursuing our own happiness, let’s try pursuing a life like Christ. It means serving others, sacrificing. Forgiving. Praying. Encouraging. It means doing the dirty jobs, and not complaining. It means loving the unlovable. It means helping and giving and caring and nurturing. It means not being vain or proud or vengeful or self-seeking or back-biting. It means having a genuine love for each other, the kind Christ has for us. It means we don’t spend our time seeking ways to make own selves happy, but in seeking ways to use the tools God gave us to bring happiness to others, and ultimately to glorify Him.

And you can take a neon highlighter to that one, if you want.

Now, we better get going before the tardy bell rings. My mom would KILL ME if I got detention this Saturday ’cause we’re going out of town.