“Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’[a] If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. (John 15:20 NIV)
Full confession moment: One of my pet peeves is the never-ending lists that tell the church, and most noticeably church pastors and leaders, what they are doing wrong and how to fix it. While I’m sure many of these are well-intentioned, they often come off a person looking for popularity and readers at the expense of the church. They often also ignore the fact the pastoring a church, or being a church leader is hard. Not every church can be turned around with your five, or ten suggestions. I also note many of these are written by people who are not clergy or have never been a church leader (I’m looking at you Rachel Held Evans). I’ve just never seen the percentage in bashing the Body of Christ.
So I begin this with a little trepidation today that I not fall into that mix. Don’t worry, I’m not going to drop my top 10 sure-fred church fixer ideas at you. It’s merely my attempt to explain my statement, I really don’t care for most TV preachers. In fact, I almost never watch them. From time to time I’ve been asked which ones do I watch and which one’s do I like. The answer, is honestly, none of them. And I do not mean that to be judgmental, although maybe it is a little bit. But truthfully, I don’t watch many of them simply because so many have the same message: “It’s great to be a Christian, God’s going to bless you with being a Christian. Being a Christian is the greatest thing on earth and if you give your life to Jesus, He is going to make you happy.”
All of which sounds wonderful. Except that it’s not really true.When I read the Gospel’s, I don’t see Jesus saying a whole lot about our being happy. In fact, he spends his time saying a lot of things like the passage of Scripture above. He tells me I have to pick up a cross, not a burden, but I have to die to a lot of things to follow Him. He reveals me my natural self centeredness and want of material stuff make it harder to follow Him. That whole camel through the eye of a needle saying by Jesus in Matthew 19:24 is a bummer.
I’ve come to the conclusion that Jesus doesn’t really care if I’m happy or not. I don’t think your happiness is His first priority either. At least if we abide by our culture’s definition of happiness equaling comfort.First of all we are terrible judges on what will make us happy in the first place. How many of our poor decisions began with “It seemed like a good idea at the time”. Secondly there is a lot of spiritual growth we will not experience if our only goal is to be happy. Just before the passage above, Jesus specifically says God prunes us back in order that we might bear fruit. Spiritual formation isn’t always easy and it might not always make us happy.
And we haven’t even begun to talk about the ministry or mission. Ministry and mission don’t always make us happy. It’s hard. It isn’t always rewarding. Sometimes the people we minister to aren’t very nice or appreciative. There are days when all of us would rather sip Iced Tea on our front porch than deal with the broken of the world.
That doesn’t mean that following Jesus isn’t joyful. There is a difference between Joy and happiness. Happiness tends to be self-centered and temporary. Joy comes from God and it sustains us. When we follow Jesus we will always have joy. But it doesn’t mean it will be easy or make us happy.
This is what it comes down to. We are to be Christians not because it makes us happy, but because it’s true. We don’t follow Jesus because He makes us happy. We follow Jesus because He is the only Way, The Only Truth and the Only Life. What Jesus is concerned with is our obedience, not our comfort. There are days that obedience is incredibly easy and does make us smile. And days when it won’t. We are called to be obedient nevertheless.
But here is the interesting thing. When we become less concerned with our comfort we find greater comfort than we ever imagined in God’s presence. When we stop worrying about our happiness we find a joy that goes beyond description. The less we worry about being “Happy” the more we smile and laugh as God’s infectious joy permeates our lives.
Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><