Sin must not be your master… Romans 6:14a
Who would ever be tempted to give up freedom and become a slave? Temptation promises short cuts to happiness, but when we take them, we often end up anything but happy in the long run. As C.S. Lewis put it in the Screwtape Letters, the devil’s formula is “an ever-increasing demand for an ever-diminishing pleasure.” What brought an initial thrill becomes a necessity that drives people to do things they once wouldn’t have considered, all to satisfy an itch that can never be scratched.
Avoiding sin isn’t something we do to become perfect goody-two-shoes; it’s enlightened self-interest. Someone said that God gave us free will and the best thing we can do with it is give it back to him. The truth is, we never really get to call the shots. We’re either surrendering to God’s plan for us, or we find ourselves in bondage to sin.
I remember when I was first married, just out of college, working full time, I thought, “No watchful parents, no children to take care of yet, no responsibilities. I can do whatever I want. Now, I’ll be happy.” I wasn’t. The truth is, I didn’t know what to do with all my supposed freedom. I squandered time and energy. It took several painful years to admit that having my way hadn’t brought me closer to happiness. Then I fell in with a group people who seemed content to live one day at a time, doing—however imperfectly—what they thought God wanted them to do. Whenever I tried following their example, I found that God’s plans for my life were so much better than my own. If you haven’t already, you’re welcome to try it and see for yourself.
Prayer: Lord, please rescue me from slavery to self-will.
Reflection for sharing: When has getting your own way not brought you the happiness you thought it would? When has giving up what you thought you wanted brought satisfaction?
Happy are the pure in heart; they will see God! Matthew 5: 8
What does it mean to be pure in heart? If it means being perfect and sinless, we’re out of luck. The bible says that all have sinned. That’s why we need a savior.
Actually, the first definition for “pure” listed in the Oxford American Dictionary is “not mixed with any other substance.” If we think of our hearts as being mixed with other interests, if our hearts are busy longing for or pursuing other interests instead of God, it’s easy to see why we might miss seeing Him. Our hearts can be pretty short-sighted sometimes.
We want to be happy. When we come up with our own ideas or buy into what the media tells us will make us happy, our goals can let us down. Disillusionment might be a good thing. If we feel empty, that’s when God can fill us. We have an opportunity to turn our attention from the substances that let us down and look for God. As Jesus said, those who seek will find.
Prayer: Lord, take the clutter from my heart.
Reflection for sharing: Where are you looking for happiness today?
Be joyful always, pray at all times, be thankful in all circumstances. This is what God wants from you in your life in union with Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5: 18
“If we look for the joy in the day, we will find it.” That’s what a friend of mine says, in spite of the fact that she suffers from a chronic illness, is wheel-chair bound, and lost a loved one within the past year. My friend is not Pollyanna. She’s well aware of the pain in life, but she knows that pain is not the whole story. Her ability to look for and find joy ties in with her ability to be thankful in all circumstances. She has a knack for appreciating things like her husband’s love and level-headedness, having friends who listen as she shares life’s ups and downs, and above all, her relationship with God and her freedom to communicate with God honestly at all times, no matter what feelings she may be going through at any given moment.
This is what God wants for her and for us. Being joyful and thankful, praying at all times, is not a mandate that God wants for His own gratification. I think he wants it for us because it is in our best interest. Gratitude brings joy and appreciation of life—even during painful times—and it can be cultivated. When we practice we improve. So whether we count our blessings instead of sheep at bedtime, or make a list in black and white of every good thing we can think of, we can take a concrete action. Taking that action—no matter what our attitude is to begin with—can leave us feeling more aware of the abundance of good in our lives. When we focus on what is good, it may not change reality, but it will change our attitude. Then our joy can’t be taken away from us by a change in circumstance.
And what is giving thanks but a prayer? Connecting with God in the good times enhances our joy. Turning to him in the bad times, is a source of strength and comfort. Finding ways to connect with Him in the ho-hum, in between times can give us a sense of purpose and direction.
Prayer: Lord, direct my thinking today, no matter what this day holds.
Reflection for sharing: Make a written list of every thing you can think of to be grateful for today. Once you are finished, compare your attitude with how you felt before the exercise.
Give thanks to the Lord, because he is good; his love is eternal. Psalm 106:1
The Giver is good and his love is eternal: without end, ceaseless—that includes right now. Whether times are easy or hard, we can find things to give thanks for in the here and now. In fact, hard times can spur us to look for the good even more. When life runs smoothly, it’s easy to take things for granted.
I remember the day I was driving to work and my car broke down right in front of a gas station! I just stepped out of my car and professionals took care of the problem. In a matter of minutes I was back on my way to work, tickled pink that the problem had such an easy solution. Then I started thinking about all the other days I drove to work with no problem at all. I didn’t feel lucky on those days. Why was I more grateful on the day I had car trouble? Because when things go well, I don’t notice how well they are going.
Giving thanks no matter what is going on is a blessing. If times are good, it enhances our appreciation of our lives. If times are hard, it gives us hope. It doesn’t mean we pretend there is no problem or that there’s no pain. That’s denial. But if God’s goodness and love is eternal, it is with us even when we can’t see it…nevertheless, we can find evidence of it if we look.
Complaining can become a habit. Being grateful is also a habit we can cultivate. What we practice, we get better at. Writing down our blessings so that we have concrete documentation of God’s goodness can lead to growing contentment. Why not give it a try? What better time to try it than on this holiday?
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for your loving presence in my life today.
Reflection for sharing? Where do you see God’s goodness in your life today?
Seek your happiness in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desire. Psalm 37:4
God loves us. If we’re looking for happiness in Him, it’s a sure thing that He’ll give us our heart’s desire. The trouble is that sometimes He’s not our heart’s desire. Our hearts want all kinds of things: love, security, comfort…and these are good things. Unfortunately, our heads come up with all kinds of ideas on how to get those things.
Take love, for example. We all want and need to love and be loved, but it is easy to get caught up in chasing a fantasy. Anybody who’s been married more than a few weeks knows that sooner or later, the honeymoon ends. Ordinary life settles in. Conflicts happen. If we seek our happiness solely in each other, we’re bound to be let down from time to time.
We may think that physical health guarantees happiness. When I was a healthy young adult, I took it for granted. I relied on my ability to work hard and take care of myself, but it didn’t make me happy, I was busy yearning for other things…until back injuries and a diagnosis of MS made me regret that I didn’t appreciate my healthier days more. The truth is, if my physical problems were gone tomorrow, I wonder how long it would make me happy and how soon I’d be taking it for granted again.
Money, career, social status…all the things we think will guarantee our security, can be gone in an instant. Then what?
However, the everlasting God will never disappear. Developing a relationship with the One from whom all good things come leads to a deeper sense of joy: the joy of an understanding friend when times are hard, the security of a faith that is not dependent on circumstances, the unconditional love of God.
Prayer: Lord, increase my heart’s desire for you.
Reflection for sharing: Where am I searching for happiness? Where can my happiness be found?
We are honored and disgraced; we are insulted and praised. We are treated as liars, yet we speak the truth; 2 Corinthians 6: 8
It’s easy to hand over our self-esteem to the opinions of others. What would “they” think? What would “they” say? If we give “their” comments too much power, we can totter back and forth between getting swelled heads to thinking we’re not good enough. Public opinion—even if the public is only the people in our little corner of the world—runs hot and cold.
Max Lucado wrote a wonderful children’s story about a puppet town. The puppets spent their days putting gold stars or gray stickers on each other, sometimes for no other reason than the amount of stars/stickers already accumulated. As you can imagine, the ones with lots of stars were eager to get more; the ones with gray stickers withdrew and felt sad. But one girl puppet was at peace. When others tried to put stars or stickers on her, they didn’t stick! Her secret was to spend a lot of time with the puppet maker, who loved her just the way she was.
I love thinking about that girl puppet. She makes me want to spend more time with my Maker.
Prayer: Lord, may I bask in your unconditional love.
Reflection for sharing: What disturbs your peace of mind most: getting gold stars or gray stickers? What would it be like to let go of both? What would it be like to stop giving stars and stickers to others?
I find my happiness in obeying your commands. Psalm 119:56
If people found happiness in obeying God’s commands, wouldn’t everybody be doing it all the time? Who doesn’t want to be happy? What does the Psalmist know that the rest of us don’t?
While I can’t speak for the Psalmist, I’m reminded of the difference between short-term pay-offs and long-term rewards. Indulging in excess food or drink, for example, might provide instant gratification but leave us with “unhappy” after-effects: unwanted weight gain, hang-overs, or worse. A spending spree might be fun while it lasts, but the bills come due. Getting an education takes sacrificing the short-term comforts for long-term benefits.
It is a hallmark of maturity to be able to delay gratification for a long-range, worthwhile outcome. “Virtue is its own reward.” “Virtue is its own punishment.” I’ve heard it said both ways. I guess it’s all a question of perspective. God didn’t come up with commands in order to make us miserable, but to guide us in living in harmony with Him, with others, and even with ourselves. Short-term or long-range? Sometimes we have to look at the big picture to see where our true happiness lies.
Prayer: Lord, help me see the joy in following Your plan for me today.
Reflection for sharing: When has investing time and effort in a long-range goal paid off for you? What did you have to give up to achieve your goal? Was it worth it?