While I was reading this morning the news was on in the background. A sound byte caught my ear. The commentator was saying that new studies indicate that the ‘pursuit of happiness’ may not, after all, be good for us. The psychotherapist or psychologist or behaviorist who was being interviewed (I didn’t catch it soon enough to collect this detail) was saying that people tend to go for the short term gratification rather than what is best for the long haul. When they do that they are ‘chronically dissatisfied” because the short term goals for happiness are seldom lasting and they are left always wanting more.
For me that statement can be compared to being dead tired but instead of stopping work, having a decent meal and a rest we grab a quick cup of coffee or an alcoholic ‘pick-me-up’ and keep going. The immediate effect is that we are no longer tired, but in the long run we crash. The immediate gratification is accomplished but once that initial spurt is gone we are still dead tired.
As happens so many times when I am here alone in the quiet of my room my mind extended this to the spiritual province. People often look at the children of God and ask, “How can they speak of joy when things are so bad for them? How can they say they have peace when their life and the world are in turmoil? How can they be happy when they have absolutely nothing to be happy about?” And the lady this morning gave me the modern psychological key to an answer. The child of God does not operate in pursuit of the short term goal. We don’t pursue temporal happiness.
I thought of Paul writing to the Philippians when he told them, “Now I want you to know and continue to rest assured, brethren, that what has happened to me [this imprisonment] has actually only served to advance and give a renewed impetus to the spreading of good news (the Gospel). So much is this a fact that throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest here my imprisonment has become generally known to be in Christ that I am a prisoner in His service and for Him. And also most of the brethren have derived fresh confidence in the Lord because of my chains and are much more bold to speak and publish fearlessly the Word of God [acting with more freedom and indifference to the consequences]. (Phil 1: 12-14 Amplified) Look at the long term benefits Paul was seeing in his bad times. His short term situation was not provoking of any joy or happiness or peace, but he was fixed on the Long Term.
Further down in the same chapter he reiterates again, 19For I am well assured and indeed know that through your prayers and a bountiful supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ (the Messiah) this will turn out for my preservation (for the spiritual health and welfare of my own soul) and avail toward the saving work of the Gospel. Now look where Paul was aiming! This is in keeping with my own eager desire and persistent expectation and hope, that I shall not disgrace myself nor be put to shame in anything; but that with the utmost freedom of speech and unfailing courage, now as always heretofore, Christ (the Messiah) will be magnified and get glory and praise in this body of mine and be boldly exalted in my person, whether through (or ‘by’) life or through (or ‘by’) death. For me to live is Christ [His life in me], and to die is gain [the gain of the glory of eternity]. We can see by this that Paul wasn’t worrying about what was happening just at the moment. His Joy lay in the final accomplishment.
In this statement he is looking toward the “spiritual health and welfare” of his soul and that the work of the gospel might be accomplished. He isn’t looking for personal immediate satisfaction or accomplishment. His desire is that Christ might be lifted up and glorified by what ever is happening to Him. He is looking down the road for himself and others. His goal is the ‘joy set before him’ as was the vision of Christ when he endured the cross. (Heb 12:2)
The child of God has discovered that the pleasures of the world hold no lasting satisfaction. We might labor for the day or week or month to purchase some object or entertainment that lasts only for a short time and is gone, leaving us with an emptiness within. We might spend the night or the week in laughter and partying and fun, but when it is over there is nothing left but dust and brittle memories. We might purchase fine foods and exclaim how satisfying they are to the palate, but the next morning we are again hungry. The fine food satisfied no longer than a peanut butter sandwich and a glass of milk.
Jesus knew this when He said, Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed. And He talks of enduring satisfaction. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever." (John 6: 14, 58) The child of God is partaking of that long term satisfaction and has his eyes on the long term goal.
The testimony of Paul, again in Philippians, has always been an encouragement: But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3:7-14)
Paul wasn’t ‘chronically disappointed.’ His daily joy and satisfaction rested in the high calling of God in Christ. And there was his blessing. We should take note of his example and be sure our pursuit of happiness rests in achieving Christ’s ends and not the temporal ones of this world.