The Blessed Life
John 8:31-32 Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Matthew 5:1-12 1 Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The Pursuit of Happyness is a 2006 movie based on the true story of Chris Gardner of San Francisco. He grew up in poverty. His father was nowhere to be found at his birth. His mother was in prison twice. He spent time in foster care, time in different family members’ homes, and time being abused by his gun-wielding stepfather. As a result of his mother’s chaotic life and his step father’s abuse, he made a decision that he would never drink or be abusive toward others. He was also sexually assaulted at some point in his early life by a man who was a gang member. He had so much to overcome.
He joined the navy which brought him a moment of rescue. After the navy, he became a medical supply salesman. He wasn’t successful. He had one marriage end in divorce and another relationship during which he had a son, end when the child’s mother left him. He was left alone to care for their young son. Life continued to get more and more difficult. There were taxes to pay, overdue parking tickets, and rent that went unpaid. Eventually, Gardner was out of time and money, and he and his son were evicted. He had lost everything, but the one thing that turned out to be the most important thing to him…his son. That relationship, that commitment to caring for and providing for his son, is what kept him going. He wasn’t aspiring to be wealthy so that he could find happiness. He was pursuing happiness, which for him meant steady employment, so that he could enjoy the one thing that truly made him happy, his son.
So that they could have money for food, they slept on the streets or spent many nights in the subway station bathroom. The subway sink became their place to bathe. Gardner slept with one foot on the bathroom door to keep it closed at night. Eventually, he found a church in San Francisco that had a program for homeless mothers and their children, and the program allowed him as a homeless father to come into the program for food and shelter.
Once it dawned on Gardner that he was good with people and good with numbers, he figured out his life’s purpose and began to devote his talents, time and efforts to becoming a stockbroker. If you know the story, you know he became extremely successfully, very wealthy, and now has firms in three major US cities. In addition, the movie was made about his life, and he has gone on to be not only a motivational speaker, but a philanthropist, giving back to the church that helped him and other organizations who assist those who are homeless and down and out.
The pursuit of happiness. Isn’t that our right as Americans? The pursuit of happiness? The Declaration of Independence says so. Is it just a pursuit? A possibility? A hope? A dream? Or is it attainable? What is happiness?
In a poll in 2016, only one in three Americans claimed to be happy. There is a lot of talk about happiness. One of the songs that was popular when I began college is still played today. It begins, “Here’s a little song I wrote, you might want to sing it note for note. Don’t worry. ____ ____________.” You know it, right? Will Pharrell’s “Happy” song gets people’s toes tappin’ and hands clappin’. McDonald’s has tried to convince us all that there is actually a meal that can make a kid happy-that is until he gets the blue toy instead of the green toy he had his heart set on. We are all in for a movie that has a “happy ending.” One of the all-time most watched sitcoms was a thirty-minute program called, “Happy Days.” I hear parents telling their young adult children to do what makes them happy. We are obsessed with happiness. Perhaps we are wired to desire it? Maybe the desire for happiness isn’t such a bad thing?
There are lots of theories about what true happiness is. People who equate happiness with material things, the latest and greatest, the newest and trendiest, will never be truly happy because there will always be more to the “pursuit of happiness” for them.
Often, those with a materialistic definition of happiness will struggle to maintain happiness because they will “purchase” happiness on credit and then become very unhappy when the bills come due and in increasing amounts.
Maybe you think this message is going down the road that says it isn’t happiness but holiness that is important. It’s true that holiness is paramount. Maybe you think I am going to focus on joy since joy can be constant and unbroken since it depends on Jesus rather than on circumstances being “just so.” I do love that about joy, and in a sense, joy can seem deeper than happiness, making it even more important to pursue.
Here is the thing. I think God wants us to be happy. It’s just that His definition of happiness and His way for us to achieve happiness aren’t the same as the world’s definition and ways.
You see, we think we know what happiness is. We think we know what will make us happy. The truth is, happiness is something that has to be learned about from God in order to get “happy” right because true happiness is a spiritual rather than earthly experience.
Our Scripture text for today is a text called the “Beatitudes.” They are the attitudes to possess as a Christ-follower, and strangely enough, Jesus says, that adopting them is truly the way to happiness. Oh, He didn’t use the word, “happy.” He used the word “blessed.” In fact, Jesus used the word “blessed” nine times in the first twelve verses of chapter five.
“Blessed” is from the Greek word markarios which generally means “happy” or “blissful.” I can make the biblical argument that Jesus IS concerned with our happiness. He does desire that we be happy. What we have to figure out, however, is just what His kind of happy means. What does it mean to live “blessed,” and how can we pursue that kind of happiness?
Happiness or blessedness, as is defined in the Beatitudes, involves an inward reality that impacts our relationship with God and others. It is a happiness from the inside-out. Our blessedness isn’t connected to our earthly status or to any earthly accomplishment, but it is tied to a pure love for God and others. That is why people with money can be blessed and people without money can be blessed. That is why people with a title can be blessed and people without a title can be blessed. That is why people with a lot of education can be blessed and why people who dropped out of school in the sixth grade can also be blessed.
God’s definition of happiness or blessedness deals with internal realities while the world’s definition of happiness is dependent on external conditions being the way we desire them to be. You might say worldly happiness depends on what happens, but blessedness or “better happiness” is based on our desire to be in right relationship with God and others. Worldly happiness is temporary and fleeting. Better happiness, “blessedness,” is ongoing and eternal.
Before I say too much more, let me be just state that biblical happiness or blessedness will never involve sinning. So, if you think to yourself, “I am going to have to sin in order to be happy, you aren’t pursuing God’s definition of happiness.” Perhaps you have heard the song, “If loving you is wrong, I don’t want to be right.” That is the world’s way of saying, “What makes me happy, whether it pleases God or not, is what is most important.” To be clear, it is wrong to be wrong in order to pursue happiness. Did that make any sense to anyone but me? If we are pursuing that kind of happiness, we are pursuing something that is in the moment rather than something that is going to carry us through life’s moments. There is a blessedness that exceeds the moment, and Jesus said it is found as we rightly are aligned with God and others.
Let me point out something else as well. Look at the first Beatitude in verse 3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Notice it didn’t say, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is a house in the Hamptons or for theirs is a new Lamborghini.” Now, God isn’t against a house in the Hamptons or Lamborghini, but what we need to understand is that our blessedness or ongoing happiness is tied to the fact that we are servants of a heavenly kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven. As God’s kingdom isn’t of this world, neither is His blessedness. We don’t look to the kingdoms of this world to make us happy. We don’t live for the kingdoms of this world to make us happy. Satan wants you to think that the things of this world will make you happy, and if you have fallen for that, you will realize at some point, that is a lie. Our blessedness, our happiness comes to us in and through a heavenly, eternal kingdom.
Now, allow me to take these random ramblings and put them together in two statements that I want to explain.
- Happiness is becoming who God desires and doing what God has wired you to do.
- Happiness is sharing God’s blessedness with others.
In the movie, “The Pursuit of Happyness,” after he had lost everything and hit rock bottom, Christ tuned into his natural gifts and abilities. He was good with people. He was good with numbers. Going into a career as a stock broker made sense. He was finally in his sweet spot doing what he had been gifted to do.
God has a plan for each of our lives. There is a general plan for all of us as believers, and the general plan is spelled out in Matthew 5. The Beatitudes spell out what it is that God desires in and through our lives. What we acquire isn’t nearly as important as who we become, and who we become will affect our state of blessedness. In Christ, we are to become the good guys, the mercy guys, the compassionate guys, the humble guys. We are to be the peace lovers, the ones who can turn the other cheek, and take the high road. We are to become people who forgive and seek the righteous way of life.
Notice that each Beatitude began with the word “blessed.” “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” There is an inherent blessing in being poor in spirit. That may sound strange. The world may view being poor in spirit or admitting you are poor in spirit and in need of a Savior, in need of God, as weakness, not blessing. They may view it as flawed and not as a state of blessedness.
We are blessed by God to know we have a need of Him. We are blessed by God to understand we have a problem we can’t solve. We are blessed by God that His Spirit speaks to us to convict us of sin, and to help us experience God. We are blessed by God that there is a remedy for the sin problem that plagues us all. We are blessed when we realize we don’t have all the answers and that we don’t have to have all of the answers. We are blessed when we realize that though we will never be good enough for God, He is God-enough for us.
It is a blessing to get to the point where you can surrender everything to God, like a child who lifts up their hands for their dad or their mom to pick them up and carry them because they are too tired to walk. This is the posture of one who is poor in spirit, and it is a blessing to be poor in spirit because without the ability to become weak in God’s presence we will never become strong in His strength. Vulnerability is a blessing, for until we admit what we are, we can never become who God intends and never have the Kingdom of Heaven that He longs to give to us.
Not every one of us in this room is there yet. Not every one of us is willing to admit we are sinners in need of a Savior. Not every one of us is willing to ask God to take control of our lives because we think we know better than God what will make us happy. I’m telling you spiritual blessedness is far better than earthly happiness, and part of becoming who God desires is allowing Him to transform us into the people who do life the way He desires. That’s just one example of the general plans God has for each of us from the Beatitudes. It is God’s will that not one person here would die and go to hell, but anyone who won’t admit how poor in spirit they truly are, and ask God through Christ to do something about that, hell will be their inheritance instead of the Kingdom of Heaven.
In addition to those general plans, there are specific gifts and talents God has given to us with which to glorify Him and bless others. You were made on purpose for a purpose. You have unique skills and a unique personality. There is no one exactly like you. Part of living the blessed life involves allowing your uniqueness to shine through in what you do whether for a hobby or for a profession. What is it that you are good at doing? Ask God if He has blessed you to pursue that skill, to further that talent, and to share that gift for His glory.
I had always dreamed of singing Christian music. I wanted to start as a back-up singer for a well-known artist and then strike out on my own. I was good at music. I took piano lessons early and started the violin in the fifth grade, clarinet in the sixth grade, saxophone in the seventh grade, and voice lessons in the eighth grade. I sang everywhere I could. I played my violin in the church orchestra every week. I went to college to major in music, and I did.
A few years later, I found myself as a worship pastor in Cincinnati, OH directing choirs, pulling together an orchestra, and leading worship. I enjoyed what I did. I was good at what I did. God was blessing what I did, but there was a restlessness in me and when God called me to preach, I knew I had to obey. Three years after that call came, and this door opened, once we made this move, I felt like for the first time in my life I was actually doing what I had been created to do. I didn’t discover that blessedness, that feeling, that sense of fulfillment, until I was 38 years old.
Was it bad or wrong of me to have pursued music and worship? Absolutely not. I still use music and worship in my role here in ministry. Music and worship were tools God used to shape me into the person He intended me to become all along. Developing my gifts and talents led me down the road of discovery to what I believe is my life’s purpose which is to teach and preach the Word of God and inspire people to live for Jesus. I have never been happier in my life. I am truly blessed.
You see, blessedness comes when you let God, by His Holy Spirit, lead and direct your life. God absolutely opened the door for me to go to the church in Cincinnati, and then He absolutely closed that door and opened the door for me to move here. The blessedness comes in being willing to follow His lead and to continue to grow into the person He desires for you to become.
So, Happiness is becoming who God desires and doing what God has wired you to do.
Second, Happiness is sharing God’s blessedness with others.
When Chris Gardner found out he landed the big job as a broker, ran to his son’s daycare. He picked him up and hugged him like there was no tomorrow. That was happiness! He realized he and his son had survived. That was happiness. They were still together. That was happiness. They were going to make it. That was happiness! Happiness is having others to share God’s blessings with!
The quote on the front of his book is simply this: “I hold one thing dearer than all else-my commitment to my son.” To know that he could now take care of and provide for his son was true happiness. Chris went on to become very wealthy. Because he had a right perspective about true happiness, that it involved doing what you are wired to do, that it involved taking care of the people you love, he didn’t let his wealth obscure the real happiness he had discovered. He became very philanthropic. He helped the church that had helped him. He started to give money away to organizations that helped homeless people. Blessedness, happiness, is meant to be shared with others.
Happiness is being centered in God, His will and His plans, and focused on making life better for others.
Do you want to be the kind of happy God says you can be? Figure out why you are here and what God has wired you to do. Go deep in your relationship with Him. Make Him the center of everything you are and do. Let Him control you from the inside so that if He asks you to, your behavior, though it might seem contrary to the ways of the world, will always please Him. And find ways to invest in people, your family, your friends, and even in strangers. Share who God is to you with them and share what He has blessed you with, with as many people as you can.
You may not always live happy in the world’s eyes, but you can always live blessed.