Millions struggle daily with their unfulfilled, unhappy lives. Executives and farmers, truck drivers and housewives, daddys and mamas, young children and college students, married and unmarried&emdash;all share the common problem of dealing with their depressed, sometimes downright dejected, unhappy lives. Yet there is a key to happiness that guarantees Christians of any age group, any income level, any social circle true happiness every day. What is that key?
by Jerry Gentry
"Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content" (Phil. 4:11).
Ask one hundred people walking down a busy street in America today if they are happy and most will admit they are not happy, not altogether fulfilled, not overflowing with jubilance at what they have in the present course of their lives.
Many will tell you they are downright unhappy, stressed out and unfulfilled most of the time. If you ask them what is wrong with their lives, they will all tell you about one or more aspects of their lives&emdash;their money, boyfriend, or marriage; the house, the car, their clothes; their work, play, church, etc. which makes them stressed out and very unhappy.
Take ten of these people, picked at random from a passing street crowd, and interview them further. You will find that among these people the majority of those who live and work in mainstream America today, living in pursuit of the good life, admit some shocking things.
Nearly every one of these people will admit to the feeling of being on a treadmill, running in a proverbial rat race, like treading water, yet never seeming to arrive at the goal of contentment we call happiness.
Is life among Christians much different? Yes, in one sense. Genuine Christians (do you know very many?) carry with them daily the joy of their salvation, the knowledge of Christ's blood shed for them personally, and their eternal security. Christians who do not have that joy are not genuine. Sincere Christians will tell you of the joy in their hearts for the Lord, the knowledge that if they died tonight they know they will go to be with the Lord. But the joy of our salvation is not the same as true happiness in this life. Joy is an internal state. Happiness is our external response to the life we live daily. Let me explain.
Just like our admittedly unhappy street crowd above, true Christians must also pay the rent, repair the car, fix the broken dishwasher, get little Johnny to school on time, balance the family budget and bring to completion a whole host of other mundane responsibilities. Life is complicated, full of pitfalls and not always predictable. A continual stream of mishaps and surprises complicate things even more.
In discharging all the mundane responsibilities of life, we find ourselves either happy or unhappy. Think about it. Some of the happiest, most contented people in the world are involved in great tragedies, sickness and personal trauma. Babies born blind have later as adults seen and fulfilled great life visions. The deaf and mute have learned to communicate fluently by braille. Some of the most miserable people you know are healthy, without major personal handicap and have all their daily needs met. Yet they still complain, cannot seem to get their act together and generally qualify as unhappy folk by any definition.
Fact is this description applies to most of us, from time to time, if we will be honest. Yes, think about it and you will find yourself described above, to one degree or another. Your "wants" are always a little out of reach, which makes you at least a little unhappy about the things you wish you could have, but don't. And if you are not careful you can even become a downright grouch about those missing "wants."
What then is the key to happiness, since nearly everyone will tell you of the things in life they want but do not have?
These two things&emdash;"wants" and "haves"&emdash;if brought into balance, into level consistency, guarantee the Christian happiness. These two things, if left out of balance, will guarantee even a Christian who knows the joy of personal salvation, to be unhappy on a day to day basis.
Simply put, daily physical life on this earth is made up of these two things and nothing more. These two things&emdash;wants and haves&emdash;bring our happiness or assure our unhappiness.
Do you want happiness? Of course. Everyone wants happiness. "Wants" and "haves." Remember those two words, for herein lies the ultimate key to happiness in this life. Even though you put on a smile, are you unhappy deep down? Are you just a little bit miserable today about that old klunker of a car sitting outside? Are you sick to your stomach when you think about the outdated couch you have sat on for so many years now? Are you sad that you did not get that new dress you saw in the window at the shopping mall last week? Think about your "wants" and your "haves."
Our "haves" are very clear. These are the things we wake up to every morning. These are our spouse, our parents, our children, our house, our car, our clothes, the food we eat, the bed we sleep in, the water we drink, even the air we breathe, all the basic necessities of life. In addition, there are "haves" in our lives that are quite optional, such as the videos we watch at night, the games we play, the friends we entertain, the job we work at, the leisure time we enjoy. Within our "haves" we build our mindset, our daily expectations, our personal norms. In other words, we know that our bed will be there tonight to sleep in, without giving it very much thought. We take for granted that we will get three square meals, watch a little TV and enjoy a dish of ice cream or sit down to the old piano that has been in the house as long as we can remember and play a tune occasionally. In other words, we take most of our "haves" for granted, even to the point of not liking them now as much as we used to.
When this happens, our "wants" start getting the best of us. You see, the things we "have" usually give rise to more things we "want." We have been reading magazines, watching TV, looking at beautiful pictures of things, and our minds become filled of ideas to ponder. The old TV is too small, we think; we want a bigger one. The old dress is out of style; we want a new one. The old car, the old boat, the old golf clubs, even the old but perfectly good dining room furniture, old-style dishwasher with that ugly green front, the striped drapes in the living room (florals are in this year, have you heard?!) do not satisfy us any more.
So our "wants" seem always to rise above our "haves," giving rise to daily decisions. Proper, humble church folk, even some genuine Christians, try to keep this dichotomy between their "wants" and their "haves" mostly concealed. They don't want to appear greedy, so they don't want you to know what they are really thinking. In reality, they are jealous that you just got a new car, and that the family down the street got a new riding lawn mower; even that the kid next door gets brand new school clothes every August!
Right down that road of unhappiness we go, on a course often called "keeping up with the Joneses."
Now here is the punch, the solution if you please, the ultimate key to daily happiness in this life. We must bring our "wants" and our "haves" into level balance. There are two possibilities.
One, we must raise the level of our "haves" to the level of our "wants." That costs money, time or other resources. We trade in the old klunker on a new car, but since we do not have enough cash, we take out a loan. We go into debt. But we get that new car just the same, thus raising what we have to the level of what we want. And boy is that a beautiful car, with leather seats, that new car smell and gorgeous metallic blue paint!
Tonight, with the shiny new car parked in the garage, we sit on that adequate but outdated couch, thinking about our shiny new car in the garage. After discussing the matter somewhat, we conclude together, husband and wife, that this old couch must go. The wife already has a new one picked out, and will call the furniture store tomorrow to have it, along with a new love seat, easy chair and a couple of end tables and new lamps, delivered immediately! And what a deal she took advantage of&emdash;90 days same as cash, no payments for three whole months!
Tomorrow night comes and we sit together again, both enjoying our new furniture. How nice it is, we agree. And how proud we still are of that new car parked in the garage. Looking across the hall and into the kitchen, we see that old ugly green dishwasher that stands out like a sore thumb. Even though it works fine, we think, hey, that thing has to go. And here is a shiny new one pictured in the advertisement with a stylish front that will match far better the other things in our kitchen. "Honey, call the store tomorrow and put it on the credit card."
The next night comes and we sit again on our new couch, thinking about our new car and admiring our new dishwasher in the kitchen, when teenage Maggie comes in and says, "Daddy, with all these new things you and Mon are getting, could I have some new furniture for my room?" Now, you put your foot down. "No, not right now!" you state emphatically, already thinking about how long it will take to pay for all this stuff.
Obviously, option one&emdash;raising our "haves" to the level of our "wants"&emdash;is a vicious cycle, a monster with an unlimited appetite, an impossible chasm to feed on a family budget. This voracious monster is leading families by the thousands into bankruptcy every day.
Enter option two. Lower the level of our "wants" to the level of our "haves." In other words, learn to be satisfied, grateful with what we already have. And if God opens future opportunities to buy a new car, a new couch, a new dishwasher, a new set of furniture for Maggie, then He will do so by providing the extra cash.
You see, when you feed the monster called "wants" that monster grows. It gets bigger, raises its head taller, opens its mouth wider, and requires more of you. But when you lower your "wants" to the level of what you have already got, then you achieve the same goal, without feeding the monster. You balance your "wants" with your "haves" the Godly way. In the Bible we learn "And having food and raiment let us be therewith content" (1Tim. 6:8). Now food and raiment are all God has promised anyway. He never promised a shiny new car, or even an old klunker. There are other options for transportation&emdash;the bus, a bicycle, car pooling, walking, etc. He never promised a stylish new sofa, or even an old adequate one. We could sit on a chair, or even stand up. He never promised a particular color for our dishwasher, or even an automatic dishwasher of any kind. After all, he did give us hands for washing dishes! And certainly he does not keep up with "stripes" versus "florals" when it comes to our living room drapes! Now if He sends extra cash, in answer to prayer, there is nothing wrong with getting new drapes, or other things.
Even regarding the barest necessities of life, He tells us through the apostle Paul: "I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need" (Phil. 4:12). Paul could suffer need and still be happy. Can we suffer wants and be happy?
Paul was not focused on keeping up with the Joneses. He was a man with a mission and that mission was not to feed the "wants" monster of his life. Paul was grateful and happy with what he already had and so can we be happy with what we have if we set our minds to it. It is a daily choice of the will carried out through our words and actions.
Will you correct your "wants," bringing them down to the level of what you already have? Will you find true happiness by exercising voluntary self restraint? If not, then expect to find true happiness through chastisement: "Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty" (Job 5:17). God wants you to be happy so much, he is willing to chasten you if necessary. He wants to bring your "wants" down to the level of your "haves." Happiness is wanting what we have, no more, and therefore already having what we want, within the limits of God's word.
"Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth" (Rom. 14:22). Does your life require more than you can pay for? More than what is lawful? Do you condemn yourself in what you allow by trying to keep up with the Joneses? There is great wisdom in exercising self restraint in what we allow. Putting off into the future what we cannot presently afford and don't really need today is wise and brings much happiness, much contentment.
Are you happy? Then you have your "wants" under control, balanced down to the level of what you already have. Now that is true happiness, praise God!