The Christian’s Secret to a Happy Life

To be happy. It’s something we all want. The United States’ Declaration of Independence asserts that our Creator has endowed us with the right to pursue happiness.
 pursuitofhappiness
One of the first Christian books I ever read, beside the Bible, was Hannah Whitall Smith’s The Christian’s Secret to a Happy Life. A few years later, I gave away my copy. Over the years, I remembered it had really made an impression on me. However, I forgot most of what it said. Several times I thought about getting another copy. I finally did a few weeks ago, almost 40 years since I first read it. I downloaded a copy to read on the Kindle app on my cell phone for 99 cents.
It was written in the 1800’s, and the language and style are slightly archaic. Some of the illustrations are a little dated. The message is nonetheless very clear and very well stated. I would still highly recommend the book to anyone. I would especially encourage anyone who is struggling with issues of faith, understanding spiritual growth, adversity of any type, depression, or loss to read it.
I think what has amazed me most in reading it again, is how much of what I believe today, especially regarding faith and about giving thanks, is at least introduced in this Christian classic. As I look back on my life, I see the foundation that was laid by Hannah W Smith. Then I see how God has worked to take several Christian concepts and tie them together in a way that made them all come alive for me. It is my hope that my blog and my book, when published, will do the same for others.
So, what is the secret to a happy life? Well, if I could give it to you in a word, neither Hannah Smith nor myself would have written a whole book about it. As this blog progresses, it’s my intention to share my insights on the concept. But, I’ll go ahead and give you a few key points:
  • It begins with faith.
  • It isn’t found by seeking the emotion of happiness.
  • It continues with faith.
  • Faith is a gift from God.
  • Faith is also a decision of the will – when trials come and happiness (emotions) fail, decide to keep faithing.
  • Know that God is absolutely trustworthy.
  • Absolutely trust God.
  • Thank Him for everything He brings into your life.

Has your faith been shaken because after you received Christ, you weren’t as happy as you thought you would be? Are you still holding to your faith? Or do you find yourself questioning whether Christianity really “works?”

No Other Message

Paul said it. Many have tried to follow his example. “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”

Usually, I’ve heard that applied by someone saying that was all they were going to preach. Or, a salvation message would be worked into every sermon they preached. I think that’s a narrow view of what Paul meant. In fact, that’s somewhat what this blog is about.

Wenera

I went to Africa with Jimmy Hodges Ministries (now called Reaching Souls International). We preached a clear evangelistic message in market places and villages for two weeks. Nearly 30,000 responded to the Gospel message.

Is that what Paul meant by knowing nothing else, but Jesus Christ and Him crucified? Paul’s own description of his ministry among the Corinthians suggests a broader application. And his other letters do also. Jesus said it best: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”

The daily cross is not a salvation message per se. (I am convinced, however, that if Christians would take up their cross daily and live the “crucified life,” lost people would be less confused about both how to become a Christian and how to live as one. But, that’s a whole ‘nother post.) The daily cross is about denying self. It’s about dying to self. It’s a difficult message to teach for several reasons.

  • Most people don’t really want to hear it. We’re selfish. That’s why we need the message. That’s why we don’t want it.
  • We’re scared. It means change. And most of us don’t like change, at least not when it means changing us. We’ll rearrange the furniture. We’ll change jobs. We’ll change lots of things in our lives. Just don’t ask us to change anything at a more fundamental “me” level.
  • We’re scared because of what it represents, too. Death. Suffering. Loss. Not too pleasant a picture. And you want me to live that way? Daily?
  • We don’t understand it. How does it apply in our day to day living? How do you die to self?

I put that question to one of my mentors. Dr. Jack Gray was a missions professor at Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Ft. Worth. He was saved in his youth and entered the ministry at the age of 17. He was one of the godliest men I ever knew. He just had a heart for God. He loved God. He was 75 years old I asked him if he could give me a better way to describe the crucified life when someone asked. He thought a moment and replied, “I’m not sure I can come up with a succinct answer, because I do not have a completed experience.”

Books have been written about it. Among the best in my opinion:

  • The Christians Secret to a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith
  • The Centrality of the Cross, The Climax of the Risen Life, Life Out of Death, and The Cross – the Touchstone of Faith – all by Jessie Penn-Lewis
  • You’ll find it in many of Andrew Murray’s works – Abide in Christ, Like Christ, and The Blood of the Cross
  • Key to Triumphant Living by Jack Taylor
  • The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee
  • Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis (I’ve had this book a long time, started reading it a couple of times over the years. Just finished reading it all the way through – I highly recommend it.)

For that matter, a strong case could be made that this very subject is what the Bible is all about. The Old Covenant points us to the law as a standard that is beyond our capability to live. The New Covenant points us to God’s provision. He took on humanity to bring righteousness into the pool of human experience. He died and then rose again to become executor of His own will. And He puts that will in our hearts and gives us His own support, help, companionship and ability to live it.

There really is no other message. If you want to teach people how to be good, it takes Jesus and the message of the cross. If you want people to live holy lives, it takes Jesus and the message of the cross.

It’s really not so scary if you open yourself to it. As Lewis put it: “The more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become. There is so much of Him that millions and millions of ‘little Christs,’ all different, will still be too few to express Him fully…. It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His Personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.”

What does “death to self” or “denying yourself” mean to you? Is it easy? Is it hard? Is it in someways both? What books would you add to the list above?

Is It Reasonable to Believe in God?

I’m not sure where it’s coming from. It’s nothing new for a young person to reject their upbringing when he/she goes off to college. However, in the past, by my observation, young people would adopt a worldly lifestyle. Yet, they still considered themselves “Christian.” They would drop out of church. They might go at Christmas and Easter. It was rare that they would totally reject the existence of God.

campus

Now it seems that is not enough. Now, many young people not only reject the existence of God, they become aggressively vocal about it. Maybe it’s college and university professors who teach from an atheistic viewpoint. Maybe it’s the preponderance of atheist blogs and websites. Maybe it’s just the cultural environment.

At any rate, when I’ve referenced spiritual truth in conversation with several different atheists, they have generally asked something like: “Whose truth? Every religion claims to have the truth. So, what makes yours right?”

Although they generally prefer a “scientific” answer, with no reference to religion, they have just asked a religious question. Since you asked about spiritual truth and faith, I’m assuming that I can involve “religion” in the answer.

God is. Think about that (not what anyone has said about Him, positive or negative):

  • Think about Him
  • Think about the implications of one entity being God – creator of the universe, creator and life-giver to mankind.
  • Assuming such a Being exists, consider His character – primarily that He is perfect and holy. Yeah, I know we could ask, “what’s holy?” But, c’mon. Most people have a pretty good idea what that means whether they accept it as a description of God or not.
  • If God is, then there is no one and no thing greater than Him.
  • Such a God is worthy of our attention, dare I say even our devotion.

Just for a few minutes, honestly and sincerely and seriously consider what the implications would be if it is true that this Being truly exists.

Now, if you’ve taken a few minutes to consider Him, what is the absolute best thing He could do for you or give you. Would it not have to be Himself?

Hebrews 11 says, without faith it is impossible to please God, for he that comes to God must faith that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. He is. He exists. And He exists as God. And He is willing to be known. Seek Him, and your search will be rewarded.

The Old Covenant was a covenant of law. The real point was here’s a standard. You cannot possibly live up to it in your own strength. Some of the OT characters came to God on the basis of faith, but many never did. The point of the New Covenant is that God by His grace made a way for mankind to experience righteousness and abide in His presence. It’s by grace through faith, not by law or works.

In my studies of comparative religions, here’s what I’ve found.

  • I’ve not found any besides Christianity and Judaism, and perhaps Islam, that worships God – God only – God as God.
  • The god, even the highest form of deity, of all others is something that God created – usually the sun, the moon, a river, or some mythical explanation of the seasons, etc.
  • Some may have an “unknown god” as the Athenians did – some god who is above all others. Even though they acknowledge this great spirit, their religion still revolves around worship of the creation.
  • In the case of atheism, it’s generally either man (humanism) or mother earth (environmentalism).
  • Of all religions, only Christianity offers a relationship with God based entirely on faith in the finished work of the Redeemer.
  • All others, even Judaism, try to please or appease God or their gods, through laws and/or rites, rituals and liturgy. Sadly, many Christians live this way, too.


Does that mean Christians can throw out the Law and live anyway they please? No, it means there is nothing greater than God. Why settle for less? Why settle for the things the world offers? Christianity is about knowing Him, growing into a deeper, richer, more meaningful relationship with Him. This isn’t done by rituals. It isn’t done by following a set of rules or laws. Whether you derive your lists of rules from the Old Testament or the New,  it’s still law, it’s not grace. You are separating yourself from grace and rendering yourself of no effect (see Galatians 5:4).

If you have you walked away from your faith in Christ: What experience served as a catalyst for that decision? Were you abused by someone within the church? Did the teachings of science cause you to doubt? Did scripture just never make sense?
If you are still actively following the Lord: Have you had conversations with those who have rejected Christianity? What insights do you have for how to converse with them? How do you respond to someone who only wants to accept “scientific evidence?”

The Love Shop?

A young lady came in and stopped in front of a display near the entrance. In the middle of a grouping of plaques, Psalm 23, was printed in elegant calligraphy on pale green parchment-style paper, with a beautiful, ornate frame. She stood there several minutes, then left. She returned a few minutes later, and stood there again for several minutes. I walked over to offer to help, and noticed her wipe away some tears. I asked if there was anything I could do to help. She turned her face toward me. She was stunningly beautiful, in spite of a long scar down her right cheek. With evident sorrow in her voice, she simply said, “no.” She stood before the Psalm for another minute or so, then left.

LoveShop

Then there was the young man who applied for a job (I’ll call him Joe). As I interviewed him, I pointed out that we sometimes had people who came in wanting to talk about the Lord. Sometimes they had questions. Sometimes they sought advice on a Bible. I asked if he felt he could answer those questions. He began asking questions himself. Before the interview was over, he had asked Jesus into his heart.

Dave (not his real name) was a teenager from Chicago. He was staying with his cousins. They attended the same church we did. Trish and I were working with the youth, and had met him there. Dave had a lot of hurts covered by a pretty tough shell. He came into the store one day and was looking through the records. [If you’re not familiar with records, they’re kind of like prehistoric cds.] He said, “There’s no Christian rock music that sounds as good as the stuff I listen to.” I gave him an album by the group “Resurrection Band” and challenged him to give it a listen.

I left that store for another job within the Love Shop company. A couple of years later I bought that store and another. Shortly after returning, Joe’s parents came in. His mom said, “I’m so glad you’re back. I want to thank you for leading Joe to the Lord. He was so different after that. His attitude changed, his behavior changed. Now he’s in Bible college preparing for the ministry.”

Then she added, “Oh, and you remember Dave? Shortly after you gave him that record, he got word his dad had committed suicide. He was going to have to move. He was cleaning out his closet and found that album on the floor, unopened. He took it out and listened to it. One particular song really caught him and he listened to it over and over. Then he asked Jesus into his heart, and now he’s going to Bible college and is going to be a medical missionary!”

The Love Shop chain was purchased by a group of investors in Ft. Worth. I was working in the corporate office when my boss told me the franchisees wanted to sell the store I had managed. He asked if I’d be interested. You bet I would. We looked into it. We looked at the financial statements. The stores showed a profit. I was young and naive. I didn’t know you could show a profit on paper, and still be totally insolvent. The corporate accountant for the home office told me, “If anyone can make them work, you can.” Turned out, no one could. We bought them by assuming the previous franchisee’s debt, and watched them crumble around us over the next 14 months.

I was pretty much crushed.

I had invested over five years into a concept I really believed in. In addition, I had visions of owning several Love Shops. I was going to be making enough money to start a ministry to street people – addicts and prostitutes. There were lots of street ministries around, leading people to the Lord. But no one was discipling them. The churches either didn’t know what to do with them, or didn’t want anything to do with them. We would give them a safe place to live away from the streets, pimps, and connections. We would provide discipleship, counseling, milieu therapy, job training.

When our world is shaken and everything we hold to crumbles, the eternal still stands. Click To Tweet

This was a tough one to bounce back from. It was a few years after my divorce. Trish & I were married and had three children. I took a job as janitor at our church, and proceeded to rethink my life. This was the season when I’d drive down the road, see a dip sign, and felt like it was announcing my presence. It was also a season of soul searching, Bible study, and prayer. It was the beginning of my understanding that when our world is shaken, and everything we are holding onto crumbles, the eternal still stands. There is always One who never leaves us or forsakes us. He is faithful.

Has there been a time in your life when your hopes and dreams turned to ashes and slipped away? What happened? How did you recover? Have you recovered?

When It’s Time for a Change

The phone rings. It gradually pulls me from a sound sleep. I roll over and raise my eyes enough to see the clock. 2:52 a.m. Family? Something wrong with Mom or Dad?

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A week earlier. A different phone call. Henry called and said he really needed to talk. He asked if he and his wife could come over. I made it a policy to not have clients from the drug treatment center in my home. There were very few exceptions. That night, I made one for Henry.

Henry had been doing well on the program, I thought, but was in a car accident and wound up in the hospital for a few days. When the doctors found out he was on methadone, as treatment for heroin addiction, they would not give him any morphine based pain killers. In fact, the pain killer they gave him was known to be an antagonist to morphine and should have thrown him into withdrawals. It didn’t happen, and it got his attention. Henry knew in his heart that something unusual was happening. He wasn’t sure what, or whether it was good or bad. Frankly, it scared him.

One of the nurses at the hospital was “different.” He asked her, and found out she was a Christian. He shared his fears with her and began crying as he did. He wasn’t sure why he cried, but he did. She talked with him awhile and comforted and encouraged him.  All of this was very strange to Henry.

Right after he got out of the hospital is when he called and asked if he could talk with me. When he and his wife came over, he opened up. He shared his story about the accident and how he wound up in the hospital. He revealed, too, that he had been beating the system at the treatment center. Although we thought he had been staying “clean,” he was using about $200 of “street dope” a day on top of his 50 mg of methadone. He really should have gone into withdrawals in the hospital, with or without the antagonistic drug.

He wanted to know about Jesus. He asked questions. He shared his past hurts – an abusive father who deserted his family when Henry was a young child. His mother turned lesbian as a result. She kicked him out as a young teen. He shared some other relationships gone bad. “Everyone whom I’ve ever trusted in my life has let me down or deserted me. How do I know that Jesus won’t, too?” He asked. I told him there was no way I could convince him with words that God was trustworthy, but I would pray that somehow, God would get through to his heart and show him that He would never fail him. With tears in his eyes and sincerity and fervency in his voice, Henry replied, “You do that, because I really do want to trust Him.”

A few days later. The phone call. 2:52 a.m. me (sleepy and a little unsure I wanted to answer): “Hello?
Henry (voice full of enthusiasm): “Hello, Rick, this is Henry. I just wanted to tell you I just got saved!
That got my attention. Now wide awake: “Wow, Henry! That’s great!
Henry: “Yeh. I couldn’t sleep. So about 1 o’clock I came downstairs and started reading my Bible and after about an hour, I just got down on my knees and asked Jesus into my heart!

Change can be scary. Perhaps the biggest challenge to change is fear. We settle deep into our present misery and become comfortable there. No matter how promising the hope of future good, we’re afraid to let go of the only thing we’ve ever known. To venture out, even for the relief and peace and joy for which we’ve always longed, is just too risky. What if someone let’s me down again? What if I fail again? I just couldn’t handle another disappointment.

That’s kind of what I was referring to in an earlier post when I talked about feeling beat up by life. After getting slapped down a few times, you just are afraid to get up anymore.

The past few days, I’ve been trying to set the stage for this blog. Life is full of both good and bad. Most of us know that. Eventually we even come to accept it. Victory comes when we not only accept it, but embrace it. This blog is about embracing it. It’s about why we should embrace both the good and the bad. It’s about how to. It deals with matters of faith. It deals with learning to be thankful. However, what I hope really makes it unique is not just saying, “thanks.” I am on a journey to embrace Extreme Gratitude. Come along. Join the conversation. Join the journey.

Life is full of both good and bad. Victory comes when we not only accept both, but embrace both. #embracelife Click To Tweet

Are you at a place where you know you need to make some changes? What needs to be different? Would you share a time when you knew you needed to change and hesitated taking that first step. What happened?

 

But You Don’t Know What I’ve Been Through!

Sometimes life can really knock you around. It might have been physical bullying by someone, but not necessarily. Have you ever been through situations that left you feeling like you were just beaten up by life itself? I have. There was a season when I even took “dip” signs personally.

dip

While I was in seminary, I took a full-time job as a counselor for narcotics addicts. That was an eye-opening experience for this naive, church kid from suburbia. I saw a whole new subculture. There was a depth of hurt and despair I had never seen before. Well, maybe I had, but just never really comprehended it. At the same time my eyes were being opened, I was able to show my clients a level of care and compassion they had not experienced before. Unfortunately, most of them couldn’t comprehend it.

Like most people, they thought, if you haven’t been where I am, experienced what I have, you can’t help me. I’ve learned that’s just an excuse for not being helped. If someone gets too close to helping us it means change is coming. As much as we may detest our current situation, most of us are afraid of change. So, we will even narrow the definition of experience. “If you haven’t experienced exactly what I have, then you can’t understand or help me.”

A few of them got it, though. Very few ever moved to the point of really being willing to change. But some understood enough to be willing to open up, become vulnerable, share at a deeper level, listen, and be helped.

Dave, one of my clients, saw me downtown one day. I was coming out of the courthouse. He asked what I was doing down there. He thought I was visiting someone in jail, or maybe dealing with a ticket. I told him I was coming from the divorce court where my divorce had just become final. He was shocked. “I had no idea you were going through something like that. You’ve been hurting all this time you’ve been trying to help us? And you’ve been dealing with that without it showing, and without using drugs?”

It was kind of an epiphany for both of us. He realized people could actually go through a crisis in their lives, something very painful, and deal with it without drugs. And, I found the common ground I had with my clients. There really are a limited number of emotions available to any of us. We all have the same set of emotions with which to respond. That’s not what makes us different. That’s where we can relate. The difference is the outside stimulus. It could be divorce, an abusive parent or spouse, death of a loved one, bullying, failure, a rebellious child, a miscarriage, cancer or some other illness. Whatever it is, we only have that limited set of emotions with which to respond. The difference is how we choose to respond. Or, maybe more accurately, how we have learned to respond.

Through it all, I’ve learned God is faithful. He never leaves us or forsakes us. I’ve learned I’m not a dip. I’m His child. His heir. He really loves me. And even if I’m a nobody, I’m no less than anyone else. And, I’ve learned to be thankful – and that’s what this blog is mostly about.

join the conversation:

How about you? Have you ever had a time when life seemed to just trample right over you? How did you feel? How did you deal with it? What did you learn? What do you have to be thankful for?