I’m Happy All The Time??? and Being a “Good Example”

**After writing, re-writing, proof-reading, editing, and re-reading this post, I realize I should’ve broken it up–but, I didn’t. So, grab a cup of coffee (or two) and enjoy!!

This past Wednesday night our little kids sang at the very end of the adult prayer meeting…..one of the songs they sang was, “Happy All the Time.” I’ve known that song forever….since I was little. Paul, however, says he’s never heard that song before–(I don’t understand that, but anyway…..) Here’s how it goes:

I’m inright, outright, upright, downright

Happy all the time

I’m inright, outright, upright, downright

Happy all the time

Since Jesus Christ came in and cleansed my heart from sin,

I’m inright, outright, upright, downright

Happy all the time

The song is cute. It has motions. You can sing it faster and faster as you repeat it, so it’s fun for the kids…..but I think it’s completely unbiblical. And I didn’t realize it until today.

I am a Christian. I have Jesus in my heart. He has cleansed me from my sin, but….I’m not happy all the time. And I don’t think God has called us to be happy all the time.

In fact, I think it’s almost the opposite. Yes, God wants us to be happy, as evident in the Bible (just look up a keyword search for “happy” at Bible Gateway), but more importantly, He has called us to be holy.

“It is God who saved us and chose us to live a holy life.” 2 Timothy 1:9

“For God did not call us to be impure, but to lead a holy life.” 1 Thessalonians 4:7

“If you are suffering according to God’s will, keep on doing what is right, and trust yourself to God who made you, for he will never fail you.”  1 Peter 4:19

(A story about my mom, sorry Mom)….

Because Paul and I are in full-time ministry we have moved quite a bit during our 7 years of marriage. Paul has been at 3 different churches and we both worked at camp full-time in Illinois–whenever we move (and after getting “settled”) my mom usually asks us, “Are you happy there? I talked to _______(fill-in-the-blank), and they asked me if you were happy in ______(fill-in-the-blank of whatever city we live in currently). I tell them yes, but are you happy?”

That’s such a difficult question for me to answer.

Yes, I’m happy. God wants us to be happy.

No, I’m not happy. God wants us to be holy.

It’s such a paradox.

“People who always want to be happy and pursue it above all else are some the most miserable people in the world.” -Dr. Henry Cloud (from Boundaries in Marriage)

Although unhappiness and pain are often a direct consequence of disobeying God, following God will also require us to go through periods in our lives where we struggle to be happy. I wonder how happy Jesus was when He was getting flogged and crucified. I wonder how happy Paul and the other disciples were when they were brutally persecuted for following Jesus. Living holy lives should be our primarily focus-that is, a life that seeks to obey God in everything regardless the feelings being experienced.

But, unfortunately we live in a “feelings focused” world–here and here

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16, Paul instructs the church of Thessalonica to:

  • Always be joyful (CEV)
  • Rejoice always (NRSV)
  • Be cheerful no matter what (The Message)
  • Rejoice evermore (KJV)

I understand the message that Paul is trying to convey to the church of Thessalonica, but this verse is very difficult for me because I am human. I want what I think I deserve. I want my way. I want control. (My never ending struggle with being a control-freak)….and if I don’t get it, I struggle. I struggle with the joy sometimes. I struggle with rejoicing sometimes.

But, I want to be a good example live an authentic life and hold tightly to my Savior for the rest of the world to see…. (more on this later)….

Today I was listening to a sermon online by Joel Osteen (for this post research only). I have never listened to Joel Osteen, and as I was listening, I realized why I don’t listen to him.

  • Sure, he’s a sweet-talker.
  • Sure, his voice is soothing.
  • Sure, he makes you feel good.
  • Sure, he says what you WANT to hear, but is it what you NEED to hear?

Throughout the sermon (sermon title: Be A Good Example) I just kept listening, waiting for something more. But, I never got it. I took “notes” as I listened and here’s what he said:

  • Everyone of us has a ministry….
  • Your pulpit is your life….
  • How consistent are you?….
  • “Light your let shine” by having a positive attitude, smiling, laughing, being kind, being helpful, and watching how you react to hard times and staying positive during difficult times….
  • Everyone of us has a ministry—you may not know how to preach, but you know how to smile! You can be stable in the midst of adversity….
  • People don’t read books anymore; they read our lives….

(And, I would agree with all of those….) But…..

Joel used 2 Corinthians 5:20 as a reference when talking about being a representative of Christ. In using this reference one thing he pointed out kind of bothered me.

“We are ambassadors of Christ, God’s personal representatives….People don’t see God; they see us. So, am I representing God in the way I should?….Do I draw people to me or do I push them away?”

I was bothered by the phrase: “People don’t see God; they see us.”

Yes, I get it. You cannot (physically) see God, but I want people to (spiritually) see God in me.

I don’t want them to see me.

I want them to see God.

Do you get why I didn’t really agree with the phrase–“they don’t see God.”

Another thing that he talked about was the idea, “It’s a poor representation of our God if we go around being negative/sour/complaining/sloppy/beat-up/run-down”

Again, I understand what he’s saying, but the message he is sending says…we, as believers, can never be negative, never be sloppy, never be upset, never be frustrated….and I struggle with that just as much as I struggle with 1 Thessalonians 5:16 (on second thought: maybe throughout this whole blog post–God is convicting me; that’s why I am uncomfortable. Hhhhmmm??? Anyway)….

As I said earlier, in my opinion, we are human. We are sinners. We fall short of the glory of God. We strive for perfection (as God has called us to in Matthew 5:48), but we also know that it is absolutely impossible to achieve perfection in this life (which I think, sometimes, is the reason why Christians struggle is because they can never achieve it)…..more on this later.

**(added later after talking to Paul at dinner–Paul and I both agree that yes, Christians are in fact, not perfect, but we should strive for that and part of doing that is all about the attitude BEHIND our frustration/our negativity/our anger….yes, we are not always happy, because happiness is an outward feeling that is based solely on content. I’ll be happy if….

But…

As Christians, we should rejoice always (as stated above), despite our circumstances. But, it is hard because I am human. I am selfish. I am a sinner. And I am not perfect). **

If perfection were a possibility, we wouldn’t have a need for a Savior.

Then WHY did He (God) give us an impossible task??? Because we NEED to always be working to be better. If human beings don’t have that unattainable goal of perfection, then we become content and complacent with where we are, and we become lazy and idle. Why else would so many people who seem to, “have it all,” be so unhappy? They have nothing else to really work for, and their lives become meaningless and empty.

AGAIN–“People who always want to be happy and pursue it above all else are some the most miserable people in the world.” -Dr. Henry Cloud (from Boundaries in Marriage)

With a constant goal of Christ-like perfection in mind, we always have something to be working towards.

I read somewhere on a blog (and now I can’t find where although I saved the quote)…..”The knowledge that this perfection cannot be achieved in this life takes away the frustration and despair that usually accompanies other types of unattainable goals. Knowing that everything we do in this life will directly affect how we achieve Christ-like perfection in the afterlife helps us to stick with that goal.”—I think this is true, but I’ll push back against that a little bit and say…

If we, as teachers/adults/parents/leaders tell our children “be happy” or “be an example” all the time, we are doing them a disservice because we turn it into “goal-setting” instead of “life-living.” We use 1 Timothy 4:12 as “encouragement” for those who struggle, and yet I don’t think they fully understand what it means….

Instead of understanding their life hidden with Christ in God, they try hard to simply be a good example by their actions and behavior. It leads to a lot of pressure (“goal setting”) and shame because they are doing all of that in their own strength and not in union with their life in Christ.

Our teenagers already live in such a “pressure-filled” society and culture, why would we put more pressure on them to “be an example.” It ultimately turns into a checklist of behaviors.

  • I faithfully read my Bible-check.
  • I attend FCA or a Christian club at school-check.
  • I refrain from drinking, drugs, and sex-check.
  • I always smile-check.

But, if we live off a “check-list” mentality, none of it is an authentic expression of faith, and none of it is done through resting in Christ’s grace and love. It is journey through adolescence where teenagers pressure themselves to be perfect, so they won’t lose their “example” status.

That thinking is a  little backwards. Yes, when we first are guiding kids to an understanding of what it means to “follow Christ” there may be certain things that are stated or explained in order for a child/teenager to understand what it means to become a Christian, but Paul and I both think that that is such a disservice, as part of youth ministry, to just give your kids a list of “do’s and don’ts”–they don’t learn how to authentically live their own faith. They are just living out faith off of a checklist or the faith of their parents.

Our kids and teenagers focus so much on doing the right things, and yet, they really aren’t being an example to anyone. Their focus is so much on behavior and not on their relationships with Jesus and/or with other people.

I think sometimes that’s why non-believers struggle with the stereo-type of “Christians” because they don’t see us as “lights in a dark world” they see us as goodie-goodies….

We must show our kids HOW to have an authentic relationship with Christ, and hopefully they will naturally be examples to those around them.

If I am an example who is willing to be vulnerable, who is willing to love people as they are, willing to listen and slow to speak, willing to admit my struggles, then the kids and teenagers Paul and I work with will also be that to their friends. Whatever kind of example I set for them is what they will be inspired to show as well (I always have people watching). So, if we, as youth workers/parents/leaders/teachers are not the kind of examples we want THEM to see, it’s not their fault, it’s ours.

The old idiom “Do as I say, not as I do” DOES NOT apply here…..

And above all, we need to teach them about relying on the Holy Spirit (as I mentioned before). We need to teach them how to find answers they need through prayer and through reading God’s word. We need to teach them who they are in Christ, who Christ is in them, and the natural result is (hopefully) they will be an example, without really worrying about a “checklist” or the dichotomy of trying to live in this world but not of this world (John 15:17-19).

So, am I happy all the time?

No.

But, God does not call us to be happy; He calls us to be holy.

Holiness is, quite simply, realizing that one’s happiness is found ONLY in God.

Am I a good example to those who look up to me?

Yes, but only because I live an authentic life, vulnerable and exposed. I want to display the very nature of who I am and WHOSE I am, not based on a checklist of “right and wrong” but based on my relationship with Jesus.

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One thought on “I’m Happy All The Time??? and Being a “Good Example”

  1. Pingback: Year in Review | Finding Refuge

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