Don’t you hate it when you read titles like this and then they only tell you what you already know?
Everybody wants to read about secrets. Everybody wants to know something that somebody else doesn’t. It’s the reason why gossip is so popular.
But the secret to happiness, now that is something we all want to know about. It has the same appeal as the fountain of youth. We all want to be happy for the rest of our lives and if possible to live for ever. Right? Of course right!
I am 51 years old and I have struggled with discontentment, anxiety, fear, confusion, anger, frustration and a whole host of other things. I am a human being. But for a very long time I figured that I must be doing something wrong. I bought into the prosperity gospel which told me that I have to do these five things, or believe those three verses, or pray more, or memorise the books of the bible, or make sure I am coming to church, or make sure I am paying my tithe, or do as the pastor says, and I will be healthy, wealthy and wise. Nobody ever said content however. Nor did anyone ever say godly, although they almost said it sometimes. I guess you know which verse I am thinking of.
6 Now godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into thisworld, and it is certain[c] we can carry nothing out. 8 And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
(1 Timothy 6:6-10 NKJV)
The first sentence of this passage has always been a pain in the neck to me. I would hear it and ignore it. If it was quoted to me, I heard noise. In fact, more often than not this verse is quoted in that annoying sing-song voice people use to quote superficial maxims and proverbs. It has been held in the same esteem as the sayings from a fortune cookie. And nobody really believes it. I certainly didn’t. Until just recently.
I can’t and won’t go into the difficulties I have been through over the last 50 years. But I can say in general terms that having come from an extremely dysfunctional and abusive family and then spending 15 years in a religious cult and the next 10 years recovering, most of my life has been dedicated to finding the secret to a happy life. Or at least to recovering from an unhappy one. Folks, even with my love of God the father and His son Jesus Christ and the wonderful Holy Spirit, and my deep appreciation for the treasure that the word of God is, I can tell you that there is no secret to a happy life. Dag nabbit! There just isn’t.
But there is contentment with godliness.
Godliness with contentment has never really meant that much to me. For the longest time neither word conveyed much in the way of excitement or pleasure to me. But that was because I neither understood the gospel, nor lived it. My husband and family and I have been through some very difficult times together. And in all those times, as I said, I figured it was something I was doing, or not doing, that was causing all the problems. I thought I was the one in control, and if I could just crack the code, I could fix what was wrong and stop anything else bad from happening. My whole life has been about changing the past and manipulating the future.
I will give you as an example part of the process God took me through to change my thinking on this.
A couple of years ago, my husband was out of work. He is a builder with a fantastic resume and an extremely high quality of workmanship. Nobody who knows him would believe that for three months he could not find any work. Now anybody in the building trade knows how fickle it is, and regardless of your skill level there are times when there is just not enough work to be had. But for Steve, this was the first time in his life he had been out of work that long. For a workaholic perfectionist, it nearly killed him. The rest of us weren’t doing that great either.
I spent just about every morning during that period of our lives in my prayer closet (that sounds so holy doesn’t it – it was a walk in wardrobe) crying out to God to ask Him to fix our problem. He just kept telling me over and over to worship Him. Just to worship Him. I figured maybe this was the preliminary and then he was going to give me some direction, some plan, some hope that would help us at the time of our dire need.
I am a firm believer that God causes us to mature and grow by changing his strategy every now and then. As you don’t treat a teenager the same way you treat a toddler (despite the fact that they have surprisingly similar issues) God doesn’t treat a very young Christian the way he treats an older one. I have been a Christian for 37 years, so for me, the answer was not to give me an answer and to focus my gaze on God himself, not what He could do for me.
Well this was a kick in the pants. I was used to the 5 steps to this or the 10 keys to that, or at the very least some kind of bible verse or general hint that things were going to get better. Yet every morning, I would pray and God would tell me to worship Him. He wasn’t speaking audibly mind, He would speak to my heart and I knew that this was what he wanted. Just to worship Him. It took three months, nothing of any significance happened during that time, but I did learn something. In those hours of simply sitting and focusing on God, his attributes, his nature, and his presence, I learned this one very important thing.
In Exodus 3:14 God tells Moses that his name is “I AM that I AM”. The King James version uses the word ‘that’, and some later versions say ‘who’. I prefer the older translation. I don’t know if it is more accurate and I don’t know enough ancient Hebrew to be able to know what the exact translation means with decent accuracy. But I do know that “I AM that I AM” confers a majesty and a simplicity that just never ceases to amaze me. Let me explain this way.
I found something amusing on the internet once years ago. Some smarty pants compared the words of Popeye to those words God used to describe himself and put them side by side.
Popeye says “I yam what I yam” or, in English, I am what I am.
God says “I AM that I AM”.
You would think that the two mean the same thing but they don’t. Popeye is saying what you see is what you get and I am not anything more or less than that.
God is saying, the fact that I exist at all is the most important thing in the entire cosmos or any theological treatise or in the annals of human knowledge for the whole of history.
So when God tells you that it is more important that you worship Him in the midst of your desperate need He is telling you something about Himself, and also about yourself. He is saying that he has created us as His people to worship Him at all times, in every way, under every circumstance, and with all our hearts and minds and soul and strength because He is.
Once we get even a small glimpse of this, then the understanding of that immortal verse, godliness with contentment is great gain becomes transparent.
To go back to Popeye’s self-description, he was speaking as a humble little sailor who simply was who he was and he had no ambition to be anything more. God’s self-description is that his existence is the most important aspect of who he is. If God is, then every human being who has ever lived must bow the knee and confess with their mouths that He is Lord. If God is, then the whole of creation belongs to Him, and we, as his creation, are also in no position to be making any demands of the Almighty one who is not only God and Lord but Father. We also have to acknowledge that since He already knows the beginning from the end, and every fact about everything that ever existed, we do not need to go into meltdown when things go ‘wrong’. As far as God is concerned, everything that is happening now has already happened. He saw it before it happened and knows the outcome, even those parts of the outcome which don’t concern us. So to act like spoiled children demanding that God fix our lives or our circumstances is actually pretty faithless. I don’t speak as somebody who is beyond the cares of this life, I assure you. I speak as somebody who has clung to the hem of His garment and found the edges of this truth. I am convinced there is a great deal more to know.
If the one and greatest truth of all time is real, then nothing else matters. Not what man can do to me, not whether I can make a success of my life in this world, not whether I live or die, nor whether I have the best house in the street or the most expensive car in the city. It matters not one whit whether our kids get married or our dog gets better or our lives are comfortable or our bank balances empty. GOD IS. THAT is all that matters.
Once we have heaved our reluctant brains around this completely brain-imploding truth, then everything else changes. And it was this that God was trying to help me see. But as God is perfect and His wisdom is wonderful, I am dumb and slow to hear. It took me a lot longer than three months, and I am only just getting my head around this truth now. And yet it is so simple.
It also makes the truth that godliness with contentment is great gain a whole lot clearer. I use this particular verse because for the first time, contentment is having such a huge impact on me. I have to stress, its not because I am content. Far from it. But I realise now why I haven’t ever been. I have been focusing on the wrong thing. If I look at my circumstances, I will always see the need to improve or change something. If I look at my family I will always fret about their needs, or lack. For some reason, human beings seem to only be able to see what is wrong with the world rather than what is right about it. It may have something to do with the fact that there is nothing right about it. The world is imperfect, therefore, we will never find ourselves in a place where everything is working as it should. Who are we to assess what ‘working’ even means? That is why looking to God, looking at God is the only and best way to look at life.
And here is the really interesting part. Godliness comes as God works his own life into you. The seed is planted at the point of faith, and the seed grows as we change from being baby Christians to teenage Christians to much older Christians. That life is worked into us as we get closer and more intimate with Him. The more intimate we get with Him, the less we need to do in order to impress Him, or ourselves (or our neighbours).
I don’t know if you have ever noticed this, but baby Christians often get everything they want straight away. Not always, but it happens a lot more to them than it does to older Christians. For us, we have to wait a lot longer to see results, and our patience and our faithfulness are tested in this way. When you are young and full of energy and zeal, perhaps you don’t notice that God isn’t working the way you thought he would, but the older you get, the more impatient you become. God why haven’t you supplied this need for work for my husband? You know he is the sole wage earner and we need the money what are we going to do without money you know that we have to eat God are you listening to me? It becomes a nag, not a prayer. God stopped listening a long time ago, but he looks at your heart and sees the pain and doesn’t ever stop caring. He simply wants you to stop clinging so desperately to the obvious, and to start exercising your trust and faith in Him.
Best way to exercise trust and faith? Focus on who He is. Worship Him. It is not just an intellectual exercise. Nor is it a religious one. This is not ‘centering prayer’ or ‘mystical mediation’ or anything like any of that religious rot. It is solely and purely about immersing yourself in the truth of God’s nature and his omnipresence. Then you begin to understand that all things work together for good and things start to being to look different. They don’t change, they just look less threatening.
I will give you one more example before I close.
Some time ago we were having a great deal of trouble with a property manager. She was the sort of person who played games with people because she was in a position to do so. She was, in short, a narcissist. She was completely self-involved to the point of making other people’s lives a misery for no other reason than that she enjoyed it. When we had to leave the house we were renting from her, I knew she was going to give us grief, as so many property managers do to their tenants. It got to the point that I knew I would have to take her to court to get all our bond money back. It would be a doddle. I knew it. I talked to a tenancy law advisor and she agreed. So I prepared the paperwork. It took me a couple of months of work, with phone calls, emails and filling in forms, but I knew I had this woman exactly where I wanted her and no judge worth his salt would be able to overlook the obvious outrageous behaviour she indulged in. I had a fancy that she was probably just doing this to cause trouble and would probably not care if she was denied her own claim anyway. She was not in this for the money, just for the amount of difficulty she would cause us. We had the gall to question her illegal methods and say ‘no’ to her, so we were going to have to pay. I was sick and tired of being ripped off by morally deviant people.
The night before I was about to go into town and deliver the papers, the Lord spoke to me. It was close to midnight, and I was the only one awake, sitting in the lounge room, with our cat quietly purring beside me. God broke through my exhausted mind and pointed out how content the cat was. She was quite happy to simply be in a warm comfortable place being patted by her keeper. She was content. God then showed me that my own heart, however righteous I knew my quest to be, was disturbed and discontent. I was strung out, stressed, anxious and tense, all because I had to face off my enemy in court. I did not know the outcome despite the fact that I knew I was right because I had heard of cases where simply because there was an outstanding amount, the judge made both parties pay equally. It was not justice, nor was it even fair, but that was the way the courts worked. So it was entirely possible that even though I did not owe anyone any money, we would still have to pay half of the money oweing. I couldn’t stand the thought of that wicked woman sitting there with her smug sly smile looking down her nose at us. As I said, it wasn’t the money that was the issue with her, it was making us pay for crossing her. For her this was payback. We simply wanted to clear our own names and maintain our perfect rental record.
Our motivation was fear, plain unadulterated fear, and we weren’t proceeding in faith or in love. God told me to drop the court case. I could hardly believe it. He simply came to me in that lounge chair and said, let it go. As I allowed myself to hear from Him and let my heart turn from its own agendas to His, I realised the truth once more. What did it matter how somebody else tried to destroy our character? God knew the truth. God was our defender, God provided houses, not human beings, God would fulfil our needs, not the world, and God was our Lord and Father, we were not at the mercy of the courts. So we dropped it. I spoke to my husband the next morning, he had been sleeping soundly when God was talking to me (he did not get as stressed about these things as I did) and Steve agreed that this was God’s word to us. The second I let it go, I knew a peace and a contentment I hadn’t felt for months. There were a few scary moments when the deadline for the court papers passed, but in the end, I knew we had done the right thing.
Godliness and righteousness are conferred upon us through Jesus sacrifice on the Cross. Yet in verse 11 of the chapter quoted above, Paul tells Timothy to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience and gentleness. He tells him to fight the good fight of faith and lay hold on eternal life. Elsewhere he tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. So there is a conscious effort that we put into our maturity. Not, I hasten to add, our salvation, lest anyone accuse me of preaching a works based gospel. No, our works, that gold silver and precious stones which will come through the fire, are the result of our faith and our salvation. Yet they are still the measure of how much our hearts have changed in Him. As we mature, the more we pursue godliness, and if we can also be content in Him, that He is, then we will have great gain.
So the secret to happiness doesn’t actually exist. Happiness is never promised in scripture. Godliness, righteousness, love, joy and peace on the other hand are the fruit of a life lived in full commitment to Jesus our Saviour and God the Father and the gentle sensitive Holy Spirit.
Our task is not to pursue prosperity, nor is it to ‘have’ things, nor is it to protect our stuff, whether that is our reputation or our earthly security. If God bestows upon us the blessings of material wealth it is because he has a purpose for it, not because we somehow deserve it or because He wants everyone to be rich. Just being out of debt would be nice. Sometimes, owing Ceasar can be a huge weight on your shoulders. Yet God promised that he knows our every need and our lives are in His hands. Do we actually believe that or are we just shrugging our shoulders and saying ‘yeah, right’ in our hearts.
Want to overcome your circumstances? Worship God. HE IS.