By: Jenni Walker
“Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him.” (C.S. Lewis)
“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:3-5)
* * * * *
My husband bought me a charming little tea pot last year. It is bright blue with a rounded black handle and cute spout. I am usually a coffee drinker but like to occasionally steep a fragrant tea bag in boiling hot water. (Perhaps to connect with the small English part of my ancestral heritage?) As I sat down at the kitchen table with my Bible and a cup of tea one morning, I read the quote written on the small piece of paper at the end of the tea bag string. Usually there are inspiring sayings that resemble fortune cookie messages such as “The waters of kindness will produce a garden of fruit,” or “A small choice today will lead to a good outcome.”
But the one I read on this particular sunny morning caused me to sigh inwardly and make a face that involved a scrunched nose and furrowed eyebrows. The quote stated, “The beginning is you, the middle is you, and the end is you.” Ugh. Was this narcissistic statement supposed to add enjoyment to my tea-drinking experience? It made me consider once again how unapologetically “me-centered” our culture has become.
You have probably heard the common phrase: “Do what makes you happy!” It sounds so nice, almost inspirational. What could be the problem with that? Actually, there is a problem with that statement. There is a self-centered attitude that is pervasive throughout our American culture today, much of which stems from the belief that you should do whatever “makes you happy.” Now I’ll be the first to admit that I like to feel happy! For the record, I am much happier drinking a mug of coffee than a cup of tea. Dancing makes me happy. A song with a good beat and great lyrics thrills my insides. Getting extra “likes” on a recent Facebook photo or post provides a happy sense of affirmation. The list of things that make us “feel happy” are virtually endless. But the problem occurs when we are in constant pursuit of those happy feelings, because at some point they will allude us. What happens when we begin to base much of our existence and our daily lives on things that contribute to our feelings of of “just being happy”? The author of a book about young culture in America today calls it Generation Me. She subtitles the book, “Why this generation is more confident, assertive…and more miserable than ever before” (Jean Twenge).
The Message of the Tea Bag
Why would seeking one’s own happiness lead to feeling miserable? Perhaps you have felt miserable before. You think you know what will make you happy. You did what sounded right to you in a certain situation, but perhaps the results left you feeling a sense of emptiness – a sense of there being something more.
When we become the measuring stick for our own happiness, we will always fall short. Yes, God has created us as unique individuals with specific plans for our lives (Psalm 139:16; Ephesians 2:10). But we should not seek His plans just for our own sense of happiness. There is more at stake. We are called to “be holy [set apart] and without blame before Him in love” (Ephesians 1:4) in the way that we live, and that means living for much more than our own personal happiness.
We in America today are often guilty (at times without even realizing it!) of making personal happiness an idol. We can so quickly become addicted to the feelings of “happiness” that we experience from things that are fleeting, such as how many people liked a Facebook post, the number of compliments we got on the decorations we made for a party, whether or not our work got recognized by our boss, whether we could afford a specific kind of car, how good we thought an episode of a favorite Netflix show was, how quickly our husband texted us back, or even how cute our kids looked in the yearly Christmas photo. While none of these things are wrong in and of themselves, they can easily lead to an unbiblical focus on personal happiness found through instant gratification. We might look back on our day filled with “happy feelings” and see that what we focused on actually communicated the same message as the one on my tea bag: “The beginning is you, the middle is you, and the end is you.”
Live for More
The Bible admonishes us in Ephesians 5:15-16, “See then that you walk circumspectly [and carefully], not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time because the days are evil.” Proverbs 12:15 tells us that “the lifestyle of the fool is right in his own opinion.” While it is a wonderful thing to enjoy life, we can easily want to justify our pursuits of instant gratification even when they begin to take priority over our pursuit of God’s will (Ephesians 5:17). Rather, we are called to follow the example set by Jesus – who gave to the point of laying down His life for us! Our time here on this earth is not just for our pursuit of personal enjoyment. Yes, each of our lives have great worth and value to Him, but ultimately we must remember that it is not about us but about HIM. We are called to live for more! Philippians 2:1-5 outlines the attitude we are to cultivate as Christ-followers:
“Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…” (NKJV)
As wholehearted Christian women, let’s remember that submission to the Lord is not just for the purpose of our personal happiness. Our lives are not to be lived on the basis of the belief that life is just supposed to make us feel happy – those feelings are ever-moving targets and often do not last in the way that we might have hoped for. Yet, that deep longing we all have for significance and satisfaction is God-given, and while it will never be fully realized until we are with our Lord in heaven, there is an earthly antidote.
Ladies, in our time here on this earth, we are called to “look out not only for [our] own interests, but also for the interests of others” according to the example set for us by Jesus. We are to live lives of self-giving! And yet, our Lord in His infinite wisdom has not destined us merely to lives of drudgery in self-giving. Rather, He designed it so that it is “more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35)! Elisabeth Elliot put it well when she wrote to her daughter, Valerie, about this God-designed “paradoxical principle”: “You yourself will be given light in exchange for pouring yourself out for the hungry; you yourself will get guidance, the satisfaction of your longings, and strength, when you ‘pour yourself out,’ when you make the satisfaction of somebody else’s desire your own concern; you yourself will be a source of refreshment, a builder, a leader into healing and rest at a time when things around you seem to have crumbled.” (Let Me Be a Woman, p. 46-47) God has designed our self-giving to His glory to be a deep blessing both to those we serve and also to us!
Lord of Our Hearts
In closing, while it is not wrong to feel happy, an attitude of just wanting to “be happy” can easily creep onto the throne of our hearts. We can find ourselves taking our cues from it to the point of where that pursuit of personal happiness can become an idol. But we must be diligent to always keep our Heavenly Father as Lord of our hearts, our desires, and our lives (Deuteronomy 5:7)! Ephesians 5:1-2a reminds us, “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us…” I encourage you to spend some time asking God for guidance, for Him to search your heart through the work of the Holy Spirit, and the truth of His Word (Hebrews 4:12-13). Have you asked Him recently to reveal to you me-first attitudes that may have crept into your heart? Paradigms of thinking that need to be shifted? Habits that need to be changed? Selfish motives? Prideful intentions? No matter where you are at today, let’s begin together by praying as Psalm 139:23-24 says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxieties; see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Feelings of happiness may come and go, but it is in this wholehearted surrender to our Lord that true joy is found!
* * * * *
Prayer: Lord God, I have made the decision to follow You. I know that I am justified through the shed blood of Your Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross. My body is now a living temple of YOUR Holy Spirit. But, O Lord, I have not sought you with an emptied, surrendered heart. Forgive me, Father, for living selfishly and even making feelings of personal happiness and satisfaction an idol. Forgive me for coveting; forgive me for the pride in my heart. Sanctify me, set me apart, refine me, and make my life holy and pleasing unto You, to be used as a vessel in this earth to proclaim Your gospel and goodness and love to OTHERS, and to bring glory and honor to YOUR name. Heavenly Father, You are my Lord. As Jesus emptied Himself, I choose to empty myself of all my own selfish ambitions, desires, plans, and endeavors for personal satisfaction. I need Your help, Father. Lead me according to Your will!
* * * * *