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)
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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. Researching topics of interest makes me happy. A song with a good beat and great lyrics thrills my insides. My son’s giggles and my husband’s laughter make my day. Getting extra “likes” on a recent Facebook photo or post can provide 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 “just being happy”?
Jean M. Twenge, PhD, author of several books about 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.” 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 the self becomes 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.
Even as Christians, personal happiness can (at times without even realizing it!) become an unholy pursuit in our lives. We can quickly become caught in 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 for much of it was our own self.
Jean Twenge also co-authored The Narcissism Epidemic with W. Keith Campbell, in which they observed, “An increasing number of Americans not only admire fame from afar but fervently wish to enter the circle of celebrity themselves. In 2006, 51% of 18-to 25-year-olds said that ‘becoming famous’ was an important goal of their generation—nearly five times as many as named ‘becoming more spiritual’ as an important goal. A 2006 poll asked children in Britain to name ‘the very best thing in the world.’ The most popular answer was ‘being a celebrity.’ ‘Good looks’ and ‘being rich’ rounded out the top three, making for a perfectly narcissistic triumvirate. ‘God’ came in last…”
While “becoming more spiritual” and “God” are likely at the top of your list as a wholehearted woman of God, it is also important that we realize this kind of value system of personal happiness and self-focus can so easily seep into our lives. We as believers are given a cautionary admonishment 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 or personal fulfillment 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!
Peter knew this well. Near the end of the gospel of John, Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Peter’s response was, “Yes, Lord. You know that I love you…” Jesus went on to tell him, “’But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.’ Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, ‘Follow me’” (John 21:18–19). Peter would one day suffer the ultimate cost out of love for Jesus: he, too, was eventually crucified on a cross as a disciple of Christ.
No, our time here on this earth is not just for our pursuit of personal enjoyment. 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. 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…” Feelings of happiness and personal gratification may come and go, but it is in this wholehearted surrender to our Lord and love for Him that true joy is found!
TIME TO REFLECT
1. Why does living according to the worldview, “Do what makes you happy!” actually lead to feelings of emptiness and dissatisfaction?
2. Read Philippians 2:4–11, and prayerfully and humbly ask the Holy Spirit to bring conviction to your heart where selfishness and self-serving motives (i.e. instant gratification, personal ease, comfortability, etc.) may have crept onto the throne of your heart.
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(This devotion contains excerpts from The Wholehearted Woman: Who She is and Why She Matters by Beth Doohan and Jenni Walker.)