Tag Archives: Scripture

Review: Happiness

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Book Reviews

When I decided to launch this website, I knew Randy Alcorn’s new book Happiness would be a must-read (and must-review). I don’t know if Randy knows this, but he and I are kindred spirits. First there was his book, Heaven, one of the happiest books I’ve ever read, and parts of which I’m sure were taken telepathically from my own brain. (Kindred spirits, you know.) Now there’s Happiness, which is a fitting “sequel.” Also, thanks to Randy, I’ve got tweets lined up for weeks. (No, seriously. Pretty much 90 percent of my tweets for the next few months will come from this book.) Here are my main takeaways from each of the four sections:

Our Compelling Quest for Happiness

If happiness is the one thing ALL people desire, and the one thing only God can ultimately provide, why aren’t churches talking more about it? In part one, Alcorn gives evidence from throughout Church history that happiness is something that saints have always, until very recently, pursued and preached. But he’s also careful to define his terms so that readers understand that the only kind of happiness we should pursue is that which results in glorifying God. That is, we won’t find true happiness in sinful pleasures (or GOOD pleasures that we’ve turned into idols, such as relationships), but we can — and should — seek happiness in God and the gifts of his creation.

The Happiness of God

This section tackles one of the most neglected attributes of God: his happiness. It didn’t take long for Alcorn to convince me that the Triune God is happy in himself and his creation — and that believing this is vital to understanding our own happiness. Many churchgoers imagine God’s default demeanor is one of anger and disappointment, which affects our worship. Alcorn asks us to imagine how our lives would look (and how the world would see us) if we knew that the God we serve is happy. Then we’re given evidence from Scripture that God is, indeed, happy — and he delights to make us part of his story.

The Bible’s Actual Words for Happiness

In what Alcorn calls the most important section, he takes us through passages of Scripture that use the Hebrew and Greek words for happiness, letting the Bible build its own case. One main point here is that these words should often be translated “happy,” but translators and publishers are fixated on the more traditional word “blessed.” We’re comfortable with the SOUND of Psalm 1 (“Blessed is the man”) and Matthew 5 (“Blessed are the poor in spirit”), but we can easily miss the MEANING of the word “blessed” in these contexts: HAPPY! Alcorn takes us through dozens (out of hundreds) of verses where the original languages denote happiness, making it clear that it’s one of the Bible’s most prominent themes.

Understanding and Experiencing Happiness in God

This section could be called “How To Be Happy.” It includes Scripture reading, prayer, corporate worship, repentance, forgiveness, service to others, gratitude, and a focus on our future hope. Now, these are strategies we already know. But with what we’ve learned in parts 1-3, we start to see these not just as things we ought to do, but things we should delight to do. When our DUTY becomes our DELIGHT, Christianity starts to look and feel the way it should: a religion of joy.

This book is a commitment, weighing in at more than 400 pages. But it takes about that long to debunk the myths surrounding happiness. In both the church and the culture at large, happiness needs to be redeemed — it’s demonized by churches, hijacked by prosperity preachers, and misunderstood by unbelievers. With the Bible and Church history on his side, Alcorn puts happiness back in its rightful place and gives us permission to pursue it as an integral part of our walk with God — a God who himself delights with us.

The Happy Commandments

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I’m gonna say something that might make you uncomfortable: God wants us to be happy. No, this isn’t a quote from Joel Osteen. (Or maybe it is, but I certainly wouldn’t know.) It’s biblical. God not only wants us to be happy, he demands it. The Bible is filled with directives to delight, rejoice, and be glad. They’re what I call the happy commandments. Let’s look at just two of them.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4)

Oh boy, this is one of my favorite commandments. This I can handle. Loving our enemies? Hard to do. Humbling ourselves? Hard to do. But rejoicing in our good, faithful, loving Creator? Yes, please! Charles Spurgeon said,

“What a gracious God we serve, who makes delight to be a duty, and who commands us to rejoice! Should we not at once be obedient to such a command as this? It is intended that we should be happy. That is the meaning of the precept, that we should be cheerful; more than that, that we should be thankful; more than that, that we should rejoice.”

But how do we obey a command to be happy? Like anything else, it takes a little practice. It requires reading God’s Word, praying, and meeting with our fellow saints to honor God in corporate worship — the same “spiritual disciplines” we’ve heard about a hundred times. Practicing the things that REMIND us of the Lord will cause us to REJOICE in him.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:15)

Of course, that’s only half the command, but we’ll talk more about the second half in good time. This one is great because it gives us a reason to make other people’s joy our own. But once again, how do we obey such a command? I’ve learned two practical ways to do this over the years.

The first is to say, “I’m happy for you.” Out loud. While smiling. And really mean it. When someone gets promoted or engaged or wins a vacation to Hawaii, tell them you’re happy for them. Even better, thank God for those things. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). Blessings are blessings, whether or not they’re yours. So take time in prayer to thank God for other people’s gifts. You’ll find there’s a lot to be happy for.

The second trick is to ask WHY people rejoice and WHERE people rejoice, and then go there! Get out of the house and celebrate things that don’t revolve around you: weddings, birthdays, baby showers, retirements, baptisms, and maybe even anniversaries. (Just make sure you don’t drop in at the wrong time!) And if you can’t be there in person, send cards or text messages. Or if you’re REALLY pressed for time, click “Like” on Facebook — let them know you’re rejoicing right alongside them in the laziest way possible.

God commands us to delight in him and our fellow man, just as he commands us to love him and our fellow man (Matthew 22:38-39). I’m with Spurgeon on this one: we shouldn’t delay in obeying the happy commandments. We need to start taking happiness as seriously as God does.