John Fuller: Well, the great thinker and theologian, Augustine wrote some 1,600 years ago that everyone desires to be happy, so much so that we prefer it to all other things. And that seems true today, but is wanting happiness a good thing or a bad thing? And what does God think of that anyway? This is “Focus on the Family” with your host, Focus president, Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, I think today we do concentrate on that a lot, especially in our culture of materialism. So often the books that fly off the shelf at a bookstore are the 10 tips to becoming happy, 10 tips to becoming happier in your marriage, you know, whatever it might be. And today, we want to talk with what I would argue is probably the country’s foremost theologian on happiness and that is Randy Alcorn. And uh … this is gonna be a discussion you’re going to want to listen to and you’re going to want to probably listen to again. And Randy, it’s great to have you here at Focus.
Randy Alcorn: Great to be here with you guys.
Jim: You write so prolifically. When you write a book, it is a textbook, ’cause you go into so much detail. When you look at happiness, is there a distinction between joy and happiness?
Randy: Well, interestingly, this has been taught as if it were fact for many, many years, many sermons that say joy and happiness are two different things. But the message we end up sending, first of all, is we get ’em both wrong, because when you start saying things like joy is not an emotion and joy is not really based on anything. It’s some transcendental vague sort of thing, but don’t seek happiness, because that’s the world, you know and that’s sin and all of that.
Well, a lot of people do seek happiness in sin, just like they seek joy in sin. But God is the true source of happiness. And [in] my study, I went back to the Hebrew and Greek words and there are many of them that are translated in various versions– “joy,” “gladness,” “merriment,” “happiness,” “delight,” “pleasure.” And these are all words that have overlapping meanings. They’re like circles that overlap and they share. Ninety percent of a Hebrew word that’s translated “joy,” overlaps with one that’s translated “gladness” or “happiness.”
And these are all synonyms, and so, I think it’s been a false distinction and kind of a … a negative distinction that’s been made between joy and happiness, because the message we send is, oh, well, if you seek to be happy, that’s something that’s superficial, shallow. Go out there and get it in the world. But all people seek happiness, and because they do, we’re basically telling them, stop seeking what God Himself wired you to seek. And when we should be saying, seek your happiness in the right place—
Randy: –God Himself.
Jim: But we struggle with that. Where is that tradition in the church where we started to think of happiness as a sin? That if you’re a happy person, something’s wrong with you, because the life of a Christian should be one of burden and lowliness? I mean, why would we think that’s a better way when we see, clearly, it seems that even the record and the account of Jesus, you know, they were pretty tough on Him, because He went places where He shouldn’t have gone. He was at parties He shouldn’t have been at. Why have we in the church kind of felt we’re holier if we’re lowly?
Randy: That’s a great question. I think of Scripture such as Joel 2:21: “Be happy and full of joy, because the Lord has done a wonderful thing.” Or Psalm 40, verse 16: “May all those who seek You be happy and rejoice in You,” all the passages in the Psalms about “shout triumphantly; be happy; rejoice out loud.”
You know, these passages of Scripture, for some reason, don’t resonate with us, because we have these preconceived notions. And as you say, Jesus Himself was criticized. He was called a glutton and a drunkard. He wasn’t a glutton and a drunkard, but He was called that. Why? Because He went to parties where people ate and drank, and some people probably were at those parties who were drunks and gluttons. But you don’t have to, to celebrate and to be in an environment of happiness, you don’t have to be sinning.
Jim: Hey, Randy, let me ask you this. It’s a funny saying, but I think it proves the point and I can’t even remember where I heard it, and many of you may have heard this, as well, but someone once said to me, “You know, you Christians, you look saved except for your face.” (Laughter)
Jim: And what they mean by that is, we’re just long in the mouth. We look down. We look dejected. We are fearful. We don’t have confidence.
Jim: Why is that? Why, if we’re in that right spot with God, why wouldn’t our faces express happiness and joy?
Randy: Well, that’s a great question, and that’s something I often say. I say in the book, is that, when people talk about, oh well, you know, happiness, that’s just based on circumstances. Well, first of all, I know what they mean when they say that. But let’s take what our true circumstances are. Let’s just take Romans 8. “Nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ.”That’s an actual condition, so call that a “circumstance.” It’s an invisible circumstance, but it’s a real one. If you know Jesus, He went to the cross and purchased your eternal happiness. So, let’s front-load that to how we think and how we live today.
John: Randy, I so appreciate your perspectives here, but I’ve talked to so many people of late that are really weighed down by life’s circumstances. I mean, they’ve got cancer. They have a family member who’s been in an auto accident, a husband lost a job. There are a lot of sad things that happen in this world, so how can I justify what you’re talking about, which is truth, with the present circumstances that are really, really pulling me down?
Randy: Yeah, that’s a great question, and I think we need to look at what Paul said in terms of sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. That’s how he describes the Christian life.
It’s not like bad things aren’t happening to us. We do have sorrow. This world is full of things that make God sad, but He simultaneously has a happiness that is based in Himself and that flows out of Himself. So, I think we need to not look at these two things as opposites that cannot co-exist. Sorrow and happiness can and do co-exist, and I preached many memorial services for people where you see the sadness. You see the tears, and then you see how quick people are to laugh, as they remember this thing about the person, and then to rejoice as they anticipate reunion that will one day come.
Jim: Yeah, I mean, that’s what’s so beautiful, and I think the Lord smiles on that son or daughter of His, who can feel joy and feel that happiness in bad circumstances. I think that’s one of the greatest affirmations of faith in God. And when a human being does that, I think it puts a smile on the Lord’s face. He’s pleased with that, because He knows you’re connected into Him. You’re not connected into this world in that way.
Jim: Randy, let me ask you this. You talked about that longing a few minutes ago, and I wanted to get back to that, that longing that a human being has to feel joyful, to feel happiness. Describe that longing in so much of what we do, particularly in Western culture today, to medicate that longing. We don’t necessarily find it in the right places. We’re trying to find it in extramarital affairs, or materialism, toys, whatever it might be, keeping ourselves busy, and we think that brings happiness. So, I guess it’s really a question of the definition of true happiness and where we find it.
Randy: Right. I think we need to ask ourselves, where this desire for happiness came from. And we act as if sometimes it came from the devil. Well, the devil knows nothing of happiness. He once knew happiness, but he gave it up when he sinned and fell and rebelled against God.
But what he does is, he takes rat poison and he wraps it up in these happy-looking wrappers and he gives it to us, and he offers us, and that’s the way he tempts us, because he knows we have this built-in desire for happiness.
But the reason we have this built-in desire for happiness is because we’re created in God’s image. He wired us to want to be happy. So, we sometimes disassociate happiness from its true source, which is God Himself.
And this is how it works. Satan can only offer us happiness. He can only tempt us by offering us happiness, because he knows that’s what we want. He just offers it in the wrong places, the wrong times, the wrong things.
But God on the other hand, who is described in Scripture as the happy God, is the God who says to us, “You can find your happiness in me. I created all kinds of secondary sources of happiness that point back to Me, the primary source of happiness.”
Jim: And when you get that in alignment, your life, as the Scripture says, you’ll be blessed, maybe in a variety of ways, but it’s good relationships, children that love you, those kinds of things. Randy, let me ask you this, kind of the proof in the pudding. Was there a time when you had to move from not being happy to embracing happiness? And what was that like? Tell me that story.
Randy: Well, for me, I look back first at being raised in an unbelieving home, hearing the Gospel for the first time when I was 15-years-old. My dad was a tavern owner. My parents had both been divorced. They fought a lot. You know, [they were] good people, but they just had a lot of problems. And I was so unhappy as a child. I mean, I was reasonably successful in athletics and student body president and different things, but I just was not fulfilled. I remember listening to John Lennon singing, “Help, I really need somebody.” I had two jukeboxes in my bedroom because of my dad’s business with taverns and moving around– jukeboxes and pool tables and everything. So, my place was a popular place to hang out with my friends.
Jim: You had all the toys.
Randy: I had the toys, exactly. In the pre-computer era, that we had all stuff and foosball and shuffleboard and little bowling machines and all of this. But [we had] all of these happiness-related things, but we were not a happy family.
And so, what happened to me was, when I came to faith in Christ, reading Scripture, I’d heard the Gospel from the church I started going to, to meet a girl, to spend time with a girl, who’s my wife and … and it’s wonderful and I’m gettin’ God, you know, as I say. You shouldn’t have been dating me, because you were a Christian, but I’m sure glad that God, you know, used it all for good.
But anyway, I found in Christ a happiness that was the lightness, the weight that was taken off of my heart. I cannot describe [it]. But then I’d been a Christian for a while, and my pastor would always talk about Oswald Chambers and his great book, and it’s truly a great book, My Utmost for His Highest. But in My Utmost for His Highest, I’m hearing Oswald Chambers say, happiness has nothing to do with the Christian life. God doesn’t care about your happiness. He cares about your holiness. And then he actually says, it is an insult to associate Jesus Christ with happiness.
And as I read those things, I realized what Oswald Chambers was doing. He was seeing people looking for happiness in sin. And so, he didn’t want people to just go out there and sin to be happy. But unfortunately, it was throwing out the baby with the bath water, because I was realizing as I read this, I thought, “Well, okay, it must be true, ’cause he’s saying it.” But I’m really much happier now that I know Jesus than I was before.
John: Well, you’re listening to “Focus on the Family” and our guest today is Randy Alcorn. He’s a popular speaker and author. He’s written the book, Happiness, which is a very extensive look at this subject and contact us to get a copy. Our number is 800-A-FAMILY or stop by www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
And when you make a generous donation to the work of Focus on the Family, to strengthen faith and equip families to really thrive, we’ll say thank you for your generosity by sending a copy of Randy’s book to you.
Jim: You know, Randy, I can remember working in the international area. I remember I went to Indonesia, and it was my first trip to Indonesia, and for those who have not been there, I was landing in Jakarta. It was about 5 in the afternoon.
And I jumped into a car that was sent for me. I was speaking there and I’m sitting in the back of this nice luxury sedan, and I’m driving, and the driver says to me, I know a back way. Well, Jakarta traffic is notorious. It’s L.A., New York traffic times 100.
And so, we’re in this back road, a dirt road, but still kind of urban Jakarta. And I’m just in the back seat of this car just, “What am I doin’ here? Do I really need to be here right now? I could be huggin’ my kids,” I mean, whatever I was thinkin’. And it was like the Lord spoke to my heart and said, “Look out the window.”
And I look out the window, and there were about six boys in tattered clothes–no buttons, torn shirts and they were playing with dented Coke cans in a black pool of water. They had the biggest smiles on their faces.
Jim: And they were havin’ a great time, pushing these cans through this murky water. And I sat back, and what the Lord said to my heart was, “I see their joy; what’s your problem?”
Randy: Wow. (Laughter)
Jim: It was as clear as someone speakin’ it to me.
Jim: And I just remember thinking about that. I don’t know if it’s expectations that cause us this disconnect. You know, I don’t want to be in this place. It’s dirty. It doesn’t meet my, you know, whatever. And there the Lord is saying, “What is your problem, you spoiled little boy of Mine? Look at these kids playing in this stuff, and they’re happy as can be.”
Jim: Why can’t you be happier
Randy: Often when we think of Jesus saying, “You’re the light of the world,” we think only of morality, ethics, etc. But I think, and of course, that is part of it for sure. But there’s also happiness, joy, gladness. When we walk into a room, the darkness that should be pushed away is not only the darkness of sin, but the darkness of hopelessness, of utter depression, of just suicidal thoughts, of “I don’t want to live anymore, and I’m so terribly unhappy.” That light draws people. It’s not simply the light of holiness that draws people to the Gospel. Sometimes it doesn’t successfully do that, as much as the light of happiness draws people to the Gospel.
Jim: Yeah, Randy, let me ask you this, and I think I know enough of your story and I’m hopeful that I’ve got this right, and I apologize if I don’t. But I know that, I think in your life there were times when you struggled with some depression.
Jim: And my wife has done that, and she’s given me permission to talk about that. And one of the things that we’ve had to work through in our own marriage is that, I remember something she was going through years ago that was very difficult. And of course, I was the “Pull yourself up by the boot straps,” guy, you know and that’s been my life, you know, that as an orphan kid, I didn’t have time to kinda just sit there and think, okay, what’s gonna happen? I had to start doin’ laundry at 10-years-old and cook my own meals and things like that. So, it comes out of me almost in a way that sounds unemotional and I get that. I’m working on those things.
But for her, it’s tough and speak to that person and from your own experience of depression. When you’re feeling those things, when you’re in that dark place that you don’t feel God’s happiness, how do you reach up to Him to try to find that rung in the ladder to get me out of here, Lord? When even as a believer, it’s dark.
Randy: Right. I think we begin by saying, God totally understands and we need to not pretend. You know, so when you’re feeling depressed, you’re feeling profoundly unhappy, cry out like David did. You know, why are the heavens silent? Lord, I just feel You’re distant, in essence is what he’s saying. And then he does self-talk, which is really based on a Scripture. You know, he’ll say, “Oh, my soul, delight in the Lord.”
And he says, sometimes we have a tendency to listen to ourselves more than talk to ourselves. We need to talk to ourselves based on Scripture and take what Scripture says and remind ourselves of the truth of the reality.
The reality is, yes, I feel this way. However, God does love me. God is causing all things to work together for good. God has a purpose for everything in my life, including my sadness and my depression. He can draw me out of it, but as long as I’m in it, He has a purpose, even in it.
I found that. I wrote a blog, a series of blogs, several years ago that related to the depression of Charles Spurgeon in his life. Well, there was no man who talked more about happiness and joy. You just simply cannot believe. But he experienced a vast amount of depression and melancholy.
And so, it seems a contradiction. It’s not, because he would speak of the joy and happiness of Christ to move his soul from the state of depression, and he was honest about it. He was open about it, and it made him credible with people. So, one of the things I say to people in depression is, acknowledge it, and realize even if it lasted the rest of your life, God forbid, but even if it lasted the rest of your life in this world, the rest of your life in this world is a tiny amount compared to the true rest of your life, which is eternity with Jesus Christ in utter and complete happiness, where He promises, “I will wipe away the tears from every eye.”
Jim: Randy, that person who’s looking for that rung in the ladder, you know, we can talk to them about God’s promises. They may or may not even embrace God, but there are things they can do to find that rung and just begin to climb out of that despair. What would you suggest that they start to do?
Randy: Well, in addition to meditating on Scripture, gathering with people who love Jesus, and especially happy people who love Jesus, having the company. You know, misery loves company. Happiness loves company, and the company that you keep will affect you. I would say to some people, they should stop listening to talk radio. (Laughter) I should say to other people I would say, get out and enjoy creation. Get out of the house. Get away from the television. That includes even in the house, reading good books. Sit in sunshine. Now I’m from Portland, Oregon, so—
Jim: You’re looking for it all the time.
Randy: –I’m always sunshine. But some days are sunny and the sun breaks out, just take a walk. My wife walks our dog, Maggie, and just thoroughly enjoys it. There is a delight in animals. Enjoy God’s creation. So, go to the waterfall. Go to the zoo. Take time to pet the dog. If you don’t have a pet, and you’ve never had a pet, consider getting one.
Randy: I have been consoled by dogs. God has used dogs to console me. There have been times where I’ve really been struggling, and it’s been difficult. And I put my arms around our Golden Retriever, Maggie or our Dalmatian, Moses, who preceded her, or our Springer Spaniel, Champ, who preceded him. And God can use all of His secondary delights to draw you toward Him as the primary delight.
Jim: His creation pointing toward Him.
Jim: That’s good.
Randy: And to me, it’s going out and the night sky and looking up at the stars. Again, taking the walk at the beach. Taking a climb. Planting flowers. Growing flowers. Smelling flowers, the small things of God’s creation that manifest His presence that remind you of the reality of who He is.
And I would say, too, just reminding yourself, these light and momentary afflictions, they may seem heavy. They may seem like they’re gonna last forever, but the Apostle Paul, who knew something about afflictions, a lot about it, called them light and momentary afflictions and remind yourself, God is achieving something through them. They’re not pointless. For the child of God, there is no pointless suffering.
God is bringing out conformity to the image of Christ, expanding our ministry, and I would say, look for the ways that your ministry can expand through prayer and through reaching out to someone else that may be struggling with depression. 2 Corinthians 1 says, “God comforts us in our affliction, that we may comfort others in theirs.”
Jim: Yeah, and it’s so well-said and I think if you’re in that place of darkness and you’re not sure what to do, call us here at Focus on the Family. We have caring Christian counselors who can point you to those Scriptures, maybe introduce you for the first time to a relationship with Jesus Christ or remind you of what God thinks of you and the way forward, Our counselors are here to help you and to point you in the right direction.
Randy, as we close, I wanted to connect this topic of happiness with God. The Lord is not just a God of judgment, looking to rap us over the knuckles when we misbehave, You believe that our Lord is also happy.
Randy: In the Happinessbook, I talk about the happiness of Jesus, and in fact, in Hebrews 1, it says and it quotes the Psalm that says, and it’s in reference to Jesus, “God has anointed Him with the oil of happiness,” or the oil of gladness, “above His fellows.” And His fellows may be the entire human race.
And I think based on that passage, you could ask the question, “Who is the happiest person who has ever lived?” And I think the proper answer to that, biblically, is Jesus Christ. Immediately, though, when you say that, people say, “But wait, no. He’s the Man of Sorrows.” Yeah, it says “Man of Sorrows” in Isaiah 52 and 53, describing His redemptive work. Gethsemane through suffering on the Cross, Man of Sorrows. Weeping over Jerusalem, Man of Sorrows.
But when Jesus walked the earth, He drew people to Himself, not because He only had sorrow in His life, but because, I think His default state of mind was one of happiness—happiness in His Father, happiness in His Father’s plan, happiness Father, Son and Holy Spirit, an ancient happiness that far preceded the creation of the world itself, a happiness of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, delighting in each other. I invite you into it. Come and enter into your Master’s happiness.
Jim: I’m beaming. I just love that thought of being in His presence and that happiness being just in you and all over you. I think that is heaven. Randy Alcorn, author of the book, Happiness, what a great discussion. Thanks for bein’ with us.
Randy: What a pleasure.
John: It’s a really interesting look at happiness, which of course, is a very hot topic in the culture today and you’ve given us a biblical understanding of it and a longing for it. And this conversation is available on CD. You can download it. You can listen on the smartphone app. We’re gonna have a lot of additional content on that CD and download that we just couldn’t fit into today’s discussion.
And of course, we’re offering Randy’s book, as well. It’s great. Ask for it when you call, 800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459 or you’ll find these and other resources at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. And during these summer months, it’s not uncommon for us to experience a shortfall in our donations. We’re listener supported and we rely on your generosity. And right now we’d love to hear from you to help us strengthen the faith of those around the world who listen to these programs. Make a generous contribution of any amount today and we’ll send you Randy’s book about Happiness as our way of saying thank you for your investment.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow, as we have Ken Davis with us, offering a very different perspective on what is it to be a dad.
Ken Davis: I got kicked out of a Lamaze class, probably the only guy in the world to be kicked out of Lamaze. (Laughter) They showed a movie (Chuckling). I said, “Run it backwards” and the lady didn’t have a sense of humor. (Laughter)
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John: You’ll laugh and you’ll have your heart tugged by Ken Davis, as we once again tomorrow on “Focus on the Family,” help your family thrive.