THE SECRET TO HAPPINESS
One thing I’d like to share with you during this series is my pattern of Bible study. I believe it is important for us to know what’s in this book. Now I’ve had a lot of folks come to my office carrying a Bible, and then set that Bible down on my desk: often a big, thick, heavy, Bible. I’ve thought, often, that we must think or evaluate our faith, sometimes, by the weight of our Bible. Because as I began talking with these folks, it was certainly clear that either they didn’t know what was inside that big, thick book, or certainly weren’t paying any attention to it.
I found that this Bible is a very important book, and it contains a lot of good, solid Biblical principles for living. Anybody that will pay attention to those principles is going to be on the pathway to contentment. Now I’d like to take a few verses tonight, and read them to you by way of illustration as to how I look at this book, and why it’s become a precious book to me. Now as I say, it doesn’t do a whole lot of good to read the Bible, I don’t believe, unless you intend to live by it, anymore than it makes much sense to memorize say a basketball rule book. That’s one of the reasons that you would memorize a basketball rulebook, isn’t it; because your intention is to play the game. In order for you to play the game, you really need to know what the rules are, and you need to have them in your head.
You can’t just be carrying ‘em around in your pocket. You can’t conceive a ten-year old little fellow dribbling down the floor and coming to a certain spot, and screeching to a halt, and shoving the ball under his arm, and reaching in his back pocket, and opening up the rulebook to figure out: Where do I go from here? No, that’s not the way you do it. You’d better know what you’re doing, and you have to have it in your head, or you can’t really know whether you’re right, or wrong. So the purpose of this book is to get a hold of some basic principles. What for? Well, that you mean to live by. Now again, it took a lot of busy work to be working on this book, unless your intention is to live by it.
You know, you can know the rules and ignore them. I remember one time I was teaching in a seminary in Chicago, and I lived in Flint, Michigan, and I was in a hurry to get to the airport. That’s another way of saying that I was speeding. Now I knew that I was speeding. I would wiz right past those signs that told me that I was speeding, and I didn’t care. I explain it by saying I’m in a hurry to get to the airport to teach in a seminary. Well I noticed in my rearview mirror one of these cars with these globes on top, and inside that globe was this light that went like that. I said to myself, I’d better move over because that fellow back there is sure in a hurry, I’d better get out of his way.
Do you know, he was after me? Now, I had between the time he parked his car and got to my car to think up an excuse. Have you ever done that? You know you have knowingly, and deliberately, and consciously violated a rule, and then you got caught, and then you say to yourself, “Now how am I gonna get out of this?”
I say, it doesn’t really do a whole lot of good, really, to know the rules unless you mean to live by them, or at least you ought to know that you are violating one. I thought that I had come up with a good story.
He came to my window, and said, “You’re speeding.”
And I said, “Yes sir, I’m a seminary professor, and I’m a psychologist, and I’m on my way to Chicago to teach a class, but I got a late start, and that’s why I was hurrying.”
Now wasn’t that good? I thought it was.
You know what his reaction to that was? “What did you say? Did you say you are a seminary professor and a psychologist? Now if we can’t expect people like you to obey the law, who can we expect to obey the law?”
You know the whole thing backfired on me. You know what the Bible says. “Be not deceived, God is not mocked. Whatever you sow, you will also reap.” This is a book that will guide us in wholesome living. I just want to illustrate how I go about setting goals. There are a lot of verses in this book that if you read too fast, you just glide right past it. This is one of them.
This is 1st Thessalonians 5:16; real short verse, two words. It says, “Rejoice always.” Rejoice all the time? Our plans don’t always turn out the way you expect them to, do they? Well, you have a couple of options when that happens. You can get all upset, and you can get all tense, and anxious, and you can murmur and complain, while the event that happened is more a test of your faith than a creator of your spirit. The event will reveal your spirit, not create it. Well, you wonder about the fellow that wrote this. When you think of the experiences a lot of us have, rejoice all the time? Really? All the time?
You know, one time I was in Atlanta, and I was on my way to Ashville, North Carolina, and I was sitting there by the airport. I got there plenty early so that I wouldn’t miss my plane, and I was sitting there visiting with this friend of mine glancing at my watch every once in a while, and I had plenty of time. I’d look at it again, lots of time. And finally I said goodbye to him, and I walked up to the ticket counter, and I plunked my ticket down on the counter, and the lady looked at me kinda funny like, and she said, “Sir, that plane is gone. You’re late.”
I looked at my watch, I had plenty of time. And I listened to my watch, and it had stopped. Now I’m supposed to be happy about that, hmm? Oh, no, I don’t need to be happy about it. If I want to be unhappy about it, I guess I can be unhappy about it. But one of the privileges of being a Christian is that when unexpected twists and turns happen in life, you can just leave it with the Lord. Now I had the job of leaving that airport, and finding a motel, and finding something to do in the evening. You know, it’s possible to enjoy that.
Look at this next verse, it’s only three words. It says, “Pray without ceasing.”
Now, there are two ideas here. Rejoice all the time, and pray all of the time. It doesn’t seem like I can do either one of those. I’m not praying right now. After all, I’m talking to you. Well what could this be talking about? I mean you can’t really know what that’s talking about unless you stop and think about it, and meditate a little bit.
I’m pointing out that a lot of us miss what’s in the scriptures because we just breeze through it. I guess I’ll read a chapter. And so you read, “Rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing, for everything give thanks for this is the will of God concerning you.” And you go through it so fast that you can’t even get a hold of the idea.
As I thought about it, there are tremendous ideas here. Pray without ceasing. Leave your day with God. Keep your faith in Him. It doesn’t have to turn out the way you want it to. I rather enjoyed that evening. I didn’t have to, I could have fussed, and sputtered, and muttered, and questioned God and what-not all evening long, but you see, the Word tell us, “Rejoice.” And “pray without ceasing.” And the next verse there’s only five words. It says, “In everything give thanks … ” in everything … “because this is the will of God concerning you.” God has a plan for you. What is His plan? His plan includes you going through life with a heart filled with thankfulness, and faith, and joy. That’s His plan. Now anybody that isn’t living like that somehow hasn’t grasped God’s plan.
Well, the next day I got to the airport bright and early, and we took off in this nice jet airplane. You know, this is a wonderful world we live in. We get into these fancy planes, and they whisk us off 600 miles an hour, and they’ve got these pretty stewardesses up there waiting on you all of the time. I just seem to adjust to that kind of life real easy. There were a lot of people on that plane. Everybody looked so nice, and we were clean, and well dressed. Those are the kinds of people you usually find up there in those jet airplanes, and then pretty soon we came to Ashville, that’s where we were headed.
Ashville is a real nice, beautiful country, surrounded by mountains, and then down there is Ashville. Beautiful place. It’s the kind of place a lot of people plan for a whole year to go to the Smoky Mountains, and take the drive through the Smoky Mountains, and one of the lovely little towns you come to is Ashville. Well down there Ashville is fogged in. A nice, beautiful pocket of fog down there. And the pilot said that we couldn’t land.
You should have seen what happened to the people in that airplane. These nice people that are so well-dressed and well-groomed and we had been so well-taken care of. These nice, cute stewardesses had really looked after us, and now our plans were changed, and you’d hear somebody say, ”STEWARDESS!” you know, as if though it was the stewardesses fault that there was fog in Ashville.
You began to hear murmuring through the airplane, and the man finally announced, this pilot, that we were going to a place called Johnson City, and none of us wanted to go to Johnson City. And there was just this murmuring about it. The Bible says that we ought to rejoice all of the time. So if you’re going to be headed for Johnson City, the idea is, you might as well enjoy getting there, since it’s beyond your control anyway. The idea of praying without ceasing, and in everything giving thanks, you see the idea is, you might as well have that kind of relaxed, comfortable attitude.
Now beats me if I understand why there ought to be fog in Ashville the day I want to go, but I wasn’t the only one on the plane, so I’m sure the Lord wasn’t just picking on me. When we landed, these people hit the ground and started rushing for the desk in the airport. Here’s this poor, unsuspecting young man behind the desk, and all of these irate, well-dressed, well-groomed, well-fed plane load of people descending on that poor fellow, and they were pounding on his desk. “We demand to get to Ashville right now.” He didn’t even know what they were talking about. But it didn’t take him long to find out that there was fog in Ashville. And everybody was mad about it.
But you know, during that time, I was thinking about this passage. Rejoice all the time. And here it was Tuesday morning, and if I was going to rejoice Tuesday morning, it had to be in Johnson City. Now if I didn’t want to rejoice, that’s okay, I didn’t need to. There are lots of days like that aren’t there? Your plans get changed, and there’s nothing you’re gonna do about it. There is the possibility of griping and complaining, and sulking all day long.
You know, I remember one fellow he was planning all week long to go golfing on Saturday, and he just enjoyed thinking about golfing on Saturday so much, and he woke up Saturday, and he said, “What’s that?” Do you know what it was? Rain on the roof. Then the real nice, comfortable song called rain on the roof. He didn’t think it was a good idea at all. You know, he made life miserable for everybody all day long because of rain. The kids scattered, and everybody that crossed his path better look out. Why? Because of rain today.
You know what a wonderful thing when your children realize that my mother is a predictably congenial, comfortable, happy lady, and I can depend on it. And here comes Dad. Who’s dad? Well Dad is a predictably, friendly person, and then here come the children home from school. What kind of children? Why children who are predictably enjoying life.
You see this is the will of God that we spend our day full of thanksgiving and full of faith in Him. After all, there’s a farmer that prayed for rain, a golfer that prayed for no rain. It puts the Lord in kind of a dilemma, doesn’t it?
Well these people back there in Johnson City came descending on this fellow, and they demanded service. As I say, I had just been thinking about this matter of rejoicing and giving thanks, and committing my ways unto the Lord, and as I thought about him, my heart really went out for him. And I thought, this poor, unsuspecting fellow, and so I went to him and told him, ”You know buddy, I’m one of these people that’s in a hurry to get to Ashville, but I want you to know that I think I understand what you’re doing. Here’s one guy that you don’t need to worry about, and so you take care of the rest of those people, and then you can take care of me, okay?”
I’m not trying to say I do that all the time, I’m just trying to say that I ought to. And you ought to. The resources are there. The Spirit of God will fill your heart with love, and joy, and peace. It’s there, and he’ll give you love, and joy, and peace when there’s fog in Ashville, and when there’s rain where you are, or whatever it is that isn’t turning out the way you want it to turn out.
And I just sat back there and kinda gave this fellow a little moral support. You know after everybody was gone, outside there are these little Volkswagen, station wagon pulling up, and they packed these nicely-dressed people, you know, there’s three rows of seats, and all you could see were three rows of solid shoulders in this little old Volkswagen. And away they went.
These disgruntled-looking people kinda bumping around in a little old Volkswagen. You know after he finished filling up those Volkswagen busses with these nice, sweet-smelling, clean, hostile people. He came up to me and he said, “I’m awfully sorry, sir, but there wasn’t room enough for everybody in those Volkswagens, so I’m gonna send you to Ashville in a Limousine.”
You wouldn’t believe it, but I drive this Chrysler Limousine. You know, one of these big, long, black, slinky things. I got in that Chrysler, air-conditioned, Limousine, and I didn’t go bumping along. That thing went “cooshy”, just as smooth, and so I just waved at these little Volkswagen busses as they went by. But you know the point I’m trying to make is that I don’t believe that I was any happier inside that Limousine as I was up in the airplane. Now life is that way. You get some breaks, and then there are some tough problems along the way, too.
Awhile ago, for instance, I had an occasion to go to a funeral home, because the wife of one of my best friends had died. Now, we had dinner with that man and his wife the Saturday before. Now one week later we’re going to the funeral home. Now that was kind of a sobering experience because these folks were good friends of ours, and his wife was just the age of my wife. And you know I looked at my wife, and it was just a little hard for me to picture my wife in a coffin, but his wife was in a coffin. And I was on my way overseas, but on the way to the airport, I just had a little time, and so I went over there to the funeral home. And when Al saw me coming, and he was quite upset, and he said, “Henry, tell me something I oughta hear, will ya?”
Talk about praying without ceasing. I had the amount of time that it took to walk from where we were to a couch to try to figure out, “What am I gonna tell a man that he needs to hear in a time like this?”
Certainly, I needed some wisdom that I didn’t have. But on the way, I thought of a passage of scripture that I had thought about many times. Now mind you what I am saying here is that if you want to have guidelines, you need to know enough about this Bible, so some of the principles come to your mind when you need them. You know one of the psalmists said, “Your Word have I hidden in my heart that I might not sin against you.”
See, it’s not enough to carry it around in your pocket, or have one of these books on your shelf, unless you’ve taken some time to understand what’s in it. But this is what I read to him: second Corinthians, chapter 1, verses 3-5. It says, “Grace be to you, and peace from God, the Father.”
Now one of the questions that Al needed to ask himself right now is, did he even want any peace? Should a man even be comfortable whose wife is in a coffin? Or, now listen to the rest of this verse, “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the Father of Mercies, and He is the God of all comfort.”
Now if anybody needed comforting, it was Al, but is it reasonable for a fellow to be comforted in a situation like that? And if he were to be comforted, where would he go to get it? Well, it says you go to God, and He will comfort you. That is if you want it. Some people don’t want to be comforted.
I think of a lady who says, “Yes I am nervous, and I want my husband to know it.” You see, she wouldn’t even want comfort, if she knew where to go and get it.
A lot of times society requires that you be comfortless. And here it says, “He will comfort us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” And I asked him, “Al, in a condition like this, there’s a real issue here, isn’t there, are you really going to serve God, and do you really want from God what He said He would give you? And He said he will comfort you. Do you want to be comforted? Now that’s my word to you Al. I’m leaving you with that question. I’ve got to go catch my plane. Do you want to be comforted?”
He said, “Will you pray with me before you leave?” And he and I bowed together, and he asked God to fill his heart with comfort. You see, that verse “Rejoice all the time.” Even tonight? In a funeral home? Didn’t that fellow know what he was talking about when he wrote that short little verse that says, “Rejoice all the time, and in everything give thanks, because this is the will of God concerning you.” And if that fellow Al was going to rejoice and give thanks, and pray without ceasing, that day, is that reasonable? I say that’s the possibility of a Christian life.
Well, he asked for an opportunity to speak at his wife’s funeral. He read a passage of scripture for them, and I want to read it to you. And he said, “As I stood by my wife’s casket, and I saw everybody filing past, and all I saw on the faces of everybody that filed by my wife’s casket, was hopelessness, but I want you to know that I’m not hopeless. I’ve got joy in my heart. I have peace in my heart, and I want you to know that it comes from God, and it’s available in a time like this.” And he read them this verse. It’s in Colossians chapter 2, starting with the 6th verse. “And you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk you in him, just as you receive Him by faith, you receive joy by faith, and you receive peace by faith.” And I have received it he said. I’m rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith. ”As you have been taught abounding with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy, and vein deceit, after the traditions of men, and the traditions of men say that in a time like that you should be distraught, you should be upset, you should feel like the end of the world has come, you should be miserable, that’s the tradition of men. But if you bear in mind the Word of God, the Word of God says rejoice all the time. Pray all the time. In everything give thanks.”
And he said to those folks, “I just want you to know that I’ve tapped that resource, and that resource can be yours, too. How? You don’t need to worry about the outcome of anything. All you need to do is trust him.”
I found this to work in my life, too, that I can work as hard as I can, as though everything depended on me, but walking by faith as though everything depended on Him, I don’t need to worry about the outcome.
So you can make a choice that you will use the Word of God as your guidebook as I have, and you can rejoice all of the time, and be filled with thanksgiving all of the time, if you remember where the source of all of that is. And the source of it is in God. And so the question is, do you turn to God for your supply day by day?