What does it take to be happy? For a lot of people, happiness depends on their happenings. If their happenings don't happen to happen the way they happen to want their happenings to happen, they're unhappy! Some people spend their time organizing their happenings to make sure everything happens the way they want it to happen. The assumption is this: if they can make everything happen the way they want their happenings to happen, they'll be happy. There are two problems with that: you can't do it, and even if you could, you'd probably be bored. Alexander the Great got everything happening his way. He conquered everything and then sat down to cry, because he was so young and there was nothing else to conquer.
The Greeks had a word for happiness: makarios. This word describes what they perceived as being the experience of the gods. The Greeks had lots of gods, and the gods were sort of magnified human beings. They had all the failings of human beings and all the strengths. For Greeks, the gods had it made. The word makarios found its way into the New Testament, and it's translated "blessed" or "happy." Jesus picked up on this word, and said some stuff that will absolutely blow your mind. Listen to what he said:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the pure in heart. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness." Jesus is saying that happiness, or fulfillment, or makarios, that having everything just wonderful, comes not from having everything. It can come through being poor, through mourning, through hungering, through thirsting. It can come through being persecuted for righteousness' sake. That's exactly the opposite of what we think is the road to happiness. He’s teaching us that we need to learn to be happy even in those things that happen that are outside of our control.
One of the great myths people believe is that if we are in charge, we should be in charge. It is a ridiculous myth, because nothing could be further from the truth. Ecclesiastes 3:2 says, "There's a time to be born and a time to die." It’s a reminder that we are not masters of our own destiny. You were initiated by birth, and you had nothing to do with it. You'll be terminated by death, and you'll probably have nothing to do with it. In between initiation and termination is the rest of your life, and you’re not in complete control there either.
It only takes a second for irresistible, unbidden circumstances to occur. If we're trying to organize these irresistible, unbidden circumstances, if our happiness depends on our happenings happening the way we happen to want them to happen, we have our work cut out for us. How on earth are we going to make sure that we never mourn and always dance? How can we make sure we always laugh but never weep? Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could just make sure that we're always born and never died. Unfortunately, we can't do it.
There are things that we can make happen in our lives. We can plan, execute, evaluate, and enjoy. And we should. And there are things that happen to us that are outside of our control. We didn’t plan them, and can’t control their coming and going. Sometimes these things are good, and we can take them as evidence of the existence of God. And sometimes these things aren’t so good, and we wonder where God is.
Ecclesiastes 3:14 says, I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him.
That’s it, isn’t it? There are things that we can control, and there are things that we can’t control, and therein lies the space for God to happen in our lives. In that moment that we realize that we are not in control of some of the most important moments of our lives, there is opportunity to learn to stand in awe before God. We learn to revere God. We learn to worship God. When we begin to recognize that God can work, not just in spite of, but in and through all the irresistible, unbidden things of life, there's a possibility of a deeply rooted sense of hope. If we can learn to stand in awe of God and begin to recognize that he can bring a certain beauty into all the circumstances of life, there's hope for an abiding happiness. And maybe we begin to learn that if God works in the circumstances we can’t control, he’ll also work in the circumstances we won’t control. In other words, in giving up things that we are in fact in control of, we create even more space for God to work.
And the more that God is at work in our lives, the happier we will be.