Winning the Battle for Your Happiness
Nothing is more American than the pursuit of happiness. However, many Americans have a vague definition of happiness. Subsequently, because of the materialism of our society, Americans tend to look for happiness in an abundance of things. Pastors can fall into that same trap. However, Jesus tells us, “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).
William James defined happiness as an agreement of a person’s inner life with the realities of his or her outer experience. In other words, the closer our behavior conforms to our beliefs the happier we are likely to be.
The most popular and fleeting dimension of happiness can best be described as fun, excitement, and pleasure. However, the most important and durable dimension of happiness is peace of mind and contentment in your relationships.
The dimension of our happiness over which we have greatest control is found in our relationship with God. This happiness is unaffected by the circumstances of life or ministry.
That doesn’t mean we will be immune to the pain or discomfort of life. However, it does mean that a right relationship with God will give us an inner peace and contentment, even when we are not happy (see Philippians 4:11–13).
Paul says happiness goes beyond the good feelings that come out of ideal circumstances. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17, NIV). This kind of happiness is a fruit of the Spirit that we are admonished to cultivate (see Galatians 5:22,23).
Many Christians mistakenly assume that being born again automatically introduces them to this kind of happiness. Being born again can get you into the kingdom of God. But if you’re going to be a joyful Christian, you need to get the kingdom of God into you. If you are going to be a joyful pastor, God’s kingdom must take priority in your life and ministry. How does one do that?
We must have an awareness of forgiveness and justification. This is a part of grace that many Christians do not understand. They know God has forgiven them, but they are unable to forgive themselves. Pastors sometimes feel guilty over ministry decisions or circumstances. So, guilt from the past deprives them of the peace and joy Calvary has provided for them.
Remember, God not only has forgiven us, He has justified us. The sacrifice of Christ totally satisfied the claims against us. God treats us as though we had never sinned (see Romans 4:25 through 5:11). We need to see ourselves as not only forgiven, but also justified.
Regeneration and justification are to be followed by sanctification. The word means to make healthy, to make whole, to recover from the effects of sin in your past.
Just as the lost need to be saved, the saved need to be healed. As long as we are struggling with pains from our past, even knowing we are in the kingdom of God will not make us happy.
People are depressed and guilty over things they have done in the past and angry about things other people have done to hurt them. This can be especially true for pastors.
As a pastor, you must pray these hurts out to God. We need Him to relieve us of the anger, guilt, fear, and anxiety rooted in these wounds.
This is why it is so important for us to have a loving, benevolent, redemptive view of God. Initially, our view of God is formed between our fifth and seventh years and grows out of our relationships with our parents. If parents are seen as harsh, punitive, remote, and difficult to please, then their children will see God the same way. Then, people bring these views with them into the kingdom of God and are unaware of the need to change them.
This is not the way God is pictured in the New Testament. Jesus embodies the nature of God. (See John 1:14.) His life tells us what God is like. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, NIV). Jesus said His yoke was easy and His burden, light.
Let go of your past. Enter into the forgiveness Christ has purchased for you. Continuing to punish yourself for things you have confessed to God does not impress Him. God has forgiven you. So, forgive yourself and begin to change the way you see yourself. Then, begin to forgive others for the hurts they have brought into your life.
One way to be healed from these hurts is to pray through this pain. How does a person do this?
Step One: Talk to God honestly about what is hurting you.
David’s imprecatory psalms (Psalm 50 and 51) teach us how to express our honest feelings to God. In these psalms, David calls on God to curse his enemies.
When I have suggested to some who have seen me that they should pour out their feelings of anger and pain to God, they have been reluctant … some even suggesting they didn’t want God to know they felt that way. Then, I humorously mused to them that I’m sure their feelings would come as a great shock to God. You can trust God with your uncensored feelings.
Step Two: Emotionally respond to the honest feelings you are expressing to God. Sometimes this involves weeping, strong language, and loud praying.
When you have poured your heart out to God and are emotionally drained, you are ready for step three.
Step Three: Meditate and let God bring passages of Scripture to your mind. Let Him remind you of times when His grace has brought healing for events from your past. By reviewing these, He can help you see your hurt in a new light. He will help you put a new meaning on your old hurts.
Step Four: After our Lord has given you a new and less painful way to look at your old hurts, take the time to praise Him and thank Him for that.
Then the peace and joy that Christ purchased for you on the cross can come to you through the sanctifying, healing presence of His Word.
Richard D. Dobbins is founder of EMERGE Ministries, Inc., Akron, Ohio, and host of From This Day Forward radio program.
This article is adapted from Â© Media Ministries of the Assemblies of God & Dr. Richard D. Dobbins
From This Day Forward—a radio program produced jointly by EMERGE Ministries, Inc. of Akron, Ohio, and by Media Ministries of the Assemblies of God, P.O. Box 70, Springfield, MO 65801.