Happiness Guaranteed!

Neal Pollard

Who wouldn’t find that appealing? Many years ago, Hugo McCord wrote a book entitled, “Happiness Guaranteed.” In it, he wrote, “Is happiness difficult? Yes, to those on the wrong road. Is it elusive? Yes, to those who want it without a price. But to the simple, plain folk of the earth, willing to walk God’s road, willing to pay God’s price, happiness is, like God, not far from every one of us.”  Many spend a lifetime in a desperate, elusive attempt to be happy. What if there was a formula for true happiness? I believe we find it in Psalm 37:23-26. This text tells us what we need to be happy.

We need a direction mapped by God (23). If we make life a self-guided tour, we can guarantee ourselves a life of misery. Even a Christian’s heartaches often stem from our trying to “go it alone” without His guidance. He guides us through the Word (Psa. 119:105,133). He knows everything at the deepest level of comprehension. He understands what kind of life will make us happy and miserable. David says life without God’s guidance is chaotic and disorderly. I read about an optometrist who examined an elderly patient and asked, “Can you read the fifth line of the chart?” “No.” “How about the fourth line?” “No.” “Hmm. Try the second line.” “No.” “Surely you can read the first line.” The old man said, “Truth is I’ve never learned to read.” Have we learned to read? Have we gotten into the regular habit of consulting God’s divine roadmap?

We need a delight in His way (23). In a matter of minutes, you can find out what a person enjoys in life. It could be sports, politics, travel, shopping, mechanic-ing, nature, reading, fishing, horseback riding, or stamp-collecting. Kept in proper place and priority, these can be good, healthy, and legitimate. But way too many people get their thrills in illegitimate ways. They enjoy the unwholesome, filthy, perverted and vulgar. To many, “The word of the Lord is unto them a reproach; they have no delight in it” (Jer. 6:10). Solomon adds, “A fool does not delight in understanding…” (Prov. 18:2a). God’s outline for living, when followed, leads to delight. Other ways are paved with the heartache of others who foolishly paved those same paths previously.

We need a dependence on God’s providential care (24-25). Seven times in the Psalms, the writer tells God, “The righteous trust in You” (5:11; 9:10; 17:7; 25:22; 31:19; 55:23; 56:3). Your faith can be built if you trust that God, even when things seem doubtful, will provide what is needed and what is best. Not just materially, but in times when spiritual decisions must be made (cf. Gen. 22:8; Rom. 4:18-21). When we place our future, fears and fortunes in God’s almighty hands, we find true happiness (1 Pet. 5:7). David challenges us to find a case of a true follower forsaken by God. Satan wants us to think God doesn’t care about us. That’s what he wanted Job’s problems to do to Job—make him turn against God. If you are suffering right now, be assured that God hasn’t left you.

We need a duty to others (26). Norman Vincent Peale said, “The way to happiness: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry. Live simply, expect little, give much. Scatter sunshine, forget self, think of others. Try this for a week and you will be surprised” (The Power of Positive Thinking, 54). Psalm 37:26 mentions two responsibilities we, being richly blessed by God, have to others. The  first, mercy, should express itself through acts of kindness. The second, lending, shows generosity. God ties generosity to true conversion. We give our money, our time, our talents, our heart, and ourselves. Listen to the joyful words from those spend themselves serving others. They say, “We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done” (Lk. 17:10).

We overcomplicate life with needless worry, harmful actions, and heavy burdens. So many people, from a financial, social, and physical perspective, have every reason to be happy but are miserable! The opposite of that is true, too. One may be drained of every resource but faith, but no one can rob them of their joy (Ps. 128:2; Pr. 3:18; 14:21; 29:18)!

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NO SMILE RULE!

 

Neal Pollard

“Stop smiling!”  DMV photographers in Virginia, Arkansas, Nevada, and Indiana are among the states requiring grin-free pictures on residents’ drivers licenses.  Apparently, face-recognition software is thrown off by curled up kissers.  The objective is to curtail fraudulent drivers licenses.  So, by rule, there will be no smiling when the photographer says “cheese.”

Like you, I know a great many people who need no such rule–whether at a DMV or any one of a million other locations.  They are perpetually miserable, and their faces show it.  Incredibly, too many of those I know like this claim to be Christians.  They sport their sour dispositions and spread thunder clouds and downpours wherever they go.  To borrow Paul’s words on more than one occasion, “My brethren, these things ought not so to be.”

“Happiness” is synonymous with “Christianity.”  The Christian’s life is far from  problem-, stress-, or trouble-free, but the greatest problem (sin) is solved, the greatest stress (earthly concerns) is benign, and the greatest trouble (death) is surmountable.  People hurt us, betray us, offend us, and undermine us, but we are heaven bound!    We can be happy because “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).  Isn’t it hard to obey commands like “be thankful” (Col. 3:15), “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4), “rejoice and be exceedingly glad” (Matt. 5:12; Luke’s account says, “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy”–6:23), or similar injunctions with a sour face and a permanent frown?

Matthew Hite was eight years old when he took his first missionary trip to Tanzania.  While there, he made up a little game he called “Sweet And Sour.”  He would smile at all the pedestrians walking down the road.  If they smiled, he counted it as a “sweet.”  If they scowled or simply failed to smile, he counted it as a “sour.”  Almost everyone of the impoverished people of that nation were “sweets.”  Are you a “sweet” or a “sour”?  If you are a Christian, remember that God has not imposed a “no smile rule” on you.  If anything, He’s done the opposite!

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We Sure Love Baptisms!

Neal Pollard

There are some things about social media that are extremely irritating—click baiting, pot-stirring, fight-picking, self-pitying, and the like. But there are a great many positives in that medium, too. Of all of them, I believe that posts of baptisms have to be my favorite. I do not appear to be alone in that estimation.  Judging from post reactions and comments, a great many others do as well. We love it when there are pictures. We love the “back story.” We love knowing that our friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family members have good, honest hearts softened by the power of Divine Revelation. We love knowing they have a clean slate and a fresh start, and are poised to begin their walk on Narrow Road.

All of this leads me to several random observations:

  • True good news needs no hype, trumping, manufacturing, or baiting.
  • It is New Testament thinking to rejoice at such good news (Acts 8:39; 15:3).
  • What a confirmation the obedience of others to the gospel is to our own decision to do so.
  • It restores our faith in the potential of humanity and the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16; Heb. 4:12).
  • It builds our confidence in the Bible to see people imitate the examples of the New Testament, doing what they did the way they did it (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 8:13, 38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:14-15; 31-33; 22:16; Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-27; Eph. 5:26; Col. 2:12; Titus 3:5; 1 Pet. 3:18-21).
  • The average Christian wants what is best for others, which is just one reason Christians are the best people on earth.
  • We want good news to travel fast, far and wide.
  • We know it pleases the Lord when a person comes to Him in obedient faith (see Luke 15).

There are doubtless many more observations we could make, but these are enough for me to thank God for His people and those who daily make the decision to become His people. It builds my faith and hope in my fellow human beings and my trust in heaven’s plan of salvation.  Thank you for finding joy in the right and best things! And let’s keep striving to perpetuate that joy through leading souls to the Savior.

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“Debbie” being baptized into Christ during a gospel meeting with Keith Mosher in Sylvester, GA, this week (photo credit: Jason Willis)

Enemies Of Contentment

Neal Pollard

Contentment is a learned trait (Ph. 4:11). It is a disciplined trait (1 Ti. 6:8). It is a commanded trait (He. 13:5).  Yet, it is such a rare trait! Some, like Dr. Rick Hanson, have written elaborate explanations for how contentment is a science, a matter of utilizing the neural capacity of the brain to hardwire positive experience into “contentment, calm, and confidence” (Hardwiring Happiness, New York: Harmony, 2013).  What he relegates to science, which we would attribute Christ as the creator of (Col. 1:16-17), is something even more and higher. It is something we learn from living life as His disciple. It is a spiritual discipline, gained from imitating Christ and His blueprint for living in this world. That said, we must watch out for the landmines to living the happy, satisfied, and fulfilled life God intended for us whatever circumstances we face in life (cf. 2 Co. 12:10).

  • Envy. Envy is “a state of ill will toward someone because of some real or presumed advantage experienced by such a person” (Louw-Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the N.T., 1996, p. 759). It is hard to be content with my circumstances when I am focused on how much better I think someone else has it. In fact, I will be full of resentment rather than contentment. Ironically, feeding this mindset makes joy and satisfaction impossible!
  • Ungratefulness. Paul marked being ungrateful as a sign of “difficult times” (2 Tim. 3:1,3). Have you noticed how some people, however hard life beats them up, remain upbeat? Maybe you conclude that they are just naturally inclined to be positive. But what about people who seem miserable and dissatisfied despite countless advantages and blessings? Gratitude, like contentment, is a learned discipline. When we don’t learn it, we darken our hearts with the evil of ungratefulness. Not being thankful is a link on a deadly chain that leads one to a lost state. Paul said some knew God, but “they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Rom. 1:21).
  • Greed. You will notice that some of heaven’s harshest words are reserved for the greedy (Lk. 12:15; Rom. 1:29; Ep. 5:3; Co. 3:5; 1 Th. 2:5; 2 Pt. 2:3,14). It is lumped in with the most despicable of behaviors. What is it?  It is a desire to want more than others whether we need it or not. We think in terms of material possessions, and while that is a significant aspect of greed it can extend to the relationships, perceived happiness or popularity we witness others having. Our society tells us to pursue “top dog” position, letting no one have more or be more than you. That mentality kills contentment.

Whatever science is involved in contentment, there certainly is also an art. Better said, it is a spiritual discipline. You incorporate it only through diligence and persistence. Be aware of the enemies of contentment and root them out! You will be the beneficiary, and so will everyone who knows you.

A SWEET OLD PERSON

Neal Pollard

Today, I talked with some godly, sweet, and loving elderly people.  They are people I respect and admire.  They are full of rich memories, have vast experience, and profound wisdom.  You are drawn to them.  The people I’m referring to are neither superhuman nor necessarily those whose lives have been easier. Their sweetness is a product of their good attitudes.  Not every elderly person I talk to are those I’d consider godly, sweet, or loving.  They are bitter, rude, mean-spirited, selfish, and even, at times, belligerent. While dementia might transform the occasional person’s personality, there is a simpler explanation for how some old people get to be unpleasant. They were that way when they were younger.

Life is about the sum total of the choices we make, the way we bend our will, and our reaction to the adversities of our lives.  We are building character, one day at a time, one reaction at a time.  As I think about it, I know some godly, sweet, and loving children, teens, young adults, and middle-agers. I also know too many who are none of these things. If they live long enough, they’ll grow into more hardened, exaggerated forms of themselves.  Gossips can become worse gossips in the golden years because they may have more time and have had more practice. Grouches seem to grow worse with time and opportunity.  The impure of heart, after years of harboring filth, allow it to spill over far more often in words and deeds (how many of us have encountered a “dirty old man”—a more elderly form of the “dirty young man”).  Worriers in youth make fretful worriers in the twilight time of life. So many traits of character and attitude in the old have been in the making in the young.

In Psalm 119:9, David asks, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word.” Solomon saw among the youths a young man lacking sense (Prov. 7:7). He also counseled one to remember his creator in days of youth (Ecc. 12:1). God can be our confidence from our youth (Psa. 71:5). These and so many other admonitions aimed at those in days of youth will also protect and preserve those who reach old age.  What can I do to make sure I am a sweet old person?

  • Be intentional.  Take steps to be sweet.  It’s not many people’s natural mode of operational.  Spending much time with God and learning to imitate Him helps with this.
  • Be introspective. Take time and effort to examine yourself. Are you ill-tempered, impatient, easily irritated, easily put out, and the like?  Warning!  You’re well on your way to being a crotchety curmudgeonly coot!
  • Be interested. Selfishness is behind those traits that lead one to be unpleasant in the winter of life. Be genuinely, actively interested in the welfare, needs, and interests of others.  Taking the focus off self will aim you toward sweetness.

We could probably think of more suggestions, but here’s a good start.  Surely, we’d all like to be sweet old people when the day comes.  But, don’t wait! Start now!

IF YOU’RE HAPPY AND YOU KNOW IT, YOUR FACE WILL SURELY SHOW IT!

Neal Pollard

Oh the stories that song leaders and preachers could tell!  Often, when we sing such standbys as “I Love To Tell The Story,” “Rejoice In The Lord,” or “When We All Get To Heaven,” we do so with little visible enthusiasm or apparent joy.  If we sing devotional songs like “Thank You, Lord,” “Shout To The Lord,” or “I’m Happy Today,” are we conveying what we are saying?  Occasionally, in our humanity, we come into the assemblies burdened down with cares and problems.  There may be a powerful distraction nearby that makes concentrating on what we’re doing in worship more difficult.  No one knows more than me how misleading facial expressions can be as a reflection of what is in the heart.  Yet, I’ve seen some serial sourpusses and perpetual pouters who claim to be Christians.  As James was known to say, “My brethren, these things ought not to be so.”

It’s certainly not confined to when we’re engaged in worshipping in song or listening to the sermon.  It’s discovered in conversation.  Too many times, I’ve encountered Christians who are always disclosing the latest downer in their lives, the problems that pervade them, and the sadness surely saturates them!

Some of the most joyous Christians I’ve known have been more besieged by difficulties than anyone else.  They are even graceful enough to be able to talk about them—and, thus, not concealing their troubles—but with a perspective and positivity that reflects their abiding trust in the Great I Am.  Three times, Peter speaks to Christians who are distressed by various trials, enduring by faith, and sharing the sufferings of Christ and remarks on their remarkable rejoicing (1 Pet. 1:6,8; 4:13). Perhaps it was their “living hope” (1 Pet. 1:3).

Maybe our long faces are not due to any particular problems, and of all people on earth we, especially in America, are spared many of the trials and difficulties of those in poorer countries. It could be that we have disconnected ourselves from the source of joy.  Or, it could be that we have forgotten to practice gratitude and count our blessings.  Perhaps, we’ve gotten spoiled or concluded that being happy is the goal of life, and when this occurs we live with an expectation that others and circumstances should be oriented to make us feel good, content, or satisfied.

Let’s challenge each other to wear a smile, to work more at expressing our joy, and to win the battles in the heart that keep us from being characterized by winsomeness and positivity.  By this, we’ll be a billboard for Christ and a blessing to everyone else.

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What’s My Excuse?

Neal Pollard

Mark Speckman is an interesting story. He was a High School star linebacker, played Junior College then at a four-year NAIA college at the same position, and then coached college football for 20 years (he followed Dan Hawkins at Willamette in 1998).  He can write, type, use a cell phone, drive, play racquetball, and play trombone (USA Today, 10/4/05).  What’s so unusual about that?  Speckman was born without hands!  He has never let that stand in his way, but has used the handicap to inspire and motivate others.

Each of us will enjoy advantages and suffer some disadvantages throughout life, regardless of our age, income, citizenship, looks, and background.  While some seem to have greater challenges than others, the greatest determining factor seems to be attitude, focus, and determination.  Do I use my “handicaps” as an excuse? Am I full of self-pity? Do my problems cause me to give up and check out?

We will not know on this side of time what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was, but we know it tormented him (2 Cor. 12:7), drove him to his knees three times in prayer about it (12:8), and was a weakness for him (12:10).  He writes this after detailing the many trials he faced for doing what was right, preaching the gospel (2 Cor. 11:23-33).  Yet, he never fell back on any of this as an excuse for failing to reach, teach, serve, and help others.  Apparently, as he hurt within and worked through his own limitations, he kept his focus on doing the Lord’s work through his Christian service.

The question is not whether you suffer and struggle or even if you have a thorn to contend with.  In your own way, you probably will and on an ongoing basis.  Will it be a crutch or a catapult?  Will it hold you down or launch you higher?  That depends on you.  What will you do about it?

GOOD NEWS FOR YOUR BLUES (poem)

Neal Pollard

If your life is feeling fallow, your ambition sadly shallow,
Turn your eyes upon another, help a sister or a brother,
To their feet.
It doesn’t need to be dramatic, full of noise and other static,
Just a word or even smile, can lift their day a little while,
And make it sweet.
When your gaze is outward trained, that’s when blessings’ surely gained,
Your cup is fuller when you share, take the time to prove you care,
You will receive.
God has made life just that way, you gain so much when you give away,
Your treasure, toil, and precious time, service makes life so sublime,
This you’ll believe.
Before you know it you’ll have found, your trouble has turned all around,
Joy will be where there was hurt, fulfillment will spring, love will spurt,
From your glad heart.
Start today and try this out, learn what contentment’s all about,
Find someone to serve and serve them, life will be less drab and dim,
Just make a start.

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