The Problem With 'God Just Wants Me to Be Happy'

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Shane Pruitt is director of Missions for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

Over the past 15+ years of ministry, there have been multiple times when I've counseled with a husband, or my wife has counseled with another wife, who wanted to leave their spouse. Now, we're not talking about instances of abuse or abandonment. The spouse just didn't want to be married anymore, or he or she had found someone else who could "rock their world" unlike their current husband or wife.

Inevitably, that person would come to a moment of justification by using a cliché, "At the end of the day, I know God just wants me to be happy."

It's a common belief that God exists to be our "personal genie," waiting to give us our every wish, desire, or validation for our feelings. It's amazing how we will wear ourselves to exhaustion or destroy the world around us by trying to pursue an elusive state of happiness.

Now, don't get me wrong, healthy happiness is not a bad thing. I am speaking of the world's definition of happiness, or even more relevant to each of us, our own view of happiness.

The world's idea of happiness is tied to circumstances. If our circumstances are favorable, then we're happy; if not, then we're not at all happy. Unfortunately or fortunately, our circumstances change all the time. This means that our dictator becomes the circumstances around us. It's an extremely unfortunate scenario, when outward forces control our inward feelings.

If we're pursuing this kind of happiness, it will lead us right into a ditch of resentment and regret.

Ultimately, God wants us to be obedient to Him, trust Him, and know that everything He does is for our good, even if it doesn't make us feel "happy" at that moment.

"If you love Me, you will keep My commandments (John 14:15)."

"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28)."

Full trust in God enables you to have joy. Joy is the settled state of contentment, confidence, and hope that only comes from God. It is truly an incredible gift from God, and often we miss it because we're too busy pursuing happiness. In fact, God has a whole lot to say in His Word about this gift. A form of the word, joy, appears 88 times in the Old Testament, and 57 times in the New Testament. Resting in joy is truly better than chasing after the world's happiness.

Here are three definitive truths that explain why "Joy > Happiness":

1. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit: Joy is the second fruit of the Holy Spirit listed in Galatians 5, 'But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy... (v.22)".

God is the greatest of all gift-givers. As Christians, God gave you His very best, Himself!

That is also the greatest news of the Gospel — We get God! We get to know Him, behold Him, experience Him, and have His Spirit live inside of us.

One the evidences that the Spirit of God dwells in you is the presence of joy in your life. If you have the Spirit, you will have joy!

This is one of the fundamental differences between joy and happiness. We attempt to receive happiness from favorable circumstances, but we can only receive joy as a gift from the favorable God!

2. Joy is not built on circumstances; it's built on a Person named Jesus: There are incredible promises given to the children of God, in the Book of Matthew and the Book of Hebrews:

"... I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20)."  

"... I will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5)." 

These beautiful truths are yet another representation of why joy is truly greater than happiness. Joy is not built on outward circumstances; it is built on Christ dwelling inside the believer.

If the Spirit of Christ is always inside of me, and He will never leave me; then, my joy will never leave me. No matter what I go through, I can have joy, because my God is with me.

Good days — joy. Bad days — joy. Suffering — joy. When everything goes my way — joy. When nothing goes my way — joy. My joy remains because my Christ remains!

3. Joy is a command: Isn't it sad when Christians are often the most miserable people around?

Nothing is more confusing to the world than for God's people to say they have joy in their hearts while they also have misery on their faces. With this fruit of the Holy Spirit called joy deep in our soul also comes a command from Scripture to rejoice always.

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice (Philippians 4:4)."

It's not a suggestion, but a command to rejoice at all times.

Do you see how serious God is about joy? We're not told to always be happy, but we are commanded to rejoice always. In fact, you could even say that it is a sin not to be a joyful person because you're actually breaking a command of God.

God is with us. We can always rejoice because we can always say, "My great Comforter is here!"

Sadly, if I am miserable, then I am portraying that I have a miserable God inside me, instead of a joyful God.

If you're sick and tired of being sick and tired from the pursuit of happiness; could it be time for you to start resting in joy?

Maybe, you find yourself in a circumstance that doesn't always make you have happy feelings. Remember that God is with you. If He is with you, then joy is with you. He will sustain you. Joy will sustain you. He will remain. Joy will remain. Joy is truly greater than happiness!

Dr. Shane Pruitt is director of Missions for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. He writes for I Already Am.