“What everyone wants from life is continuous and genuine happiness,” according to the 17th century philosopher, Baruch Spinoza. That seems obvious. All our efforts in life tend to revolve around finding a place we belong, people who love us and a job that fulfills us. Yet every one of us can attest to the difficulty of achieving these goals.
Happiness can be an elusive target, largely because we don’t often define it properly. When we speak of happiness, we don’t usually mean joy or peace. Instead, we’re talking about a state of light-heartedness, with no problems and no concerns. And since true happiness can be defined differently by each of us, we don’t really know what will get us there.
Usually in our youth or early adult years, we develop a formula for life in which A + B = happiness. And we fully expect to achieve our dreams by approaching life according to this formula. What we fail to realize is how often life can invalidate our formula.
Occasionally, we need a fresh start, a time to reevaluate our formula and gain new perspective and hope. The New Year is the perfect time for such an evaluation. We’ve probably all been thinking about our New Year’s resolutions. But are we sure they integrate with our faith and life’s calling? Every plan we make needs to be founded on a solid knowledge of who God is—otherwise, we have no hope of attaining them.
We’re studying Psalm 19 this week. Essentially, it is a song praising God’s perfection. David begins by praising God for his creation. Next, he lauds God’s law. And finally, after concluding there is nothing imperfect about God, David prays his actions, words and thoughts will be pleasing to God. The Psalmist offers a good model for us to follow as we look for renewal in the new year.
Recognize God is in control
When life’s difficulties throw us off balance, the right response would be to cry out to God and follow his leading. All too often, we just lead out and expect God to follow. Then, because life really doesn’t make sense, we question whether God is there for us at all. We can’t see him or hear his voice, and there don’t seem to be any real consequences for not obeying him. At this point, we can easily lose faith and begin living life according to the world’s rules instead of God’s.
But the world doesn’t live by faith. It wants to see evidence before it believes, while God asks us to do the reverse: first believe, then wait to see the evidence. Remember the angel’s announcement to the shepherds? “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:11-12). The shepherds had to believe the angel’s message before they would see the sign. Not the other way around.
According to David, when our faith is weak, all we have to do is look around. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1). As we look for a renewed relationship with God, we need to pray he will give us faith to believe the voice of creation and trust him even when life gets difficult.
Accept the truth of God’s word
Another bad habit we can fall into is misinterpretation of God’s word. We like for Scripture to confirm our beliefs, not challenge them. So all too often, we’ll select biblical truths as if they are a Sunday afternoon buffet. We choose this verse and some of those verses, but leave behind the verses we don’t like. Or we’ll chop up whole passages, taking verses out of context so they say what we want them to say.
But David tells us God’s word is perfect, trustworthy, right and pure. It can revive us when we need renewal. It can make us wise when we feel foolish. And it can give us joy—even when its sayings are hard.
When we’re faced with unsolvable problems, we often want God to speak directly to our situations. True, the Bible isn’t usually that specific. It speaks to core issues such as the definition of love, the value of life and the nature of God. But if we’ll be honest, most of our problems are merely surface issues resulting from a misunderstanding of or refusal to live by these core issues. If we aren’t satisfied with the answers we find in the Bible, it may be because we don’t want to accept a core truth. Our problems may not be easy fixes, but may require a faith and obedience overhaul.
As we seek renewal, we must turn to God’s word. We shouldn’t try to retro-fit it to our way of thinking, however. We need to accept God’s truth the way he reveals it to us. Sometimes the answers will be simple fixes. Sometimes instead of answers, we’ll find comfort in our moment of distress. And sometimes God will ask us to look deep into our hearts to fix core issues that keep us from enjoying all his blessings.
Pray for God’s strength to obey him
Jesus never said it would be easy to follow him. He says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). But he also promises not to leave us alone. “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever” (John 14:16).
God asks us first to believe in him and the work Jesus did on the cross. Then he asks that we stand on that faith by obeying him. “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15). Just as the shepherds had to seek out the Christ Child in order to know the angel was telling the truth, we must believe God’s promises enough to obey him. The evidence comes as peace beyond comprehension, blessings here and in the hereafter, and a non-guilty verdict on Judgment Day.
Renewal can only be found if we are willing to live life by God’s rules, not the world’s. We must know him intimately and be dedicated to him. Like David, we must find our joy in relationship with him. Let’s follow David’s lead and pray God will protect us from our own sinful nature. “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
• When you were young, what was your formula for happiness? Did it work for you or lead you astray?
• Have you ever come to the point of realizing you need to correct wrong thinking about God?
• What is your New Year’s resolution regarding your faith or your relationship with God?