From: Keith Ingram Sent: Friday, April 22, 2005 3:40 PM To: ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ Subject: last Sunday and this one.
I hope that you have had a good and productive week. We are almost done with studying the four things we know for sure about the return of Christ. I hope to see all of you Sunday as we wrap up this topic.
I have had a conviction percolating in my brain for several years now. That conviction is that our present happiness is not dependent upon any external circumstance, thing or person. I have heard lots of teachers and preachers differentiate between joy and happiness and then say that you can be not happy from time to time and still have joy. I understand what they mean by this. Such a distinction between joy and happiness helps to describe the difference between the intellectual certainty we have in God’s promises like that of Romans 8:28 and the fact that we feel emotionally unsatisfied with parts of our present condition.
Nonetheless, I feel that making a distinction between joy and happiness in this way is something of a cop out. All of us are damaged psychologically and/or emotionally to one extent or another as a result of living as sinful creatures in a fallen world. We all have a need to feel loved, respected, needed etc. All of us have times where these needs go unmet and we feel unhappy to one degree or another. Saying during those times we retained our joy is something of a non-sequitur. You look unhappy, you sound unhappy, you feel unhappy, but yet you claim to have joy. A non-christian could be excused for thinking that such joy might not be a very desirable thing.
There was a book written by Robert S. McGee in 1985 called The Search for Significance. In that book, Mr. McGee argued from scripture that Christians are to find their identity, their purpose and their emotional well being solely in Christ. Christ loved you (individually) enough to come to Earth, live a perfect life as a fragile and temptable man, die a substitutionary death on your behalf, rise again and thereby offer each of you the opportunity to restore your personal intimate relationship with the Holy sovereign God of the universe. Focusing on our value to God instead of temporal transient imperfect things is the way to be whole and happy.
People try to fulfill their emotional need for happiness in a lot of ways. They may accumulate stuff, cars, newer and bigger houses, clothes, shoes etc. They may go after public service accolades. They may become workaholics and try thereby to find happiness in advancement at work. They may surround themselves with friends and social activities. They may become addicted to alcohol, illegal drugs or pornography. Some may even expect happiness to be provided to them by their spouse.
I submit that whenever happiness is sought in anything other than deepening one’s own intimate fellowship and relationship with Christ, disappointment and destruction will result. In John 10:7-18, Christ contrasts Himself with the false prophets. He is the one who will lay down His very life for his sheep while all of the others are destructive thieves or false hired guns who will run away when trouble comes. By contrast, God says that he is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. Prov. 18:24. God loves us enough to discipline us. Job 5:17-18 and Heb. 12:4-11. God invites us to bring Him our cares because He cares for us. I Peter 5:7. God promises that if we put Him and His righteousness in first place in our affections, then He will give us the desires of our heart. Psalms 37:4. God is the one who forgives and forgets our sin and satisfies us with good things. Psalm 103:1-17. God promises to answer our prayers. Matt. 7:7-12, I Jn 5:14-15.
Now we get to my rabbit trail last Sunday. For those of you who weren’t there, I went off on a tangent about the need to guard your heart at all times and to avoid intimate conversations with persons of the opposite sex that aren’t your spouse. I am sorry for the somewhat inarticulate cri de coeur, but I feel like many of us have been deceived. We have believed that our spouse is responsible for our emotional happiness. Just like any other human being, our spouse will disappoint us from time to time and if we are relying on them for our happiness, we will be disappointed. The danger is that we may in our disappointment look for emotional satisfaction in one of the false ways listed above. It could be shopping, working, drugs, pornography, status, greed or whatever. We could even leave ourselves open to drifting into an unfaithful relationship. Here is a link to a story written by someone in the ministry to show how easy it is to drift into emotional attachment to someone other than your spouse.
But then I got to thinking. I do have a role to play in my wife’s emotional well being. Here is a link to an article talking about that role and steps I can take. Likewise, my wife has a role to play in my emotional well being. How can it be that we are to rely only on God for our happiness and yet still have a role to play in the happiness of our spouse? Isn’t that contradictory? I think it is not and I am going to tell you why I think that.
God has unequivocally commanded men to love their wives. Eph. 5:25-33; Col. 3:19. God has just as unequivocally commanded wives to respect their husbands and submit to their leadership. Eph. 5:22-24; Col. 3:18; I Pet. 3:1, 5-6. In addition, we are specifically commanded to meet each others needs sexually and emotionally. I Cor.7:1-5.
As we discussed in class, these obligations are independent of the behavior of our spouse. In other words, I am to love my wife no matter whether she respects me or not. Likewise, she is to respect me no matter how loving I am acting or how worthy of respect I am. WE LOVE AND RESPECT EACH OTHER IN OBEDIENCE TO THE COMMAND OF GOD. I end up helping to meet my wife’s deepest emotional needs because I am deepening my relationship with God by obedience in this area. She ends up helping to meet my deepest emotional needs because she is deepening her relationship with God by obedience in this area. The kicker is that the very desire and power to obey God in our marriage relationship comes from God. II Pet. 1:3-8; I Thess. 5:23.
So there is our answer. We are obligated, by God, to act in such a way that as we do so we become God’s instrument to meet the emotional needs of our spouse. God uses each of us as His instruments to provide His benefits and promises to each other. The triangle that follows is an old illustration of the three part marriage relationship. As each spouse gets closer to God along line A or B, they naturally get closer to each other as line C shortens.
Obviously, not every marriage involves two spouses that are Christians. Indeed, not every marriage with two Christian spouses will have spouses of equal Christian maturity in their relationship to God. One spouse may be slipping backwards away from God and the other one might be making rapid progress toward Him. Six months later, the roles will be reversed. What we have to understand is that no matter what is happening externally in our lives, we have an obligation to obey God and seek Him first. If we do so, then we have His promise to meet our heart’s desires. Psalms 37:4. If our spouse is not being obedient to God and we feel our emotional needs are being left unmet as a result, then the answer is to deepen our individual relationship with God. It is not an excuse to go after ungodly external things to fill the void. It is certainly not an excuse to look over the fence into another pasture and daydream about how green the grass is over there and to start spending time putting your head through the barb wire to get some of it. If we seek emotional fulfillment outside of God, then destruction and disappointment will inevitably follow. John 10:10.
The reality is that we will be unhappy from time to time. We sometimes end up feeling ashamed and alone. Then someone will point out the scriptural truths above or we will run across a verse like Isaiah 26:4 and our guilt and shame increase still more. This is because we know the truth and we know that we are living a defeated unhappy nonjoyful life and thus something must be wrong with us.
I am here to personally tell you that victory over joylessness is ready for the taking. Unfortunately, this victory is not easy or even painless. You have to honestly confront the source of the problem. Is the problem your desire to find happiness through stuff or work or status or money or children’s success? Do you have a damaged portion of your psyche or emotions that needs to be repaired to prevent falling back into old habits? These questions have to be a part of honest self examination before true progress can be made. Once you have done your self exam and rooted out the specific problem area, then you need to be ready to take steps to confess the sin and/or repair the damage.
One of my favorite encounters with Christ recorded in the Gospels is the man who said “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” Mark 9:24. God wants you to experience joy and happiness and will help you do so if you confess. I John 1:9. You need to confess the sin of disbelief in God and His provision and ask Him to restore to you the joy of your salvation. Psalm 51:12. He will do so. Matt. 7:7-12, I Jn 5:14-15
I am sorry this is so long and I am sure it is not for everyone. I do hope that we all learn to trust God intimately enough to let Him have control of our daily happiness. The secret to victorious Christian living is to fully and completely surrender to God and His provision rather than trying to maintain control over some areas of our lives.
If any of you have any specific questions or concerns, please let me know. I look forward to seeing you Sunday. Have a good weekend.