December 24, 2010

A People Who Are Happy and at Peace

For many people the pursuit of happiness is a lifelong quest. Some find bits and pieces of it along the way, but in the end we find that true happiness—deep, lasting-forever kind of happiness—cannot be found in things, circumstances, or even people. That’s because things get old and break, circumstances change, and people sometimes let us down and eventually leave us (by choice, circumstances, or death).
A Happy People
As a people of hope, we recognize that our happiness is built on Someone greater than ourselves, a Person who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8, NKJV).1 The Scriptures remind us that happiness does not come from focusing on our own desires, but in looking outward and in ministering to others. “Keep on loving each other. . . . Do not forget to entertain strangers. . . . Remember those in prison . . . and those who are mistreated. . . . Marriage should be honored by all. . . . Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’” (Heb. 13:1-5).

The Bible is full of promises that remind us that having faith in God and following His plan bring lasting happiness. “Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God. . . . The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous” (Ps. 146:5-8, NRSV).2
2010 1532 page6But what about when unhappiness knocks at our door and feelings of hopelessness try to enter our heart? While going through trials can be very painful, the book of Job reminds us that happiness can come even through suffering. “Happy is the man whom God corrects; therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty. For He bruises, but He binds up; He wounds, but His hands make whole” (Job 5:17, 18, NKJV).
True happiness is more than just a fleeting feeling of pleasure. It is a lasting sense of contentment and joy, knowing that our eternal destiny is rooted in One greater than ourselves. We trust in Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2, NKJV).
A People at Peace
Like happiness, peace has been pursued throughout the centuries, but with little success. A study done some years ago reported that in “3,530 years of recorded history, only 286 years saw peace. Moreover, in excess of 8,000 peace treaties were made—and broken.”3 This lack of peace on a global level is also seen in families across cultures and in the lives of individuals. With alarming statistics of high divorce rates, abuse, poverty, crime, depression, and suicide, we wonder if anyone can be at peace.
“Peace,” claims one dictionary, is the “freedom from disturbance,” and “quiet and tranquility.” Quiet and tranquility were certainly things the disciples were looking for one night on the Sea of Galilee. At first they thought they could handle things by themselves. They were experienced fishermen. Gripping the oars, the strong men battled the wind and the waves until they realized it was hopeless. In their efforts to save themselves they forgot Jesus, and their fear revealed their lack of faith. Darkness surrounded them and water was quickly filling the boat. It seemed that in just a few moments all would be lost. At last they remembered Jesus, and found Him sleeping. Didn’t He care that they were about to die? Realizing their helplessness, the disciples screamed, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” (Matt. 8:25, Nkjv).
Instantly Jesus stood up and, lifting His hand, commanded, “Peace, be still” (Mark 4:39, KJV).
Jesus Brings Peace
It is Jesus who brings us peace. He is the “Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6, KJV). But too often, like those living in Jesus’ day, we reject or misinterpret the peace He brings. For centuries the Jewish people had hoped that the Messiah would bring wealth and honor back to their nation—as it was during the time of David and Solomon.
Although the second Temple was not as beautiful as Solomon’s, the Jews clung to the promise given through the prophet Haggai that “the glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former” and “in this place I will give peace” (Haggai 2:9, NKJV). But when the Prince of Peace arrived, they did not recognize Him because His message was different from what they expected and wanted to hear. Instead of conquering foes, Jesus told them, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44, NRSV).
Instead of pushing for greatness, Jesus taught, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35, NRSV).
Instead of trying to get rich, Jesus advised, “Sell your possessions, and give alms” (Luke 12:33, NRSV).
Jesus knew that the world offers a false peace, a false hope—one that is built upon self or others, on things or circumstances. He knew that the world promises “peace and safety,” but “sudden destruction” comes instead (1 Thess. 5:3, NKJV).
Jesus did not promise that His followers would never have any problems. Instead, He promised to be with them. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:27, NRSV).
“Peace” was a word continually on the lips of Jesus. He stilled storms, healed diseases, forgave sins, cast out demons; He invited people to “go in peace.”
The Bible itself is packed with more than 400 promises, blessings, and greetings of peace. “May the Lord bless his people with peace,” the psalmist says in Psalm 29:11 (NRSV).
Yet why is it that sometimes we do not experience the peace that God longs to give? Could it be a lack of trust in the One we cannot see in the storm?
“Many who profess to be Christ’s followers have an anxious, troubled heart because they are afraid to trust themselves with God. They do not make a complete surrender to Him, for they shrink from the consequences that such a surrender may involve. Unless they do make this surrender they cannot find peace” (Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing, pp. 480, 481).
When we, like the disciples, realize the uselessness of trying to gain peace through our own efforts, we will gratefully surrender all to Jesus and allow Him to bless us with His peace.
A People Who Praise God
There once was a man who had been crippled for more than 40 years. And so we find him, sitting sadly at the gate of the Temple, when Peter and John came to pray. Catching their eye, the man begged for a coin or two, but instead was about to receive much more than he could even ask or think (Eph. 3:20).
Grasping the man’s right hand, Peter said to him, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk” (Acts 3:6, NKJV). “Immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God” (verses 7, 8, NRSV).
Like the crippled man, we too are unable to walk alone. We need the healing power of Jesus in our lives.
A people of hope should be characterized by the happiness (a permanent sense of contentment in Christ) and peace (being fully aware that our future is in God’s hand) that only God can give. In fact, peace and happiness are the imprint of hope in our inner being and will result in a life filled with joy and singing, praising God who “has done great things for us” (Ps. 126:3), and will do even greater things for His people. 
1Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
2Bible texts credited to NRSV are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright ” 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.
3The Personnel Journal, as cited in Today in the Word, June 1988, p. 33, Moody Bible Institute.
1. Why cannot things or people bring us lasting happiness?
2. Why do we sometimes not experience the peace Jesus longs to give us?
Gina Wahlen is a freelance writer living in Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.A. This article was published September 23, 2010.