“‘Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O Lord, be my helper!’ You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” (Psalms 30:10-12).
Here’s my 90-second response to a question from Greg Laurie about whether we can be happy when going through suffering and hard times:
In my understanding of Scripture and my experience, daily happiness in Christ isn’t wishful thinking. It’s based on solid facts: God secured our eternal happiness through the cross and resurrection. He dwells within us, and He intercedes for us. Nothing separates us from His love. And He tells us “Be happy and full of joy, because the Lord has done a wonderful thing” (Joel 2:21, NCV).
Life brings no end of ups and downs. One week or month or year seems great, another is discouraging. Wishful thinking and denial won’t make things like health issues, financial struggles, or relational difficulties go away, and while discouragement is natural, reminding yourself of God’s unchanging character and love and faithfulness is critical to being able to rise above the adversity of circumstances that seem to change like the weather.
I’m not talking about looking in a mirror and trying to make yourself a positive thinker. So-called “positive thinking,” the sort that’s involved in prosperity theology, tries to make us happy by ignoring the negative (such as sin, suffering, and hell).
For two years some people have been telling us that if we just trust God enough Nanci’s cancer will go away. Well, we do trust Him and we pray daily for her healing as we have all along. But we also recognize that He is God, and His Word does not always promise ease and healing. In fact, it is full of His followers who suffer, die, and must grieve over the loss of loved ones. I believe in a fact-based happiness centered in Christ and His love, wisdom, and sovereign plan.
Nanci goes in for two big tests, an MRI and a CT scan, next Wednesday, November 20. If God answers our prayers that the cancer is gone, we will say “God is good.” If we find that the cancer is still there, we will go forward with the scheduled lung surgery the following week, two days before Thanksgiving, and we will say “God is good.” If the cancer has grown, we will say “God is good.” And we will have a different but good Thanksgiving if she’s in the hospital five days after surgery as the doctors believe. (We’ll share updates after the tests on her CaringBridge page.)
We will be right to say “God is good” in any of those cases because God is who He is, unchanging, always good and faithful and loving to His people even when He chooses not to answer our prayers the way we would have liked. God is just as good when you lose as when you win, and just as good when life goes your way and when it doesn’t.
He is trustworthy, and always knows better than we do, even though He kindly invites us to pray for the desires of our hearts, which is why we’ve prayed for Nanci’s healing ever since she got the cancer, and for successful treatments too.
Scripture does not teach the God-as-genie, name-it-and-claim-it prosperity gospel, which promises happiness through health, wealth, and success. We should be grateful when God grants us health, provisions, and delightful surprises. But it’s one thing to be happy when such things occur, and another to believe God has failed us when they don’t.
Our models shouldn’t be jewelry-laden prosperity preachers, but Jesus-centered servants, such as missionary Amy Carmichael (1867–1951), who brought the gospel to countless children she rescued from temple prostitution in India. She experienced much physical suffering and didn’t have a furlough in fifty-five years. Yet she wrote, “There is nothing dreary and doubtful about this life. It is meant to be continually joyful. . . . We are called to a settled happiness in the Lord whose joy is our strength.”
“Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you” (Psalm 33:20-22).
For more on happiness, see Randy's book Does God Want Us to Be Happy? For more on suffering, see his book The Goodness of God.