In my books Happiness and Does God Want Us to Be Happy?, I emphasize that the primary source of our happiness isn’t our present circumstances but our God, who promised He’d be with us always and who commands us to rejoice in Him.
When we talk about our circumstances, we usually mean the temporal, outward conditions of our lives. These may include a lost job, estranged relationships, illness, fatigue, or depression.
But if we are in Christ, we should look to and affirm our “spiritual circumstances,” which are eternal and very real. We are created by God, loved by Him, redeemed by Christ, indwelt with and empowered by His Spirit, assured of an eternally happy and abundant life. No one can snatch us out of God’s hands. We are more than conquerors through Christ, He is working all things together for our good, and nothing will ever separate us from His love!
Ponder those circumstances, every day and every hour, and they will overshadow your temporal circumstances.
Our present circumstances do matter. But in the scope of eternity, instead of determining our happiness, they offer opportunities for our growth and ultimate good. When they threaten to overwhelm us, difficult circumstances can remind us to look to God, our Rock and Redeemer, who is our happiness.
That said, sometimes there is a modern sentiment in Christian circles that being happy due to positive circumstances, including the welfare of loved ones, is somehow unspiritual. True, circumstances change and our happiness should be grounded on Christ, who doesn’t change, but that doesn’t make it inappropriate to rejoice in favorable circumstances.
In 2 Corinthians 7:6-7, Paul said, “God, who encourages those who are discouraged, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus. His presence was a joy, but so was the news he brought of the encouragement he received from you. When he told us how much you long to see me, and how sorry you are for what happened, and how loyal you are to me, I was filled with joy!” (NLT).
The Good News Translation puts it this way: “It was not only his coming that cheered us. . . . He told us how much you want to see me, how sorry you are, how ready you are to defend me; and so I am even happier now” (verse 7).
The word chairo at the end of verse 7, translated “joy” (NLT) and “happier” (GNT), is triggered by Titus’s arrival. Chairo is clearly an emotional response of great gladness. While not all biblical joy—or happiness or gladness—comes out of favorable circumstances, many times in Scripture it does.
Note the emotion in Paul’s words:
I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill, and almost died. . . . Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ. Philippians 2:25-30, NIV
The New Century Version translates verse 28, “I want very much to send him to you so that when you see him you can be happy, and I can stop worrying about you.”
Though the Philippians were distressed when their dear friend Epaphroditus nearly died, they rejoiced in his deliverance and would rejoice to see him face to face. Positive life circumstances can prompt deep and emotional joy and happiness, and it’s OK to express that, as long as we remember that our ultimate happiness isn’t based on them.
Speaking of good news: right now Nanci and I are rejoicing over some very positive news related to her health. Last Thursday she had a follow-up test after a suspicious spot showed up on her most recent MRI. It turns out what looked suspicious was just a shadow! The surgeon said all is well in the area of the colon where the original tumor was, and he’s very happy with what he sees.
Now the concern is a black spot in her right lung. But last week’s news was the best possible, as among other things it means no intestinal surgery is needed. It’s uncertain what the spot is, and whether it will or will not grow and might require chemo, but she’ll have a CT in 30 days that should help determine that.
God is good all the time, whether our health news is good or bad. But it was very kind of Him to answer our prayers regarding Nanci. We are VERY happy and relieved and grateful to God above all, and also profoundly thankful to all of you who prayed for her! THANK YOU, LORD!
“Be joyful always, pray at all times, be thankful in all circumstances. This is what God wants from you in your life in union with Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, GNT).
Photo by Özcan ADIYAMAN on Unsplash
Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries.