Flight crews routinely announce, “If you’re traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, in the case of an emergency, secure your own oxygen mask first before helping the other person.” Those instructions may sound selfish, just as it sounds selfish to say that one of our main duties in life is to find happiness, satisfaction, peace, and rest in God. But only when we’re delighting in our Lord do we have far more to offer everyone else—especially in times of stress and difficulty, when life demands even more of us.
Consider the example of George Müller, who immersed himself in the care of thousands of orphans in the 1800s, and suffered from bad health and the weight of stressful responsibilities. One day he wrote in his journal, “This morning I greatly dishonored the Lord by irritability manifested toward my dear wife.” He said he fell “on my knees before God, praising him for having given me such a wife.”
Müller didn’t excuse his irritability. He knew his unhappiness and bad mood had displeased God and hurt his wife. He owned up to it.
But George Müller couldn’t eliminate stress or occasional bad health. So what was his solution? He wrote,
I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was, not how much I might serve the Lord, but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. . . . I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the Word of God, and to meditation on it.
He put into practice what Psalm 90:14 says: “Satisfy us in the morning with your loyal love! Then we will shout for joy and be happy all our days!” (NET). On another occasion Müller said, “In what way shall we attain to this settled happiness of soul? How shall we learn to enjoy God? . . . This happiness is to be obtained through the study of the holy Scriptures.”
We may not always recognize it, but we long for God and for His Word, that truth which is an extension of Himself, that clarifies and explains and shows us life as it really is, not as it is constantly misperceived. The world, with its sin and shallowness, leaves a sour taste in our mouths, but there is an eternal sweetness and delight to God’s Word. After we’ve spent enough time there, we’ll find that television and social media and news sites and popular culture will only leave us hungry and unsatisfied.
In his excellent article, Brett McCracken argues that just as fats/sugars/oils fall in the “use sparingly” category of the food pyramid, so too the internet and social media should not make up the bulk of our mental “diet.” In fact, I believe that sometimes it is just toxic, and those who eat a toxic diet will not be spiritually healthy. This is why we see Christians on social media who appear to imagine they are representing Jesus, while they fail to realize everyone else is shaking their heads at their constant launching of verbal grenades and stating their own biased opinions and conspiracy theories as if they were facts. In my opinion, it’s nearly impossible for perpetually unhappy and critical people to share the “good news of happiness” (Isaiah 52:7) effectively.
Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs (1600–1646) spoke about the futility of finding happiness in anything other than God: “That is just as if a man were hungry, and to satisfy his craving stomach he should gape and hold open his mouth to take in the wind, and then should think that the reason why he is not satisfied is because he has not got enough of the wind; no, the reason is because the thing is not suitable to a craving stomach.”
That’s why we’re to develop a taste for God’s Word, for it is as desirable and essential for us as milk is for a baby’s growth: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2).
Like eating good food and exercising regularly, if we develop the holy habit of daily meditating on Scripture, we will deeply appreciate it, realize our need for it, and miss it acutely whenever we’re away from it too long. And we’ll understand that only God can satisfy and sustain us in every season of life.
Related to this topic, our friend and EPM board member Robin Green recently sent me this note. It’s a reminder of the ever fresh, perspective-giving power of God’s Word:
This morning I was reading in Exodus 32, how Moses is on the mountain with God, receiving the law. Meanwhile, the Israelites are making a golden calf and worshiping it and sacrificing to it and saying it is the god who brought them up out of Egypt. And God is angry and says He will consume them. But Moses implores the Lord and reminds Him of His covenant and all. “And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.” Of course, when he gets down from the mountain, Moses throws a fit and is furious with the people. And Aaron says he threw the gold into the fire and “out came this calf.” It’s ridiculous!
For some reason, this passage spoke to me about our sin, the sin of our nation, the sin of our world in turning away from God and ignoring Him and wishing to go our own way. And I was moved to pray that the Lord would relent from the disaster that is on us… not just the virus, but the crazy politics of our day, the division, the hatred, the flying after foolish answers to serious problems, the idolatry of wealth and health and youth.
I just wanted to say that God’s Word speaks to us each time we read it. No matter how many times it is read, it still speaks freshly to each day. I find that amazing. Of course Exodus 32 isn’t speaking directly about the pandemic of 2020. But God takes His word and reminds us that we are but dust, just as the Israelites in the desert were dust. We are wayward, just as they were. And He has a way out, which He graciously provided through Jesus. It’s amazing.
“How sweet are thy words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103, NIV)
“My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times.” (Psalm 119:20, NIV)
“I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands.” (Psalm 119: 131, NIV)
“You satisfy me more than the richest feast. I will praise you with songs of joy.” (Psalm 63:5, NLT)
Browse more resources on the topic of happiness, and see Randy’s related books, including Happiness and Does God Want Us to Be Happy?
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries.