God Calls Us to Find Happiness in Him

In my novel Safely Home, I tell the story of two Harvard roommates reunited in China twenty years after graduation. One is American businessman Ben Fielding, an entrepreneur in international high-tech corporate partnerships. The other is Li Quan, a brilliant academic who, when Ben last saw him, was headed home to be a professor at a Chinese university.

When Ben reconnects with Li Quan on a business trip to China, he’s shocked to find his old friend living in poverty, working as a locksmith’s assistant, and involved with a house church often raided by the police. Shortly after the two become reacquainted, Quan is imprisoned. Yet even in prison, to Ben’s astonishment, Quan remains cheerful, trusting God and rejoicing in His goodness despite enduring cruel treatment.

The longer Ben stays in China and the more time he spends with Li Quan and his wife and son, the more he envies his old friend. Even with everything he has going for him and everything working against Quan, Ben realizes he wishes he could trade places with his former roommate. Why? Because Quan has what Ben doesn’t: love and happiness. Li Quan drew his happiness from God, who was with him even in prison. Ben Fielding attempted to find happiness in everything the world had to offer . . . and failed miserably.

Happiness is God’s command—and a pleasant calling— for His people.

C. S. Lewis said, “It is a Christian duty . . . for everyone to be as happy as he can.” Happiness is a privilege. However, since God repeatedly calls upon us to rejoice, delight, and be glad in Him, we have an obligation to actually do so.

This makes sense only if the God we love is happy, if the gospel message we embrace and proclaim is happy, and if Heaven is a happy place. It makes sense if we understand that people long to be happy and won’t turn to Jesus if they believe there’s no happiness in Him. Others will judge whether there’s happiness in Jesus by whether they see happiness in His followers. Hence, our happiness is, indeed, a Christian duty.

But what an incredibly wonderful responsibility it is . . . like being required to eat Mom’s apple pie! We’re accustomed to thinking of duty as drudgery, not happiness. But a person’s duty to love his or her spouse or to care for a son or daughter, and a soldier’s duty to defend his country—when done with the right heart and perspective—all bring satisfaction, contentment, and happiness.

Paul’s words in Philippians 4:4 are often translated “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.” They could also be translated, “Be happy in the Lord always, and again I say be happy.” Commenting on this verse, Spurgeon said, “It is intended that we should be happy. That is the meaning . . . that we should be cheerful.”

This passage commands us twice to be glad in God. A command carries with it the duty to obey, and when it’s repeated, that expectation is intensified. Fortunately, when God commands us to rejoice, His Holy Spirit empowers us to obey.

The fact that “rejoice” is followed by “always” and is repeated (“again I say rejoice”) makes it one of the most emphatic directives in Scripture. If our lives are not characterized by rejoicing, or if we’ve given up on happiness, we’re missing out on what God intends for us. We must go to Him and ask for His help and empowerment to find joy in Him.

Only if we truly want to experience the happiness-driven desires of our hearts will we be drawn to God by verses such as this: “Seek your happiness in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desire” (Psalm 37:4, GNT).

Judging by what we hear, we might expect Scripture to say, “Obey God, and say no to your heart’s desire.” Not so!

Jesus says, “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24).

The Contemporary English Version and God’s Word Translation both render the final clause in John 16:24 this way: so that we will be “completely happy.”

Can our joy be full if we’re not happy? No.

The CEV, a translation from the original biblical languages (not a paraphrase), says:

Be happy and shout to God who makes us strong! (Psalm 81:1)

Be happy and excited! You will have a great reward in heaven. (Matthew 5:12)

The Bible clearly commands us to be happy.

You may not be accustomed to thinking that God commands us to be happy. But it’s a fact. And I’m betting it’s a command most of us would like to obey!

Some have an intuitive resistance to the notion that happiness is unbiblical, and so we should. A blogger says, “Happiness isn’t in the Bible? But what about all the commands to rejoice? What about laughter? Please tell me I’m not supposed to always be heavy-hearted, trudging along and begrudging obedience. I want to be a happy Christian!”

Scripture confirms that God wants us happy.

I’ve studied more than 2,700 Scripture passages where words such as joy, happiness, gladness, merriment, pleasure, celebration, cheer, laughter, delight, jubilation, feasting, exultation, and celebration are used. Throw in the words blessed and blessing, which often connote happiness, and the number increases.

God is clear that seeking happiness—or joy, gladness, delight, or pleasure—through sin is wrong and fruitless. But seeking happiness in Him is good and right.

Even Jeremiah, who’s called “the weeping prophet” since he was brokenhearted over the tragic suffering of God’s people, spoke prophecies of happiness. He saw the future—some of it in this world’s Jerusalem and much of it in the New Jerusalem to come—and in it he was given glimpses of God’s promised happiness:

Hear the word of the Lord. . . . [My people] will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion; they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord. . . . They will be like a well-watered garden, and they will sorrow no more. Then young women will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.  Jeremiah 31:10, 12-13, NIV

That’s a lot of joy for a weeping prophet!

Consider the Psalms, which reflect both great sorrow and great happiness:

I will be happy and rejoice in you! I will sing praises to you, O sovereign One! (Psalm 9:2, NET)

You will fill me with joy when I am with you. You will make me happy forever at your right hand. (Psalm 16:11, NIRV)

God, your love is so precious! . . . [People] eat the rich food in your house, and you let them drink from your river of pleasure. (Psalm 36:7-8, NCV)

I will go to your altar, O God; you are the source of my happiness. I will play my harp and sing praise to you, O God, my God. (Psalm 43:4, GNT)

As Jeremiah and Jesus wept, we, too, will sometimes weep—and so we should. But if we’re not experiencing happiness in God, then we’re not obeying God’s commands and we’re missing out on the abundant life Jesus came to give us (see John 10:10).

For more, see Randy's blogs on happiness, as well as his book Happiness.

Photo: Unsplash

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries