When Are We Truly Ever Happy?

The happiest people I’ve known are also the ones who I’ve watched selflessly serve others.

My Grandma and my wife are two people in my life who exemplify this. They are people pleasers. Now, there are good and bad people pleasers.

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The bad ones want something out of you. But both these ladies are simply happiest when they are making others happy. They just do it to do it. Why?

Jesus, who is the perfect human image of God, fully pleases God, and it delights Jesus to do it, as only one perfect Being can please another. It’s part of the perpetually pleasing back and forth of the members of the Trinity.

As humans, we are made in the image of God, so we have some sense of it, too. That’s why when we please other image bearers, it just makes us happy.

You can only find happiness in either the true image or the image bearer.  You can’t find it in yourself or in an inanimate object, because its something that has to be reflected back at you by another Being.

  • Happy in the True Image: It’s a not-so-vicious circle. We live by God’s good- are happy in it- so we do more of God’s good- and are even happier. And since God is most pleased with us when we love and obey Him, so we are pleased and content, too.
  • And Happy in the Image Bearer: what brings happiness in others, bring happiness in us. And who doesn’t like being around happy people? So when we please others- love your neighbor style- they are happy, and so are we.
So we are designed to do good things. And the degree to which we are able to do those good things- we’re happy when we do it, and less happy when we don’t.

Word vs. Works

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Now, you’ll get no argument from me that churches are primarily Word Ministry based. Practically, para-church organizations are better equipped to serve communities.  But every church should have a couple of gateway programs that do community outreach as part of their discipleship program.

A couple of years ago, the church I attend started a community service program called Send Seventy, modeled after Jesus sending the disciples out in pairs.  Send Seventy was designed to get people out into their neighborhoods to serve.  It platformed out of our Life Group ministry- so that people could go together and support one another as they tried something new.  Hopefully, three things would happen:

  1. Together, people could overcome their trepidation to try something new.
  2. Once they tried it, service would become something they wanted to do, rather than a burden or just another thing on the to-do list. (Enter sanctifying Holy Spirit:)
  3. They’d be motivated to find a place that fit them and continue serving.

Gateway programs like this are important in combatting community service lethargy. Many people, myself included, shy away from service because its new and intimidating not to know anyone or what to do- we’re uncomfortable.  A gateway service program called Salt and Light is run by our church at a local homeless shelter ministry.  It’s led and supported by a regular and dedicated leadership team from the church, but with plenty of room for people to get out of their pews and try it out.

Church community service programs should be designed to introduce people to service so that they can find their own service home and routines in their own contexts, neighborhoods and comfort zones.

Did Send Seventy work?  Well, it worked for me.  I’ve shared my struggles with serving and new routines and busy-ness. But after a few tries (and few bad fits), I found a place in my neighborhood where I feel comfortable, know the people and can serve regularly.

Off the Hook?

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Should I serve inside the church or should I serve outside the church?  Yes…

This is how as an interrogator, I learned the hard way not to ask compound questions.  Did you rob the bank on Monday or did you rob the bank on Tuesday?  Yes.  So which is it?

  • If you serve inside the church walls… does that mean you are off the hook outside the walls?

Christians are called to both serve both one another AND the needy, i.e. “the widow, the orphan and the foreigner among you.”  When we serve one another inside the walls we are serving by extension the ministry of God’s Word.  When we serve outside the walls we are serving the ministry of God’s Work.  Both Word and Works are necessary.

There is the danger of thinking that if we usher or work in children’s ministry, that we are absolved of working in the community.  As a pastor, spending all my free time inside the walls, I even tried to convince myself that I was off the hook.  Nice try.

We only hurt ourselves when we forgo community work because God ordains that kind of service as one of the ways that He changes our heart (i.e. sanctifies us). In short, I hate going, but once I’m there I feel like it was great idea (that’s simple heart change).  And while he’s changing our heart, other hearts are changing as we model (and yes even speak about) the gospel.

We are called to be God’s agents in world repair- the Jewish term is Tikkun Olam.  I especially love Isaiah for his Two Cities Theme: the city of man vs. the city of God- it’s currently a poor crime ridden ghetto filled with people who abuse each other.  But in the end we see its transformation into a Holy City.  Even though its not here yet, we are to be part of that transforming process- now.

Two Places Not to Serve

I hate serving.  I love serving. You could say I have a love/hate relationship with serving.  I hate getting started because its inconvenient.  It takes me out of my game.  I don’t know anybody there.  I don’t know what to do or how to do it.  So my default setting is usually: “don’t I do enough already?”  Then, after the guilt sets in, the evil twin of, “I don’t do enough.”

These are the two places from which Christians should never serve.  Because frankly, you could never “do enough” or not “do enough.”  Christ already did everything.  The first is born of pride the second guilt.  If we’re “doing enough,” we’re taking credit for doing something that we think should cause God to love us more.  And when we’re not “doing enough” we think God loves us less.  Both attitudes are opposite sides of the sanctification by works coin.  God won’t love you more for doing more and he won’t love you less for dong less. But precisely because he loves us unconditionally like that- we should love him back- in obedience.

So rather than looking at service opportunities from the “works” binary, simply try to obey… for obedience sake.  Simple obedience is the gateway drug to sanctification.  Now surely there will be valid times when you can’t or shouldn’t.  But simple obedience gets us over the reluctance hump.  Once you try it, figure it out, meet the people, serving becomes something you want to do rather than have to do.  That’s a heart being sanctified.