While attending the Ligonier National Conference at Disney’s Coronado Springs resort recently, I couldn’t help asking, “What is happiness?”
Here I was at the world center of happiness and not many people looked that happy. Admittedly the weather was unseasonably cold, but even so, I didn’t see many smiles among the multitudes of Mickey-Mouse-eared children and their stressed-out parents.
In contrast, when I walked into and through the Ligonier conference venue, I saw a lot more happiness, I sensed a lot more joy, and I heard a lot more laughter. Who would have thought that there would be more happiness in God’s Kingdom than in the Magic Kingdom?
Which brings me back to my question: What is happiness? Specifically, what is this superior Christian happiness I experienced last week?
In some ways, Christian happiness is so large, so multilayered, so multidimensional, that it’s virtually impossible to define in one sentence. But let me try:
Christian happiness is a God-centered, God-glorifying, and God-given sense of God’s love that flows from a right relationship with God in Christ and that flows out in loving service to God and others.
Where do I get that from?
Largely from Moses’ deathbed!
As he is dying, Moses rouses himself one last time to enthusiastically pronounce multiple blessings (happinesses) on Israel’s tribes (Deut. 33:1-28). He then takes a big view of the whole nation and joyfully exclaims, “Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord” (Deut. 33:29)
He happily calls them the happiest people in the world!
It was a God-centered happiness. It wasn’t a happiness based on things or achievements (neither Israel nor Moses had any of these). It was a happiness based on truth, truth about God.
Moses had spent the previous three verses declaring multiple facts about God and all He was and did for Israel before climaxing with “Happy are you, O Israel!”
It was also a God-glorifying happiness. Moses doesn’t just narrate facts about God like a dull and boring lecturer. No, he’s exulting in God and exalting God as he speaks. He begins this final chorus of praise by saying, “There is no one like . . . God.” God makes him happy, but worshiping God makes him even happier. God-centered happiness makes him glorify God happily.
Finally, it was a God-given happiness. To the onlooker, Moses and Israel were in the saddest and most miserable circumstances. Moses had experienced many disappointments and frustrations over his life, especially during the last forty years in the wilderness, and particularly in being banned from finally entering the promised land because he lost his temper once.
Israel’s forty-year history up to that point was a trail of thousands of carcasses in the same wilderness, and they were still outside the promised land! Yet Moses pronounced God’s people not just happy but the happiest people in the world! Incomparably happy. Happier than the most powerful and prosperous nations.
What can possibly explain it?
It wasn’t something manufactured or manipulated; it was given by God. Given the circumstances, negativity and pessimism would have been much easier. But by grace, God enabled Moses to rise above every discouragement and sadness (without denying them) and to find his happiness in God. Like Paul, who faced similar harrowing circumstances, he was “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10). Divine happiness is far superior to Disney happiness.
And if Moses and Israel had such happiness, how much more should the New Testament church and every New Testament Christian? If we claim to know much more about God (and we do) and claim to have experienced so much of His great salvation (and we have), how much happier we should be, and how much more happy should be our service of God and others.