Happiness Is Not An Entitlement: Work For Joy

The “disease model” of mental health asserts that good feelings come effortlessly to “normal” people, so bad feelings are evidence of a disease…Here is an alternative: Happiness is a skill that must be learned…

Refuse to see happiness as an entitlement.

Loretta G. Breuning, “The Therapy-Industrial Complex,” THE EPOCH TIMES, 8/25-8/31/2021

Work For Your Joy

Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.

2 Corinthians 1:24

Did you catch that? We work, Paul wrote, with you for your your joy.

Which means, we’re not entitled to joy and happiness is not a right. I don’t want the point to get lost in my words: You’ve got to work for joy.

And I mean that as 100% encouragement. Because too many of us have bought into the lie that says if we’re normal and healthy we’ll never feel flat, lonely or blue. And, while we might not say it this way, that we have a right to be happy.

But that’s wrong.

Happiness Is Not A Right

Pursue it, as our Founding Fathers said. Work for it with all your might. Fight for it. But please don’t say it’s your right.

You’re not entitled to it. Joy is a gift. It’s a fruit of the Spirit, meaning it’s given by God. Joy happens. We can’t command it. But we can work for. We can work to place ourselves where joy is more likely to be found. I can’t command a splendid sunset, but I can get out of this hickory woods in the evening and face west toward an open field.

I’m more likely to enjoy a drop-dead sunset there that facing east in my forest. But if I do get to savor that sun, I didn’t earn it. I worked to get where it’s found. But I don’t deserve it. Sun like that is sheer gift.

Count It All Joy

James wrote, Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.

I’m not an accountant by trade, but my work this Labor Day and every other day is to count it all joy.

The Greek word for translated as count is an accounting sort of word. It means to evaluate our trials somehow not on the debit but on the blessing side.

Learning to retrain my brain to reframe pain, and to count trials as joy is a mighty work. It takes effort to learn to count that way. Yes, happiness is a skill to be learned.

Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.

(Maybe) Abraham Lincoln

Fighters For Joy

These three have helped teach me not to take unhappiness sitting down. They teach me to work for joy.

Flannery O’Connor

A decade ago I read a quote about stalking joy. I think of it today.

Flannery O’Connor wrote,

Picture me with my ground teeth stalking joy—fully armed too as it’s a highly dangerous quest. The other day I ran up on a wonderful quotation: “The dragon is at the side of the road watching those who pass. Take care lest he devour you! You are going to the Father of souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon.”

I love this image. I live this image. My ground teeth and furrowed brow, out I stalk joy. I dare the joy-stealing dragon to breathe his fire as I pass—my eyes set on the city that is to come.

Because I know there is full joy in the presence of my Father, I press on.

George Mueller

George Mueller ran orphanages in England in the 1800’s. He was a joy crusader. You may have read this quote before. I return to it again and again,

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, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. 

My primary business each morning is the same. And I assure you, many days it takes a fight. It takes a prayer and verse and another prayer and a verse and forcing myself to give thanks for five things before I roll out of bed to, many days, tasks I dread.

Happy making is a great business.

John Piper

John Piper is all about finding joy in Jesus. And all about fighting for it relentlessly. In fact, “Every Morning There’s War in the Piper Household,”

The fight of faith is the fight for joy. I wake up every morning and fight that fight. Am I wanting to look at Twitter before I look at Jesus? It sounds stupid. That’s how stupid sin is. Every morning there’s war in the Piper household, and it’s not against my family; it’s against me.

Every day, Piper does what David did (Psalm 101:8), Every morning I will put to silence all the wicked in the land.

We stalk joy to get our souls happy in Jesus every single day. When we feel blue, we neither fear we are diseased, nor give up the fight. We grind our teeth and stalk our way past the ancient serpent that would forever steal our joy.

Because we know joy is not a given and happiness is not our right. Joy is a gift of God and a Spirit-fruit that grows as we fight the good fight of faith. We labor to be happy in Jesus until the day we die.

But then again, like Lewis wrote, Joy is the serious business of heaven.

Fight the good fight of the faith.

Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

1 Timothy 6:12

Afterward: But what about?

When asked about the disconnect between “steady state joy” and the fight for it, John Piper offered three reasons for the disconnect:

  1. Personality. Cheerfulness comes more naturally to some. It’s not the same thing as joy, but it’s a head start.
  2. Sin in in our lives. Indwelling sin precludes joy in the Christ follower. God intended that.
  3. Life in a broken world. Pain, weeping people, and perishing people stifle joy. We are sorrowful and rejoicing.

This wasn’t a how-to post. I wrote this JoyPrO to persuade you that happiness isn’t your right, so you’re not discouraged when it’s absent and you go after it with a fight. But if you want “15 Tactics For Joy,” look here. For one described in detail look here.

Your Struggle is Good, His Grace is Strong

Woman with Cross Fit Exercise bar on her shoulders

One of my writing goals is to normalize struggle. Another is to energize grace.

Struggle Is Good

What I mean by the first is this: I want my readers and friends to know that struggling with bad stuff is good. That struggle with sin is both normal and good.

In fact, I expect and solemnly hope that there’s some fight in me until the day I die. Because my sin is ever before me and I know too well my proneness to pride and impatience, to gluttony and envy– to name a few.

And because there is a “mean, violent streak” in every vibrant Christian life. In one of those sermons I keep going back to, John Piper explains that this violence is never against other people. Rather,

It’s a violence against all the impulses in us that would be violent to other people. A violence against all the impulses in our own selves that would make peace with our own sin and settle in with a peacetime mentality. It’s a violence against all lust in ourselves, and enslaving desires for food or… alcohol or pornography or money or the praise of men and the approval of others or power or fame…

Christianity is not a settle-in-and-live-at-peace-with-this-world-the-way-it-is kind of religion. If by the Spirit you kill the deeds of your own body, you will live. Christianity is war — on our own sinful impulses.

If you’ve read JoyPrO for any length of time these two goals won’t surprise you in the least. I’ve written about how comfort is overrated and faith is a muscle that must strain to grow and even why, for a time, I kissed ice cream good-bye.

For Strong-in-the-Lord Superconquerors

Recently I spent some time exploring what Paul meant in Romans 8:37 when he called us “more than conquerors.” Because to be a conqueror is one thing, but to be a “superconquerors”- well, in this tempted and tried flesh of mine, that is, to quote from The Princess Bride, nearly “inconceivable.”

The word in Greek that is translated “more than conquerors” in Romans 8:37 is only used once in the whole Bible. It’s one compound Greek word that takes two- super conquerors– or three of ours- more than conquerors– to express.

Albert Barnes explains what this strong man term means.

That is, they have not power to subdue us; to alienate our love and confidence; to make us lose our faith. We are the victors, not they. Our faith is not destroyed, our love is not diminished, our hope is not blasted.

But it is not simple victory; … it is more than simple triumph; it augments our faith, increases our strength, expands our love to Christ.

Think of it this way: borne by faith, the weight of trials and temptations are transformed from burdens slumping our backs to CrossFit bars squaring our shoulders. Same weight, different results.

This is more than simple triumph.

But Not Without Struggle

In, “The Law of Antagonism,” Oswald Chambers explains that super-conqueror status doesn’t come without struggle.

Life without war is impossible either in nature or in grace. The basis of physical, mental, moral, and spiritual life is antagonism. This is the open fact of life.

Health…is maintained only by sufficient vitality on the inside against things on the outside…Things which keep me going when I am alive, disintegrate me when I am dead. If I have enough fighting power, I produce the balance of health.

The same is true of the mental life. If I want to maintain a vigorous mental life, I have to fight, and in that way the mental balance called thought is produced. Morally it is the same… No man is virtuous because he cannot help it; virtue is acquired.

And spiritually it is the same. Jesus said — “In the world ye shall have tribulation,” i.e., everything that is not spiritual makes for my undoing, but — “be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

I have to learn to score off the things that come against me, and in that way produce the balance of holiness; then it becomes a delight to meet opposition.

No man, or woman, is spiritually strong because he cannot help it. Strength is acquired. Strength only comes through struggle.

Why It Matters

You must know beyond the shadow of a doubt that struggle is normal, healthy, and good for you, Christian. This knowledge matters immensely because too many Christians think something is wrong with them- or worse, that God does not love them- when they’re tempted – and fall- again and again. That if they were “really a Christian,” struggle and temptation would be done.

It matters because, honestly, if you see struggle with as the exception rather than the rule for the saint, “as if something strange were happening to you,” it will weaken you. I’ve seen too many friends give up, give in and quit.

I don’t know where that idea comes from, but it is definitely not from God’s Word. The Bible says the opposite. Over and over, we read that the Christian life is effortful and vigorous and full of struggle.

Hebrews 12:14 says, “Strive . . . for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Romans 8:13, “By the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body.” And Luke 13:24, “Strive to enter through the narrow door.”

We must know this or the next time we crave the other sleeve of cookies, or another glass of wine or feel the urge to look at something we shouldn’t or the say words we’ll wish we wouldn’t have- because if we’re not prepared for the struggle, we’ll probably succumb.

And over time, giving in is demoralizing. Seeing the empty jar or empty sleeve or reliving the words that wounded or that image on the screen can sap the life right out of you.

Struggling (With Help) Makes You Strong

But when you know that struggle is normal and, in fact, the exact means God has chosen to grow you up and make you strong, well, then, you’ll be more likely to rise to the challenge and less likely to give in to temptation.

You’ll be more likely to plug in to a very great and precious promise to escape the temptation (see 2 Peter 1:3-4). You’ll be more likely to send out an SOS to your comrades in arms. That is what should be normal.

Texting a friend to say: Please pray that I’ll be self-controlled and satisfied in God and listen well at the party tonight. I know I’ll be tempted to overeat.

Or messaging your prayer warriors at 12:45 am to ask, What promise can I cling to right now when fear is freezing me out? I can’t latch onto a single truth to break in on my catastrophizing dreams.

Or calling a sister to say, Can we please talk NOW? I am feeling paralyzed by anxiety and I need help.

We’re Needed and Needy (Both)

Those are real. Those came through from faithful struggling saints last week. Real people. And God’s grace was strong to meet their needs.

But remember that God uses means. He uses us- his needed and needy children- to strengthen his other needed and needy children.

So why does knowing that struggle is normal matter so much? That, in fact, if you didn’t struggle against besetting sins, that would be a problem.

It matters because if you don’t know that trials will come, you might be overcome. You might end up like seed sown on rocky ground, that sprang up fast but wilted away as soon as tribulation came (Mark 4:12). Do not be surprised, Peter wrote, when fiery trials come to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

No, struggle is not strange. It’s normal.

And Grace Is Strong

Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” That’s what Paul told Timothy. Since God designed the good fight of faith to be normal till the day we die, it makes sense that he gives more grace. “Grace,” John Piper says, “is not just the gift of restfulness, but the power of God to enable us to work for holiness.”

Grace is strong. Good struggle and strong grace go hand in hand. Do you see that?

Grace, I think, is less a safety net for hang-loose living, than the stabilizing bar that helps us cross the wire.

Biblical grace is also more than the gift of the kids sleeping in on a rainy days and picking strawberries on sunny days and the power that keeps illness away. Grace is that- unmerited favor. But it’s so much more. It’s power.

God’s undeserved favor also comes in the form of strength to call out for help, and power to fight. To take up the struggle like a strongman hoists a barbell.

This also is grace.

Daily Struggle + Strong Grace = Freedom

Freedom is not so much a destination that we reach as it is a daily choice that we make by our actions. Matt Fradd, author of The Porn Myth, said that in an interview with Janet Parshall.

The freedom Fradd mentioned doesn’t only apply to the porn problem. It applies to struggles with other temptations. Fradd says,

We need to think of struggle as a daily battle. Whether it’s losing our temper or eating too much, succumbing to anxious thoughts or shutting off our screens, it’s not realistic to simply say, I’m done. I’ll never do that again. Rather than thinking of it as an all or nothing battle, we should think of it as a daily battle. Rather than think of this as one and done, we need to think of it as a daily decision to live free.

Struggle is a daily battle- many daily decisions- to live free. And the struggle is made possible only by God’s strong grace. Strong enough to help you bear up under every single struggle you face. And not just somehow, but victoriously.

Having a free will, John Piper says, means doing what you want to do and not regretting it in a thousand years.

Such freedom, I think, will only come as we see struggle as good and embrace God’s strong grace.

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.

-Apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:10

When through fiery trials our pathway shall lie, my grace all sufficient shall be your supply.

-John Rippon, “How Firm A Foundation

More Than Conquerors: Not Somehow, But Victoriously

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Romans 8:37

The greatest truths don’t always feel true. Sometimes “more than conquerors” don’t even feel like conquerors.

Sometimes “super-conquerors” feel like losers.

More Than Meets The Eye

In fact, the “more than conquerors” are described one verse earlier as slaughtered sheep, who face death all the day long.

And back-to-back, just like that, slaughtered sheep are more than conquerors.

But that shouldn’t come as a shock to students of the Word. The Bible’s full of that sort of upside down kingdom talk. Because the earth is full of things are not what they seem.

It’s full of firsts who are lasts and lasts who are first and greats who are servants of all.  Full of weak who are strong and poor who are rich and mourners who get up and dance. Of persecuted who bless and wounded who pray and hurt ones who overcome evil with good. Of the hard pressed but not crushed and the fighters for rest and of the sorrowful yet always rejoicing.

The heroes are the saints who, like Mary and Joseph, and Joseph and Moses and maybe you and me- who choose what they did not choose.

Reality for these is far more than what meets the eye. These set their sights on things unseen and are never too old to see.

These are more than conquerors, in all these things.

Not In Spite Of, But Because Of

All means all. In all these things. For me, all these things means decades of longings unfulfilled and repenting of the same things and years peppered with rough scrambled days. In all these things.

What are your all these things?

Whatever they are, they can be your launching pad to spiritual growth. Because of that little preposition in. 

In all these things, we are more than conquerors through him. Not despite them, but because of them.

Do you remember the Old Testament Abigail? Abigail was “discerning and beautiful, but the her husband Nabal was harsh and badly behaved,” (1 Sam. 25:3).

In her study on Abigail, Nancy DeMoss Wolgumuth posed two questions that pulsate:

What if she was beautiful and discerning not in spite of the harsh and ill-behaved man she had been married to but because of her relationship with him? Was it her difficult circumstances that made her seek to know God and to become God’s woman?

Leading questions, those. No, Paul wrote, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

In all these things. Not in spite of them. In all these things. 

Not Somehow, But Victoriously

We’ve all heard it and most of us have said it:  I’ll get through somehow.

But come now. These aren’t the words of a super-conqueror, are they? Somehow it’ll all turn out.

Somehow?

And we who are in Christ are. We are super-conquerors. Not will be- are.

The word in Greek that is translated “more than conquerors” in Romans 8:37 is only used once in the whole Bible. It’s one compound Greek word that takes two- super conquerors– or three of ours- more than conquerors– to express.

Albert Barnes explains how it is we gain victory in all these things.

That is, they have not power to subdue us; to alienate our love and confidence; to make us lose our faith. We are the victors, not they. Our faith is not destroyed, our love is not diminished, our hope is not blasted.

But it is not simple victory; … it is more than simple triumph; it augments our faith, increases our strength, expands our love to Christ.

In other words, our sufferings become stepping stones on the path to glory when we score off them. When, instead of shipwrecking our faith, they cause our faith and love to grow.

Not somehow, but victoriously. In all these things.

But Not Without A Fight

In, “The Law of Antagonism,” Oswald Chambers explains that super-conqueror status doesn’t come without a fight.

Life without war is impossible either in nature or in grace. The basis of physical, mental, moral, and spiritual life is antagonism. This is the open fact of life.

Health…is maintained only by sufficient vitality on the inside against things on the outside…Things which keep me going when I am alive, disintegrate me when I am dead. If I have enough fighting power, I produce the balance of health.

The same is true of the mental life. If I want to maintain a vigorous mental life, I have to fight, and in that way the mental balance called thought is produced. Morally it is the same… No man is virtuous because he cannot help it; virtue is acquired.

And spiritually it is the same. Jesus said — “In the world ye shall have tribulation,” i.e., everything that is not spiritual makes for my undoing, but — “be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

I have to learn to score off the things that come against me, and in that way produce the balance of holiness; then it becomes a delight to meet opposition.

We learn to cling to him and run the race score of things that come against us. We overcome.

And, in all these things we are super-conquerors through him who loved us.

What Super-Conquerors Know

Super-conquerors don’t just triumph over evil things. We win by trampling- spiritually- on the things that would destroy us.

We score off suffering and sickness and mistreatment and conflict and injury and hardship and loss.

I love how John Piper explains what it is to be a super conquerer.

If you’re a conqueror, your enemies are dead at your feet. And if you’re more than a conquerer, your enemies get up…and serve you. The point is God doesn’t just protect you from all these adversaries, he makes them serve you, which is another way of saying Romans 8:28. The devil’s efforts are turned to work for our good.

This is the super conquerors’ secret: all these things are stepping stones to glory. What the enemy intends for evil, God turns for our good.

We look the worst straight in the eye and fight the faithless sin that would threaten to undo us and, through Christ, we fight for faith and strive to love and so we win the victory.

Through him who loved us. 

Stepping Stones To Glory

Christ was perfected through suffering and so will we be. Super conquerors use the same wounds that could be victim-makers and faith-takers and walk over them- as stepping stones- on the path to glory.

So we rejoice in our sufferings, Paul wrote, because we know that through Christ, these things serve us. They are precisely the means God ordains to grow us up and strengthen our faith.

Because these things-all these hard things– serve us. They pave the way to glory.

But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

1 Corinthians 15:57

For Poor Ornery People

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor on’ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky

John Jacob Niles.

Do you know that old Christmas folk song, I Wonder As I WanderDo you like it?

I never did.

But it’s growing on me.

Just Plain Ornery

Because far too often, I’m just plain ornery.  I turn grumpy and stubborn when my will is not done and impatient and harsh when my rules are crossed.  Other times I crave man’s praise and sulk when thanks doesn’t come. Sometimes my skin’s too thin and my heart’s too hard. That’s when I crumble into an ugly selfish heap.

I do.

In every case, poor and on’ry pretty well fits the bill. And there’s nothing like the Christmas rush to provoke ornery, at least in me. Which explains why I’m humming this tune a lot these days.

It fits me- I. I am prone to wander from the joyful obedience of faith and I feel it.

I simply am not naturally nice.

Driving in a Hard School?

Which is why I’m filled more and more with wonder anymore- in awe that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. Poor on’ry ones, maybe like you, for sure like me.

I’ve shared this quote before. But I stumbled on it again this week and let’s just say it was a Godsend  for this poor, on’ry mom to whom nice does not alway come easily.

If you are a nice  person- if Virtue comes easily to you- beware! Much is expected from those to whom much is given. If you mistake your own merits what are really God’s gifts to you through nature, and if you are contented with simply being nice, you are still a rebel…

But if you are a poor creature- poisoned by a wretched upbringing in some house full of vulgar jealousies and senseless quarrels- saddled, by no choice of your own, with some loathsome sexual perversion- nagged day in and day out be an inferiority complex that makes you snap at your best friends – do not despair. He knows all about it. You are one of the poor whom He blessed. He knows what a wretched machine you are trying to drive. Keep on. Do what you can. One day (perhaps in another world, but perhaps far sooner than that) He will fling it on the scrap-heap and give you a new one. And then you may astonish us all- not least yourself: for you have learned your driving in a hard school. (Mere Christianity, Book IV, Chapter 10)

Is yours a wretched machine? Are you beset and tempted to sin, within and without? Poor and ornery? Keep on. God knows.

Known by God

Keep looking to Jesus. He knows. He’s familiar. Honestly, it’s why Jesus came. Christmas happened to show us that God not only knows us, He loves us. With great love.

He knows all about it. He knows our frame, David wrote. Which means, we are known. Paul slid that blessed truth in to build his don’t-be-led-astray case to the Galatians, but the clause is rich it could stand alone,

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God…

Known by God. The Father’s children are known by Him. And loved by him to boot. What could be better?

Maybe only  this one other thing: He came to buy back us poor ornery one with his blood. Someplace else  it says that Jesus, had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

To make propitiation. That’s New Testament fancy for atone for our sins. ForJesus the Savior did come for to die. 

Jesus the Savior did Come for to Die

Can you say good news of great joy?

God came to earth as one of us, like his brothers in every respect. He suffered when tempted and we will too. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you (1 Peter 5:10).

He’ll fling that old, wretched machine on the scrap heap and then we’ll forever be free from sorrow, free from sin. Restored, confirmed, strengthened and established. No more poor, ornery. The God of all grace will bring it to pass. 

So fight the good fight of faith. Resist the devil, firm in your faith. Do what you can. Repent of your sin. And keep on. Get back up. Don’t buy the lie that no one knows your struggle or pain. Or that no one cares.

You are known by God and He does care. He knows what a wretched machine you are trying to drive. Jesus our Savior did come for to die. 

To save sinners. Including poor on’ry ones like you and like I.

 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

1 Timothy 1:15