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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Guaranteed to Make You Happy

Guaranteed to Make You Happy
What can be almost as hard as climbing Mount Everest, yet everyone can do it and it is guaranteed to make you happy?  Sound crazy, perhaps?  But it really is true and if you will give it a 10 day test, you’ll become a believer.

There’s no doubt about it, life is tough.  This world is full of imperfect people (read sinners) who live close to or even with other imperfect people.  And it doesn’t make any difference if you are wealthy or poor, Asian or American, the frailties of others gets under our skin and grates on us like sandpaper on a wound.  Of course, we don’t take any note of our own shortcomings.  Our eyes only look outward, not inward.  We can, as the Bible says almost humorously, see the speck in the other fellow’s eye, but we can’t see the beam in our own eye.  Now, of course, if you had a real two by four piece of lumber in your eye you would more than see it, but Jesus is here giving us a gentle reminder of the fact that we just aren’t perfect, so don’t expect perfection from anyone else.

But that’s exactly what we do.  We quite willingly accept and/or ignore our own failings, but give no quarter when it comes to seeing the failings of others.  I’m as guilty as the next guy (or gal).  Sometimes when I see or hear of an employee doing something stupid that may damage the company, I want to blow up.  Fortunately, most of the time, I instead walk down the hall into my friend, Bill’s office, and tell him I need to vent.  After I spout off, Bill always has the same bit of wise advice to share with me.  He says, “Isn’t it a shame that everyone else is not perfect like you and me.”  Ouch!  But I love hearing it.  It is true Godly wisdom.  Too bad I don’t remember it and follow it more often.  The Bible makes Bill’s point this way in Proverbs 14:29 and it doesn’t pull any punches:
                    “A person of great understanding is patient, but a short temper is
                     the height of stupidity.”
If I could only practice what the Bible teaches.  But I’m held back by my imperfection.  Nevertheless I strive on to be a more temperate, understanding person.  Why?  It’s not because I think I can ever achieve perfection.  And it’s certainly not because I think I can earn my way into heaven.  I know that’s not the case.  How perfect could heaven be if it let in imperfect people like me?  If it did that, it would no longer be a perfect place and I wouldn’t want to spend eternity there. 

But God had a plan to get imperfect humans into his perfect heaven.  It’s called his plan of salvation and it took incredible love to execute.  God’s plan does not call for any human exertion or for us to do some incredible good work.  No, as it says in Ephesians 2:8-9, He did it all…
                    “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this
                    not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no
                    one can boast.”
Just what did God do?  He sent his one and only son, Jesus, to live the perfect life we cannot live, and then Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose from the grave to cement the promise of a perfect life in heaven.  The perfect died for the imperfect to create a way for you and me to live in joy and happiness forever.

But what about back here on earth where we face difficulties, insults and offenses regularly?  What about the way we are to live our lives?  If Jesus has done everything, who cares how we live?

We are to do our very best to follow the example of Jesus in loving others and caring for others and putting their needs before ours.  Our reason is not to gain us any points or special blessings, but to show our appreciation for the indescribable love God showed for us by sending Jesus to save us. 

And that gets us back to the one way that is guaranteed to give us a life filled with joy and happiness, even as imperfect as we are and even with all the challenges life throws at us.  This life is filled with the Devil’s illusions.  The father of lies puts lies in our mind.  “If I only lived in that city, I’d be happy.”  “If I only had that car, I’d be happy.”  “If I could win the lottery, I’d be happy.”  “If I was only married to that person, I’d be happy.”  When we sit back and look at it, the silliness of such thoughts become obvious.  Things outside of us do not make us happy.  It’s what’s inside of us that makes us happy.

In fact, there is one key to being a person who is content and lives with joy in his or her heart.  And Jesus taught this truth to his disciples when he taught them the Lord’s Prayer.  Right after we ask for “daily bread” Jesus tells us to ask God to…
                    “Forgive us as we forgive others.”
Oh, oh.  This means that we can’t hold on to that old grudge or seek vengeance on those who have hurt us and offended us!  Ugh.  But that’s not what sounds good to us.  They hurt me, now it’s my turn to get even.  It even feels better to get even—at least for a little while. 

So what does forgiveness have to do with happiness and joy and contentment?

The answer is that the person who forgives benefits more from forgiving than even the person who is forgiven.  How’s that again?  Yes, it’s true, the one who forgives benefits more than the one who is forgiven.  While it may be nearly as hard as climbing Mount Everest, once you sincerely forgive and amend your attitude accordingly, you will find that anger falling away.  Anger never brings happiness.  And, surprisingly, it never brings satisfaction or contentment. 

The bottom line is that you cannot be both an angry person and a happy person.  Anger and happiness are incompatible.  When you choose to forgive, even when the other person does not seek forgiveness or even when forgiving does not seem right or fair, a great burden will be lifted from your life.  Jesus asked God to forgive those who put him on the cross—that’s you and me.  If God forgives us for our many and continuing sins, how can we not forgive others?

Tell me, how do the paltry offenses of others against you stand up to the terrible sins and crimes and offenses that put Jesus on the cross?  How can I ask for Jesus to forgive me when I’m not willing to forgive others?  Jesus went first.  And now because of his great love and forgiveness, how can I not follow his example?

The great apostle, Paul, who suffered beatings, shipwreck, imprisonment, and cruelty of many kinds, said this in Philippians 4:11…

                    “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to
                    be content whatever the circumstances.”

Having a forgiving heart will give you a new outlook on life.  It will create joy you have not previously experienced.  It won’t create wealth or change your circumstances, but it will provide a perspective that allows you to wake each morning with a smile and to walk out the door with a song in your heart.  It really will.  But don’t just take my word for it, give it a 10 day trial and you will be surprised.

Forgiving an old grudge may appear to be as hard as climbing Mount Everest, but the joy you will receive in return is better than reaching that summit.  Now if only I can put into action what I can put into words.

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