How to be Happy

Happy is the one who trusts God

My one and only ride in a hot air balloon was awesome. Drifting slowly above the earth as I peered over the edge of the basket at the countryside below gave me a perspective of the community I lived in that driving through it didn’t. While I couldn’t see the details of the houses, farms, and the little town I lived in like I could when I drove past them, I was able to see the area as a whole.

hot-air-balloon-view

I’m finding my marathon journey through the Bible in 90 days to be much the same type of experience, as it enables me to see the overall picture of the story of God’s people that a more detailed study doesn’t. I’ve been struck by a thread that runs through the narrative of almost every account in the Old Testament – God delighted when people trusted Him, and grieved when they didn’t.

When Adam and Eve didn’t trust that God’s instructions to not eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was for their good, He was grieved. He knew the consequences humankind would experience as a result.

When Job put his full trust in God no matter the suffering he was going through, God was delighted in his confidence.

When Joshua and Caleb expressed faith they could conquer their enemies and take the land He’d promised them, God was pleased, but He was disappointed in the doubt their companions expressed.

Whether it was Moses or Hannah or Rahab or David – in each of their very different circumstances – God asked them to trust Him rather than their circumstances. They did, and He proved Himself trustworthy. Of course, He proves Himself trustworthy whether we trust Him or not. That’s what’s so awesome about the redemptive God we serve!  Our trust does not determine if God will act on our behalf or not. But our trust, or lack of it, does determine what our personal experience will be – whether we will experience peace and joy, or anxiety and distress.

Trusting God for everything

One could say that God is delighted when we trust Him because it brings Him glory, and I think that’s true. But I also think God is delighted because He knows how much happier we will be if we fully trust Him. When we trust God we live knowing we are loved, we have peace, and we have confidence and freedom. That’s true happiness. When we don’t trust Him, we are filled with fear, anxiety, bitterness, and loneliness. That’s pure misery.

David knew the happiness of trusting in God. He personally knew what he was talking about when he wrote in Psalm 40:4, “How happy is the man who has put his trust in the Lord.”

David’s earliest lessons in trust – at least that were recorded for us – were during his time as a shepherd boy, alone in the fields as he took care of his father’s sheep.  He fended off a lion and a bear with his bare hands, killing both, and gave God credit for giving him the strength. Because of this same confidence in God, he was able to fearlessly face off with the giant Goliath, and win.

Later on David trusted God as Saul relentlessly pursued him. God had told David he’d be the next king, and David believed Him, knowing he couldn’t be king if he were dead. Time after time God protected him from Saul, each experience increasing David’s reason to trust Him. He expressed this faith in Psalm 56 when he wrote, “When I am afraid, I will trust in You.” And then several verses later he declared with confidence, “This I know: God is for me.”

Many singles wonder if God is for them, or if He’s forgotten them. In this we can be confident: He is for us, and He has not forgotten us! He has given us Himself, and the promise that He will never leave us or forsake us. He never meant for us to carry the weight of fighting our battles alone, or providing everything we need alone, or even figuring out what to do next alone.

He did and does mean for us to live in relationship with Him, learning to trust Him more and more as we experience that we are completely loved by Him, completely protected by Him, and completely provided for by Him.

Trusting the pilot

When I climbed into the basket of that hot air balloon, I had two choices. I could trust  the pilot to know what he was doing and get us back to ground safely. Or, I could be fearful the whole flight, distrusting  the pilot and his abilities to land the balloon safely. What allowed me to enjoy that ride was my choice to trust, and it left me with a happy memory instead of a miserable one.

If we live life trusting our Heavenly Father, we will be happy. If we live life cynically and anxiously, we will be miserable.  Let’s live knowing confidently we are loved, that we are cared for, and that we are never alone. Our happiness depends on it!

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Doomed to Loneliness, or Freed by Loneliness?

The source of loneliness

Loneliness is one of the worst emotions that humans experience. It is suffocating, it is demoralizing, and, at its worst, can shove a person over the brink to suicide. No wonder we try to avoid it at all costs, and desire that our loved ones never encounter it!

But what if we realized it were a gift from God Himself because He desires to give us something really precious?

Before you think I’m totally nuts and stop reading, please give me a chance to explain.

I want to be clear that I don’t believe God created loneliness. In fact, I believe He never intended for us to ever experience it. He created us to experience and live in relationship that completely obliterates loneliness.

But we don’t. We live in a fallen condition in which our eyes are veiled from seeing our Heavenly Father’s face, and in a fallen world in which imperfect relationships fall short of meeting our needs for connection, love, and affirmation.

To add insult to injury, we live among people – even fellow Christians – who believe the essence of a person’s existence is based on a connection to someone else. When that doesn’t happen, especially in a romantic sense, not only is loneliness difficult to bear, others’ negative assessments and perceptions of us – even pity – add to that difficulty.

And so we paste on smiles and act as though we are completely satisfied with our lives to avoid the stigma of being lonely singles. The secret is, it’s not just singles who do this. Loneliness is not a respecter of persons, and just as many married people experience loneliness as singles. After all, they live in this fallen world with us, with imperfect spouses who aren’t equipped to fill their needs for connection, love, and affirmation.

lonely man

Before we can find any relief from the harsh grip of loneliness, it’s important we realize that circumstances do not determine loneliness. The prospect of an evening at home alone may be relished by one person, for instance, and dreaded by another.

Loneliness itself is a feeling that results from something else. While it may seem to be from external circumstances, in reality the culprit is from within. Mostly it is from perspective, based on an interpretation of our circumstances, not from reality. We allow our value to be determined by our connection – or lack of it – to another person, rather than being confident in our intrinsic value given by God Himself, completely separate from anyone else.

So what is this precious gift I referred to earlier? I believe one of the reasons God allows us to experience loneliness is to give us a deeper connection with Him. It’s often in the vacuum of human relationships that we experience the reality of our Heavenly Father present with us – as real as any human in physical form would be. When we are so consumed with human relationships,  all the “noise” of our social connections drowns out His voice and hides Him from us.

As a four-year-old who watched her baby sister choke to death, I learned the harsh reality that anyone could be taken from me at any time and without warning. I feared my mother’s death like no child should ever fear, and carried a form of that fear into adulthood. I couldn’t fathom a world without my mother to phone when I was far away,  and to hug when I was near.

When that fear became reality, I experienced the greatest gift I’ve ever received. I now know the realness of my Heavenly Father’s constant presence. While I’d always had a relationship with Him, it has became more real. I hear His voice. I know His affirmation and feel His delight. He’s revealed His purpose for me and I feel fulfillment as I pursue it. He met me right in the vacuum of a human relationship I’d held to tightly from age four!

That is the precious gift God wants to give to each of His children – a real relationship with Him that meets our deepest needs for connection, love, and affirmation. I’m not saying one has to experience loneliness or the loss of a loved one to find that relationship. But loneliness, perhaps more than anything else, can drive us to Him.

Allowing loneliness to point us to abundant life in Jesus

Just before Moses died he stood before the Israelites and gave them a choice – life or death, blessing or curse. If they followed God, they would experience life and blessing. If they pursued other gods, they would find death and curse.

As we experience loneliness we have a choice. Will we keep wallowing in the curse of loneliness and allow it to take us down a slippery slope to death? Or will we use that vacuum to drive us to a deeper relationship with our Heavenly Father, and experience His blessing of a purposeful and abundant life?

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Complete Devotion

Marriage can be a distraction

We all long to be fully loved by those who know us completely. Such love provides us with affirmation, confidence, and freedom to be ourselves. If we are known but not loved we feel devastated. If we are loved but not known we feel insecure. But if we are known and loved we are naturally compelled to return that love with all of our being!

The wonderful truth is that each one of us are completely known and fully loved. God loves us with that kind of love and – unlike any human who may both know and love us – will fulfill every promise He has made to us. He will never leave our side, even to go to work or the grocery store. And He is completely devoted to us!

When we grasp the depth and quality of God’s love for us, we are overwhelmed with amazement and joy. A deep love and devotion for Him fills our hearts. The Apostle John said it best when he wrote, “We love because He first loved us.”[1]

The Apostle Paul had a concern for the Corinthian Christians that they would lose their deep love and devotion to Christ – a danger for every Christian in any time or place. He wrote to them, “For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy, because I have promised you in marriage to one husband—to present a pure virgin to Christ. But I fear that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your minds may be seduced from a complete and pure devotion to Christ.”[2]

One of the ways that “serpent” Satan seduces us away from a pure devotion to Christ is by distracting us with good and noble pursuits. Marriage is sometimes one of them. We can become so focused on the good aspects of getting married and having a family that we allow that desire and pursuit to distract us from focusing on and serving Jesus. We become more enamored by human love than by the love of our Bridegroom, Jesus.

Complete Devotion to Jesus

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul encouraged those who weren’t married to not marry. His compelling reason was that unmarried men and women are free from the distractions of a spouse to focus only on what pleases the Lord.[3] Singles aren’t the only ones who can become more enamored with human love than with Christ’s love. Paul gave a clear warning that being married can distract from devotion to Jesus: “A married man is concerned about the things of the world—how he may please his wife— and his interests are divided”[4] and “a married woman is concerned about the things of the world—how she may please her husband.”[5]

Paul made it clear he wasn’t prohibiting anyone from marrying, but rather asking them to carefully consider the benefits of remaining single: “Now I am saying this for your own benefit, not to put a restraint on you, but because of what is proper and so that you may be devoted to the Lord without distraction.”[6]

Obviously God doesn’t call everyone to remain single. He most definitely has a purpose and plan for marriage, and there are many couples who form strong partnerships that are fully and effectively devoted to Christ. I was blessed to be raised by one of them!

But it is often a struggle. Spouses come with their own baggage and may not always be at the same place spiritually. People grow at different rates and in different ways. One spouse must sometimes wait on the other to be ready to move forward in what God is calling them to do. And when children enter the picture, the needs of a family loom larger than life sometimes. God still calls those who are married to be completely devoted to Him, even though the distractions and obstacles are often greater.

I’m not here to tell those who are single never to marry. God has a purpose and plan just for you, and He will show you in due time if you are to marry, and whom. But while you are single – whether that be for a season or life-long – He has told us through the Apostle Paul that you have a significant advantage by having fewer distractions in your complete devotion to Him. My simple reminder to you (and to me) is, don’t waste it!

 

[1] 1 John 4:19

[2] 2 Corinthians 11:2-3

[3] 1 Corinthians 7:32, 34

[4] 1 Corinthians 7:33-34a

[5] 1 Corinthians 7:34b

[6] 1 Corinthians 7:35

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Free to be You – Dealing with Criticism

Be who God created you to be

Criticism. We’ve all felt its sting. It indicates – to varying degrees – a lack of acceptance or approval of something we are, have said, or have done. In someone’s eyes we’ve not measured up. They’ve let us know, and it hurts.

Criticism comes in various forms – directly and verbally, gently or not so gently. Sometimes it comes more subtly through veiled comments and body language. Sometimes it finds its way to us through a third party, social media, or the grapevine. Sometimes that source is ourselves. And sometimes it is imagined. No matter what form it comes in or from where, it’s unpleasant and destructive.

Condemnation of criticism

What do we do when we find this ugly thing called “criticism” staring us in the face, sneering and condemning?

The philosopher Aristotle once said the only way to avoid criticism is to say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing. Well, there is another way. And that is to say everything, do everything, and be everything to please everyone else.

Impossible, you say?

Well, you’re absolutely right.

We’re left with only one option: Be who God created us to be, and ignore the criticism. Then, and only then, do we find freedom from criticism. Not because it ceases, but because it becomes irrelevant.

Yes, I know – that’s easier said than done. How do we do it?

Ann Voskamp has said, “The moment you stop caring what other people think — is most likely when you start doing what God wants.”

This is truth.

Putting God in the driver's seat

We need to know who God wants us to be, what He wants us to say, and what He wants us to do – and then do it. When we seek and do what He wants and has for us, He displaces the critics in the driver seats of our lives, and they are banished to the back of the bus. From there, their opinions have no effect on the direction our bus is going, and their voices become a distant murmur we ignore. Our Driver knows the way, and we trust Him. If He takes us down the road of singleness, for instance, it’s not that we’ve missed the right bus, it’s because that’s where He wants us to be for good reasons!

We humans get caught up with our measuring sticks and cookie cutters. We love to have standards by which we measure ourselves and each other. We imagine God has only one cookie cutter and has made us all the same, designing us all to dress alike, act alike, and live lives alike – with only minor variations.

Dealing with critics and criticism

The more we seek what He wants for us, though, the more we discover how differently He created us.

He has equipped me to write while He’s given you the ability to speak, fix cars, decorate cakes, make sales, teach students, milk cows, fly planes, tend to patients, build things, or look through microscopes.

He’s placed me in Virginia while you may be in Colorado, Australia, the South Pole, India, Idaho, England, Peru, or the Netherlands.

He brought me into this world in a hospital by the sea to live in a bustling tropical city, sealing my fate to be a city girl at heart who loves the tropics. While perhaps His birthplace for you was in a snow storm out in the boonies, making you feel most at home in the north and in wide open spaces.

Free to be me!

I enjoy books, good coffee, long chats, RVing, an ocean view, and cats. While you may prefer dogs, hot tea, the mountains, hiking, solitude, and football.

Many of us have never married, while many others have. Some have been widowed or divorced.

Some of us are childless while others have only one child, others have a few, and still others have many. Some adopt, others foster, while others give birth.

None of these are right or wrong. It’s what and who God created us to like, do, and be. In all of them He has a purpose for us to fulfill. Probably multiple purposes. And these abilities, preferences, situations, and locations are the platforms and means by which He equips us to fulfill those purposes.

Consider these verses which indicate God has designed and created each person with a purpose:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” (Jeremiah 1:5)

“For it was You who created my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise You because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well…. all my days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began.” (Psalms 139:13-14, 16b)

“A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.” (John 15:16)

“He has saved us and called us with a holy calling … which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.” (2 Timothy 1:9)

There are many means to discover His purpose for us. Most of it we discover as we live our lives, seeking Him. Sometimes a theme emerges, or we learn more and more what makes us tick. We discover these things through prayer, by observation, and by talking with those who know us well or who know how to ask the right questions to bring it to our awareness. Proverbs 20:5 says, The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.”

Shari Baer Life Coach

God has used many men and women of understanding in my life to draw out the purposes He has made to be an integral part of me. One of those individuals most recently is someone I’ve known all my life, my cousin Shari Baer. God has gifted Shari with the ability to help others discover His purposes for them, and to help them know how to move forward into the abundant life He has for them as they utilize their gifts and live out their purpose.

Because she has been such a big help to me, and continues to be, we have partnered together to offer her coaching services here on Purposeful Singleness. If you’re unsure how to move forward in living out your purpose, need help making your critics take a seat in the back of the bus, or just need someone to talk out life matters with, be sure to check out our page describing her services.

One of the individuals who has taken advantage of Shari’s coaching here on Purposeful Singleness says this:

“Having been through several coaching sessions with Shari, I cannot recommend her enough! She helped me gain great insight into my God-given purpose and after every coaching session I felt invigorated to pursue my dreams. She not only really listens to you, but knows how to make you feel heard, and if you want, she prays with you.”

As we begin this new year, now is a great time to determine to be fully who God created you to be and to move forward into all that He has for you! And if you’re dealing with critics, it’s also the best way to make them take a back seat in your life.

I’d like to leave you with a favorite verse of mine as we begin this brand new year together:

Look, I am about to do something new; even now it is coming. Do you not see it? Indeed, I will make a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:19)

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