The Pursuit of Happiness


THURSDAY AFTER ASH WEDNESDAY
Psalm 1
Psalm 1: 1-6
Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the
wicked nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats
of the scornful! Their delight is in the law of the Lord, and
they meditate on his law day and night.

 
They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in
due season, with leaves that do not wither; everything they do
shall prosper.  


It is not so with the wicked; they are like chaff which the wind
blows away. Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when
judgment comes, nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.

     
The Pursuit of Happiness  

As a rule, we are a generally unhappy lot, are we not? 
If you don’t think so read on.

Today, the self-help industry promises untold numbers of
quick, cheap easy paths to happiness, while it nets around
$10 billion dollars a year.  And that is in the United States
alone! 

Add to that, most people buying a self-help book will buy
another one within eighteen months, followed by workbooks,
classes, and videos.  And another self-help book!

We may be tempted to see this desperate search as the collateral
damage of a loss of purpose or meaning in life, caused by materialism,
 toxic political unrest, environmental toxins, global warming, or
whatever.

Lest we do so, we must remember that brilliant thinkers including
 our Psalmist have been addressing this very topic throughout the
ages. Generously, they have provided us a wealth of happiness
theories, all having in common four basic tenets.

The first tenet in the search for happiness is to Know Yourself,
which is exactly where David starts in the first verse of the first
chapter of his extraordinary collection of wisdom, “Happy are
they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked nor
lingered in the way of sinners nor sat in the seats of the scornful!”

Take your pick!  Which are you? One of the wicked? Or are you
one of those who take delight in the law of the Lord?  David makes
it clear that we are what we do and with whom we do it.  If we
linger in the halls with sinners, take advice from the wicked, and
place ourselves scornfully above others, we become what we do. 
We become one of those who are ultimately crushed by guilt,
unable to stand before God when the judgement comes; who are
as meaningless as chaff blowing in the wind.

So why would anyone consider wickedness as their path to
happiness? Because at first glance, the ways of the wicked
are seductive! They promise a short cut to happiness
with quick access to the desires of the heart.  Unfortunately,
not all desires of the heart are good.  Some are evil and
ultimately destructive!

Which brings us to the second tenet, Manage your Desires.  
We are encouraged in Ecclesiastes to pursue happiness, even
given directives! Here they are: Seize Life!    Eat Bread with
gusto! Drink wine with a robust heart! Relish life with the
spouse you love!  

The often-blunt writer of this controversial book explained,
“Each and every day of your precarious life is God’s gift.  It’s
all you get in exchange for the hard work of staying alive.
For there’s neither work to do nor thoughts to think in the
company of the dead where you’re most certainly headed.” 

He wanted the people of God to know that God takes pleasure
in the pleasures they enjoy from their hard work, not from
extortion. God also takes pleasure in the good sense his
people exercise when it comes to desires.  When desires are
evaluated far away from the dark halls of the wicked, and in the
light of moderation, they become our joys, not our addictions. 
Manage your joys well and you are on your way to happiness.

Tenet three: Take What is Yours.   Whatever is yours, own it.  
Take care of it, whether profession, home, relationships,
spouse, or children. Treat each precious possession responsibly,
always conscientious, faithful, and consistent.  When you do,
David promises you will be like trees planted by streams of water,
bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither. 
Everything you do shall prosper and you will have a good shot
at happiness on earth.

And finally, tenet four:  Remember in the end, you will die.  
When we keep that in mind, we keep the world in perspective. 
We don’t let possessions become obsessions; we don’t put
objects above relationships.  Rather, we make the law of
the Lord our delight.  With that, we are assured that when
we face judgment, we will stand before our Maker upright, in
confidence and great happiness.

It may appear that the pursuit of happiness is an odd topic to
ponder during the time of Lent.  Is this not a somber,
contemplative time as we walk the road to Golgotha with
Jesus?  Yes, it is.  So why pick Psalm One as a Lenten
scripture?  Perhaps, because its four-step path to happiness
is strikingly similar to how we do Lent.    

A sound Lenten discipline calls us to remember who we are!
Followers of Jesus, who gather in prayer and meditation to
focus on the word of God, who manage our desires in a way
that is unique to Lent, who take our journey seriously, and who
remember on Good Friday that we too will die in the end:  We are but dust and to dust we shall return.

Only of course, that is not where our story ends. For us as
followers of Jesus, we get Easter!  That day when we burst into
a resurrection of Happiness, when we join with a multitude of
believers, standing upright before God and singing joyfully,

“Jesus Christ is risen today!  Alleluia!  Alleluia! Amen and Amen!
 

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