Our loving heavenly Father wants His children to be a joyful people. But sometimes we seek out joy and fulfillment where they can never be found. Today, Sinclair Ferguson shows where true happiness lies and how Christians can obtain it.
We’ve been thinking this week in our podcast about the new year, and we’ve talked about making a personal covenant with the Lord. We’ve thought about a hymn that encourages us, and yesterday we thought about a text that will guide us. But sometimes, as I hinted yesterday, I have a little problem at this time of the year. What do I say to people when I meet them for the first time? What words should I use? Maybe you think that’s a little bit dark and obsessive-compulsive, but here’s the issue: When I was a young Christian, I was taught that God was more interested in my holiness than He was in my happiness.
I thought it would seem very strange if I started wishing people, “Have a holy new year.” I actually think that even Christians might have cooled off to me if I’d greeted them in that way. But there’s another thing. You could wish someone a happy new year and then later in the year regret that you’d ever said it because their life had been so filled with unhappiness. So, with thoughts like that, you can understand how I sometimes puzzle over what adjective do I use when I greet people at the beginning of the new year. I usually end up saying something like, “I hope you have a blessed and happy new year.”
But maybe my conscience is too tender because the Bible does speak about us being happy. Just as it’s the desire of every earthly father that his children will be happy, then surely that’s all the more true of our heavenly Father. Some of us struggle, don’t we, with a picture of a God who wants us to be happy—perhaps because of our own experience of fatherhood, perhaps because of the doubts and fears of our own hearts. This is why the Holy Spirit has been sent to us, so that once we have been adopted into God’s family, we might become persuaded that He is our loving heavenly Father. Although we cannot fully understand the ways in which He accomplishes this, He does want us, ultimately, to be happy, and to be happy with Him, and to be happy forever.
The thing is, you see, God knows better than we do how to make us truly happy. He knows that we can be truly happy only when we fully belong to Him, only when we are growing in our knowledge of Christ and want to live for Him. There is a real happiness for the Christian to experience, but the Christian is brought to experience it in many different ways. And some of them actually are very sore to us because we’re still seeking out happiness in something in which happiness can never be found rather than seeking it in the Lord.
I wonder if you know the great hymn by the English hymn writer who rejoiced in the name Augustus Montague Toplady. That’s a name to conjure with. He wrote a great hymn entitled “A Debtor to Mercy Alone,” and there’s a verse in it that has always moved me. He says, “My name from the palms of His hands eternity will not erase; impressed on His heart it remains in marks of indelible grace. Yes, I to the end shall endure, as sure as the earnest is given.” And then this: “More happy, but not more secure, the glorified spirits in heaven.” Now there’s a line to remember. They are happier. They see the face of Christ. They are set free from sin. But they’re not more secure because you and I are held—if we’re Christ’s—in the hollow of His hand. They are happier, but because He is ours and we are His, we can be happy here.
Of course, we’ll only know perfect happiness when we are with those saints in glory and when we’re perfectly holy—when we’re with the spirits of righteous men made holy, as Hebrew says, and in the presence of Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant. That’s where our lives are heading, to be conformed to the image of God’s Son. But if we are His, we can already be happy. Happy in Jesus and learning sometimes through difficult experiences, as many of us will know this year, that our true happiness lies not in the things of this world, but in our fellowship with Jesus Christ. As we’re still in the very first week of this new year, let me wish you a very happy new year.