Looking for Happiness, Seeking Heaven

World Challenge Staff

God offers us a way to discover joy in the ashes of our lives, but it runs so counter to how we’ve been told to find happiness by the world that it almost doesn’t make sense. 

“If you’ve never seen an episode of Love Is Blind, the best way I can describe the viewing experience is this: It feels like a television producer read a Wikipedia description of the Stanford prison experiment and decided that all it needed was a little romance,” wrote Amanda Mull for The Atlantic.

“What starts out functionally similar to eavesdropping on a series of deranged Tinder dates turns into watching couples bond over tales of childhood trauma and adult violence and deep personal insecurity, all within days of being introduced to one another’s voices in the pods…. To me, that’s the most unsettling part of Love Is Blind. Most of the contestants seem well-meaning, if a little desperate for companionship, which isn’t particularly rare. The conflicts are blown up for entertainment value, but they’re mostly identical to the stuff of normal relationships—unlike most other dating shows, there are few hoops to jump through except engagement and marriage, which makes some of the drama distressingly familiar,” Amanda Mull noted.

“Every day, people try to push past insecurities without dealing with them, try to reconcile conflicting desires that make for an uneasy fit with an otherwise lovely partner, try to tell the difference between anger issues that can be resolved and those that are more likely to devolve into abuse. Sometimes they tell themselves that these efforts are going better than they really are because they so badly want that to be true. There’s nothing all that fantastical about any of it, which is maybe why it invites such close examination and rowdy discussion by fans online.

“There but for the grace of God go many of us, even if cameras aren’t capturing our fights and disappointments. If we can all just agree on the right way to argue, the right person to blame for a broken heart, and the right way to fall in love, maybe we’ll all do better the next time we try.”

We all carry the desperate desire to escape the pain of broken parts in our minds, hearts or lives. At the very least, we want to discover their purpose and solution. We scour dysfunctional relationships so that we can be the chef who finally makes the secret sauce to avoiding this type of heartbreak. Why can’t life be easier? Why can’t we just be happy without having it snatched out of our hands?

How Do You See Heaven?

In his sermon Looking for the Arrow, Tim Dilena observed, “I just found out that the most popular class at one of the most famous Ivy League Schools, Yale University, has just happened over this last year, and it's Psych 157.

“Psych 157 is called ‘How to Live a Happy Life.’ Half of the student body signed up for it at the beginning of the semester.” He noted that if people really want to know how to live a happy life, they should start with James in the Bible. This particular book of scripture essentially opens its first chapter with, as Tim put it, a statement of “I want to show you that happiness can be available even in the hardest season of your life.”

This philosophy is echoed in Peter’s letters, indicating that this philosophy didn’t belong to James alone. “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7, ESV).

“You know what I learned from Peter and James?” Tim said. “Heaven is not a location. Heaven is a motivation for me right now. That really is what it is because you know the only time we think about heaven is when there's a casket in front of us. James says that you got to think forward. When you're going through a difficulty, don't wait for a funeral to think about heaven. You better start thinking about heaven right now because that's your motivation when you're going through a difficult time.

“What James says is ‘It motivates me now.’ Heaven is my future thought when I'm in a present struggle, or like the Apostle Paul says in The Message, ‘That's why I don't think there's any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times that are waiting for everybody in this place.’ How exciting is that? James says, ‘Think forward.’

How does our view of heaven change our perspective on difficulties in life and happiness? If we see heaven as a present motivation rather than a distant destination, would that give us more enduring joy?

Choose Comfort or Character

The danger for many of us is that we may assume that simply being a believer guarantees us some benefits as we experience pain. Perhaps we assume that, if we grit our teeth and get to the other side without falling apart too visibly, God is required to give us something in return. We made it through a dark night of the soul without cursing (in front of anyone), while still consistently going to church and without asking God to take it away, so that means we’ve racked up some brownie points with God.

Well…not necessarily. While reflecting on how important people’s responses to hardship are, Tim said, “Troubles are not elective but part of the core curriculum of every person’s life. You can’t go ‘Yeah, I’m into good times and not bad times, Jesus.’…That’s why James says, ‘Whenever you face’ and not ‘If you face trials and tribulations.’” What’s more, Tim notes that “Just because you experienced something doesn't mean you've matured. Just because you went through something doesn't mean that all of a sudden you are a better person because of it.

“Here's what's so important because trials don't guarantee maturity: Let the work happen inside of you. I have seen people go through almost the exact same thing, and one came out different than the other. One came out mature, and one came out with just an experience but no maturity. They're hardened…. I've watched other people excel and begin to see some incredible things happen.”

When people seek an enduring hope to see them through pain, they are in some ways looking for a necessary component to our lives. However, like with many things, we search for the right things in the wrong places using methods inherently flawed by our sin. We seek escape from hardship or simple endurance with rewards on the other side as the way to happiness rather than embracing the greater purpose that God has in middle of our suffering as our path to joy. 

A dynamic perspective shift is required to see how heaven-minded approach to life, joy and suffering works. Tim Dilena said, “Warren Wiersbe has put together an amazing set of books called ‘The Be’ series, and…. This is what he says. ‘Our values determine our evaluations.’ Our values, what we put value on, determines how we evaluate things. He goes on to say this, ‘If we value comfort more than character, trials upset us.’”

If our mentality toward suffering is an eager desire to emerge on the other side with stronger, more tempered character, we will view every step within hardship as an opportunity to understand God better, to allow him to critique when we’re not in step with him and to refine us further into Christ’s image.

Afflicted but Not Devastated

Pursing heaven and become stronger through suffering sounds lovely in the abstract, but what does it practically involve? Perhaps it’s easier to examine the lives of those who have made heaven their motivation. Christ provides the ultimate roadmap for how this kind of living looks. The apostles and early believers we hear about in scripture also offer a faulty but more relatable view of pursuing heaven in the present.

Paul wrote explicitly, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;  always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies…. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10, 16-17). 

He honestly admitted that at times hardship doesn’t make sense, even if we are pursuing heaven. We may be perplexed, but as long as we trust God’s purposes, we won’t be driven to despair. We might be persecuted and tormented, but this doesn’t mean that God has forsaken us anymore than he had abandoned Job, despite the impossibly horrific circumstances of that man’s suffering. We may even be struck down like many of the apostles and early church leaders were, but God gave them eternity in exchange.

The perfect marriage partner, the ideal house, the easy life, the lack of financial issues, the loyalty of friends are all good things and often blessings from God; but none of them can offer use enduring happiness, no matter what reality TV shows or the world tries to tell us.

The weight of glory that we anticipate and lean toward, more and more as we go through life, makes even the worst circumstances seem light and momentary by comparison.