The Pursuit of Happiness

Joshua West

“The hope of the righteous brings joy, but the expectation of the wicked will perish.” Proverbs 10:28 (ESV) 

The greatest aim in the lives of most people is to be happy. This is what we think we are chasing when we chase anything in this life, relationships, careers, hopes and dreams. We do this in an effort to arrive at a place we call happiness. 

What is ironic is that we are pursuing the wrong thing for something that we really don’t even understand. The root of the word “happiness” comes from the word happenings. Simply put, happiness is a state of bliss that is greatly determined by what is happening in your life or your current situation. If the situation that made you feel good changes, so does your state of being emotionally. Essentially, we are pursuing something that could never deliver what we hope it will.  

In his sermon, “The Weight of Glory,” C.S. Lewis had this to say: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”  

Because this is all we know we live for happiness wherever it can be found. And like animals we feed on it until it's gone and begin to search for the next relationship, project or purpose we hope will hold our attention and fill our hearts. But the truth is there is no true and lasting joy, fulfillment and purpose in this life outside of Christ. 

For the unregenerate person, the person who has yet to truly be converted, these words seem thin and shallow because for most people Christ is a concept of morality or a myth. Many people who identify as Christians also find this statement lacking because they don’t really know him. I believe that it is impossible to truly have a real and personal fellowship with Christ and not see him as all sufficient.  

So many people who call themselves Christian in our culture scoff at this idea of the all sufficiency of Christ. When it comes to pain and suffering and the problem of evil in the world, or when it comes to dealing with tough social issues, many people are enraged when you say Christ is enough.

Why? They honestly don’t know that Christ is sufficient. Much of our church culture is fixated on the here and now rather than on eternity. The idea of suffering for the sake of righteousness is a foreign and bizarre concept. But honestly, you cannot read through the Bible without being confronted with this concept. This is the model and pattern of Christ himself. 

Now most people in theory believe that Christ is sufficient to forgive their sins and get them to heaven, but often it doesn’t seem to impact the state of their lives as much as temporal things do. We believe Christ saved us, but falsely think that’s for later—to be happy in this life we need lots of stuff and entertainment and money and everything to go our way. And when it doesn’t, we are depressed and defeated. 

Christianity is often represented as Christian moralism, which is a list of behaviors and practices that we believe makes us good people, and for society this seems often like a good thing because people who are outwardly living out biblical principles often treat people better and are better for society as a whole. This is not the gospel though. 

Many people who try and live out morality may benefit the people around them somewhat, but it is not the aim of true discipleship. Getting people to do a list of things they don’t want to do and in turn resist things that they do want to do isn’t the point of true Christianity. 

Christianity is about transformation, a reorientation of who you are at the heart level. As you grow in sanctification your desires begin to change. There is also a supernatural renewal of your mind that comes from the study of God’s Word and prayer. Here is a principle that I have found to be true over my years serving the Lord: as we grow in sanctification in the Lord, we grow in satisfaction in the Lord. 

So being a Christian doesn’t mean you only do things that make you unhappy, it means the things that make you happy begin to change. But ultimately happiness is a small emotional puddle that eventually gets swallowed up in the sea of something so much greater and deeper than any type of temporary human happiness. That my friend is called joy. 

True joy is something that this world cannot give you and something this world cannot take away from you. If your circumstances rob you of joy, it wasn’t joy to start with. This doesn’t mean you are above feeling human emotions. Human emotion is part of what makes this life beautiful and so very fragile. 

It is completely possible to mourn deeply for the loss of someone you love and still be full of joy. Like love, joy isn’t an emotion, it is part of the fruit of the Spirit. Real joy is a God-given gift and it brings us strength.  

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Galatians 5:22-24 (ESV) 

Many people point their lives to end up at the location they believe will bring happiness. When they arrive there, they realize it was a mirage. As disciples of Jesus we find a wellspring of eternal joy in the same place we find unfailing love, in our communion with Christ himself. 

The fruit of the Spirit isn’t a list of character attributes we aspire to live up to, they are evidence of one fruit, namely that we are truly connected to the source of life and that we have crucified our flesh and worldly desires, leaving them to die.

It is impossible to be filled with real joy until we have been transformed by the love of God, specifically the love of God in the gospel. It is in response to this love that we live our lives. It’s only those transformed by the love of God and who have died to the flesh that have real joy and true peace in this life. 

I personally believe the degree to which we die to our flesh and this world greatly determines our ability to bear spiritual fruit. A spiritual man who searches for fulfilment in temporal and worldly things is like a man who thinks he can be refreshed by drinking vinegar; he thinks if he just drinks a little more it eventually it will satisfy, but it never will. There isn’t anything of the flesh that will ever bring you joy. 
In Christ,

Pastor Joshua

Joshua West is a pastor, evangelist, and author. he is also director of the World Challenge Pastors Network.


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