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Sunday Night Live Sermons

John 16:16-24

13th October 2002

Ross Gittins, that perceptive economics editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, shocked his readers recently with an article that started, "To hell with economics - what are you doing to make yourself happy? If all the research tells us money isn't particularly efficient at making us happy, what is? Are you kidding me? We all instinctively know the broad answer to that question: people are more important than things.

So I know this column's going to sound like a Hallmark greeting card (and hence do great damage to my reputation as a flint-hearted economic rationalist), but I'm going to stick strictly to research-based answers to the question. Some of the most striking research has been done by Tim Kasser, a psychologist at Knox College, Illinois, explained in his new book, The High Price of Materialism. His approach is to explore people's values, what they view as important in life and measure the correlation with their feelings of wellbeing. His many careful studies consistently find that people with materialistic values (those who give highest emphasis to the pursuit of money, possessions, personal appearance or fame and popularity) report lower psychological wellbeing than people with less materialistic values (those giving highest emphasis to self-acceptance and personal growth, intimacy and friendship, or contributing to society). People with materialistic values, report more symptoms of anxiety, are at greater risk of depression and experience more frequent physical irritations. They use more alcohol and drugs and have more impoverished personal relationships. Even their dreams are anxious and distressed. Merely aspiring to have greater wealth is likely to be associated with increased personal unhappiness.

Among the many social scientists now working in the burgeoning field of happiness research, the leading scholar is probably Ed Diener, professor of psychology at the University of Illinois. Ask him what advice he'd give to people who want to be happy and he nominates three 'steps' people can take to ensure they are as happy as they can be. First, we need good friends and family, and we may need to sacrifice to some extent to ensure we have intimate, loving relationships - people who care about us, and about whom we care deeply," he says.

Diener's second step towards a happier life is to involve yourself in activities, work, for example that you enjoy and value. We are likely to be best at things we value and think are interesting. Diener's final step towards a happier life is to control how you look at the world. ``We need to train ourselves not to make a big deal out of trivial hassles, to learn to focus on the process of working towards our goals, not waiting to be happy until we achieve them, and to think about our blessings. Make a habit of noticing the good things in your life. Act happy. Talk as if you feel positive self-esteem, optimistic and outgoing. Going through the motions can trigger the emotions."

David Myers, professor of psychology at Hope College, Michigan, in his book, "The Pursuit of Happiness", says much the same thing. "Give priority to close relationships. There are few better remedies for unhappiness than an intimate friendship with someone who cares deeply about you. Confiding is good for soul and body. Take care of the soul. In study after study, actively religious people are happier. They cope better with crises.

For many people, faith provides a support community, a sense of life's meaning, feelings of ultimate acceptance, a reason to focus beyond self and a timeless perspective on life's woes." Ross Gittins concludes: "If you find any of this disturbing, relax. Next week I'll be back to soulless economics as usual."

Here is a theory based upon the Bible: "A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." Proverbs 17:22 There is not much to laugh about in some areas of Australia today. So many feel crushed. So many possess dry bones. There is no joy among the unemployed because our economy is booming. There is little laughter on the farm where they are experiencing the worst drought in a century. There is not much joy waiting for a hospital bed when suffering and pain are daily companions. The gloom is spreading around our land. People watch television comedies and do not laugh. Look at people in the street and you will see a miserable collection of human beings, slowly dying. The Scripture declares, "Being cheerful keeps you healthy. It is slow death to be miserable all the time." No wonder Professor Manning Clark described Australians as "the bored survivors of the kingdom of nothingness."


That is unnatural! Why is it unnatural? If you want to find what is natural, look at children. Children are naturally happy. It is unnatural for a child to be sad. A child is sad only when it is hurting. For the rest of the time a child is bubbling over with joy and happiness. Or look at yourself. It takes five muscles in your face to smile, but 22 muscles to scowl!

It takes more effort to be miserable than to be happy. It is more efficient to smile. It is a better use of your body. You are more relaxed when you smile. To be joyous and happy is to use fewer muscles. When people are sad they look for something to balance up their gloomy life. Money is one thing they seek. Kenneth John Galbraith, the economist, said, "Money ranks with love as the greatest source for making people happy." Therefore, people try to get money. Money buys things and, they believe, the more things they have the happier they'll be. The whole of the advertising profession is dedicated to this philosophy.

A friend of mine is a very inventive person. He thinks up all kinds of gadgets. Once he took me into his office and showed me many of the things he has invented and marketed. He is a very wealthy man. He makes the gadgets and the advertisers tell the world that "if only you get this new, better-than-ever-before mincer, chopper, grater, it will make your life happy." And the people buy mincers, choppers and graters by the thousand. The tragedy is that these new possessions bring happiness for such a short time. Then other things are sought. My friend knows this. So three months later he produces a new slicer, cruncher, radisher. People buy the slicer, cruncher, radisher to make them glad. Do you know where these gadgets end up? In Wesley Mission recycling bins! If you visit our shops you will find mincers, choppers, graters, AND slicers, crunchers, and radishers by the score. Things do not provide lasting happiness. Jesus said, "Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." Luke 12: 15 When money and things do not make people happy, they often turn to sensations.

Sensation is provided by endless parties, noise, music, television, movies, videos - anything to stop them from living! Or they eat for the sake of eating. They eat, not because they are hungry, but because they are bored. More cook books are sold in Australia than any other. If money, things, and sensations do not last, what then? Some look for happiness through achievement. They seek success believing that success brings happiness. They overwork, over exert, hoping they will achieve and be honoured for it. But like drinking seawater, it never satisfies thirst.


Where is the secret of happiness? Where can we find overflowing gladness? Let me share with you this truth: nothing outside you can bring you joy within. It is only from within that gladness can come. Each of us has the potential for joy and overflowing gladness, but we may not reach it. We are inhibited by fear, guilt, worry, temptation, and sin. These hold back our joy. It is only when we peel off the restrictions of our fears and guilt and sin that the real inner joy can be revealed. God wants us to be joyous. Happiness is a mark of the person who is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. There are 27 words in the Old Testament meaning joy or gladness. There are 20 in the New Testament. The New Testament starts with joy: "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord." Luke 2:10-11 It starts with the birth of the Saviour and ends with the Hallelujah Chorus being sung in heaven. Christianity is a singing religion. We sing, "Rejoice in the Lord always." You do not get that same singing joy in Buddhism, Hinduism, or Islam, but it is in Christianity!

Joy is mentioned 180 times in the Bible and happiness on 102 occasions. Christians are expected to be joyful. Jesus is the joy of living. To know Him is to know joy. Paul writes, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" Philippians 4: 4 On the night before the crucifixion, the disciples were in the depths of gloom because of fear for their lives. Then Jesus gave them and us a great insight into the meaning of sadness and gladness. He said, "I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. I am telling you the truth; you will cry and weep, but the world will be glad; you will be sad, but your sadness will be turned into gladness." John 16:20-23 He did not promise a substitute for sadness, but that He would turn the sadness itself into gladness. After the resurrection, we read the disciples "were overjoyed when they saw the Lord." John 20:20

Jesus makes a promise: "My Father will give you what-ever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete." John 16:24 Jesus promises that sadness can turn to gladness. How can we receive that promise? Here are four things that will guide you. First you will find happiness in your life if you do not search for it but get on doing something else. A happy person does not seek happiness. He or she is doing something else and happiness is a by-product. Joy is always a process, never a product. Trust God and joy follows.

Second A selfish person never discovers happiness. Joy is found only when you serve others. At the end of his great life, Dr Albert Schweitzer said, "At least this I have learned. One thing is true all over the world. Only they are really happy who know what it is to serve others." They are happy because they are doing things for others. Therefore, grow your vegetables and give them away! Grow your flowers to share with someone else. Work with others for their benefit, not for your own. Selfish people are gloomy, but those who learn to give always make two people happy and the other one is themselves.

Third joy comes when you realise that immediate pain can be over come by a greater glory yet to come. Happy people always look beyond a problem to God's solution. They look beyond the night to the sunrise. They always "trace the rainbow through the rain." Happy people always look beyond their problems to see the possibilities. The glums look and say, "It has thorns." The happy people look and say, "It is a rose, how beautiful!"

Fourth Always realise that God can answer your deepest need. Jesus said, "Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete." No matter what your deep needs may be, trust the Father and ask your needs in prayer.

Are you trying to find gladness by making more money, adding more things, seeking greater sensations and achievements? Or have you taken the steps to remove sin, fear, and doubt, and allow joy to overflow? Trust God. Serve others. Live positively. Ask God. These are the secrets to finding the promise of overflowing gladness. Then will your joy be complete!


Ross Gittins Sydney Morning Herald 18/09/2002 P13
David Myers, The Pursuit of Happiness, HarperCollins
Tim Kasser, The High Price of Materialism, MIT Press.

Wesley Mission, Sydney.