It was a cold and rainy day—the kind where rain boots are the only sufficient footwear and a Starbucks cup is an indispensable accessory. So with my rain boots on my feet and a latte in my hand, I headed to my car. It was one of the rare days I decided to listen to the radio while driving. My iPod is usually plugged in but this day was different. It was Christmas break, freezing cold in Florida, and raining in January. It was a classic winter day; so far from the norm that it was fitting to listen to the radio for a change.
While I was backing out of my spot, I paused and strained my ear toward the absurd clip of a message littered with vocalized pauses that I was hearing on Christian radio.
James MacDonald—pastor, author, and radio speaker—was in the middle of telling his audience to look at God’s resume to prove his character. He suggested taking a minute to “interview God” to see how he was worthy of the task set before him.
My ears started to bleed. I punched the radio button to stop it and I reversed and sped away, as though driving away could put physical distance between myself and the ridiculous scrap I just heard.
The campaign to be your best self is gaining momentum. It’s established by psychology and human development studies, then made fashionable by culture. Like any form of self-help, becoming the best version of yourself demands that you call to action the long-dormant, inner and secret motivation you have to conquer addictions, break bad habits, get out of debt, or retire at the ripe age of 38.
A how-to article by Scott Barry Kaufman from the HuffPost blog describes your best self as someone who lives “a life rich in health, growth, and happiness.” Melissa Camara Wilkins writes that to be your best self you draw from your strengths, do things that make you happy, and act in ways that feel right.
NEEDTOBREATHE recently came out with a song called “Happiness.” The story of the song is that everything the band has done, including all they have given up and continue to give up to write and make music, is done for the Lord. As the song goes, they have sacrificed and done so much for the Lord while pursuing their own happiness.
This song makes me crazy for a few reasons. For the first, it is absurd to think that we offer to God the work of our hands and lives haphazardly, as an afterthought or as a consequence of our own happiness. Second, God does not need us. The very idea that everything we do will be for the Lord while we pursue happiness assumes that God needs what we have to offer him in return for our happiness. This is simply not true. God needs no one. Finally, man’s chief end is to glorify God. Happiness is only our chief end when it is at the world’s insistence.
I have read some of Spurgeon’s “Faith’s Checkbook” while I have been in South Carolina. The reading from July 23 was from Hebrews 10:17, which says, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Spurgeon writes about what an amazing mercy this is (and it is!). At the end of the passage he writes this regarding God’s promise to forget our sin:”Believe it and be happy.”
One of my first thoughts was how sharply this contrasts with NEEDTOBREATHE’s song. Biblically we ought to be happy because of what God has done for us. He has removed our sins, he remembers them no more, and joy and happiness can be found and reached and attained now because of the work of Jesus on the cross.
We do not pursue any happiness we might find in the world and call it work for the Lord. NEEDTOBREATHE has it wrong. Dreadfully wrong. Happiness is not, and never has been or shall be, a prerequisite to serving the Lord. Our sins have been forgotten. God has removed them as far as the East is from the West. That is happiness.