Monday, April 7, 2008

The Pursuit of Happiness - Internal or External

Sunday morning I spoke on the first two statements Jesus made in the sermon on the mount, which are:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Jesus is saying that true happiness starts with what is internal rather than with the external. My first point was that "Blessed are the poor in spirit" really means that the emptier we are of ourselves the more opportunity there is for us to be full of God and know a bit of "on earth as it is in heaven" in our lives. On reflection I didn't feel I unpacked that very well in terms of real life examples of what that meant so though I'd try and do a bit of that here.

Sometimes we are "full of ourselves" in terms of having confidence in who we are, the physical or mental gifts or talents God has given, our education, our upbringing, our contacts or the amount of money in our bank accounts. I remember the first time I ever faced the threat of redundancy at work (a fairly regular occurrence in the electronics industry), I was so worried about losing my job and how we would survive financially that I didn't sleep properly for over a week. I realised after a bit that my confidence in life was in "me" and my abilities and education rather than in God. Happiness disappeared when the external circumstances changed! What I came to realise was that my security depended not on me and who I am but on God and who he is. Being poor in spirit put me in a place to be happy, regardless of what was going on externally.

But for some of us we are "full of ourselves" not because of positive things but because of negative experiences from our past. We allow past hurts, negative things people have said to us and bad things that have have happened to us to shape who we are today. It's a hard thing to say but allowing ourselves to live lives of self pity is as much as form of self idolatry as is being proud of who we are and what we have achieved. If we're shaped by negatives from the past then we need to be willing to let that go, to forgive and to live in the light of who God is, how he has forgiven us and what he has to say about us. That too is being 'poor in spirit' and putting ourselves in a place where we can be empty of ourselves and full of God.

I'm not saying that we at any level suppress the character and gifts that God has given us. God has made each one of us uniquely different, and being a follower of Christ releases you to be the person God created you to be rather than being put into a box by the world. But it does mean realising that all the positives in your world such as your gifts and talents came from God, and that all the negatives have been dealt with by God, so that you can be full of him and experience the kingdom of heaven in your world every day.

Hope that clarifies what I was trying to say. If you weren't there on Sunday and want to listen to the sermon, or were there and want to relive my "sex holiday" gaffe, then it's online here. Ben's excellent Sunday evening sermon on Revival (part two will be next Sunday evening) is also there.

Hope you have a happy week.



Sue said...

Hi Simon, I am quite often told be people that I should be proud of myself for being the person I am and achieving what I do despite having a horrible illness. I am proud of myself for that, but it has been with God's help. Are you now saying this is wrong?


Simon Benham said...

Hi Sue,

No I think you're very right to be proud of being the person you are, just with an incredible awareness that you're only able to be that person because of God working so powerfully in you. It's like the psalmist saying in Psalm 139:14 "I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful" - he realises that it's God at the end of the day who takes the credit as his creator.

Hope that makes sense. If not then ask again.


Sue said...

Thank you Simon, God spoke to me very powerfully on that verse in Canada last year.