What are you seeking in this life? Many are mistakenly seeking happiness and a pleasant journey instead of God’s best. Join me in considering how God graciously disrupts our temporary happiness in order to draw us into greater joy and hope in Him. All quotes are from Larry Crabb’s Shattered Dreams: God’s Unexpected Path to Joy: Chapter 5: The Rhythm of Hope unless indicated otherwise.
There’s a crucial difference in happiness and joy. Meg Bucher explains this concept in the article embedded below.
Trap of Happiness
Larry discusses a cycle “from happiness through despair to joy.” He uses the example of Naomi in the book of Ruth. He reminds us that “our lives move again from feeling pretty good to hurting terribly to deeper hope, different and richer.” If we are honest about our journey with God, we will admit that we focus on the happy and pleasant while avoiding the difficult and painful things. We will talk about past victories and good times while keeping quiet about the present difficulties and trials. Larry makes the argument that happy people (pg. 54)
- do not love well–Joyful people do. That’s why happiness, the pleasant feeling that pleasant circumstances generate, must be taken away and replaced by joy;
- rarely look for joy-content with what currently possess-foundation of life consists of the blessings they enjoy, instead of looking to Christ and finding joy,
- central concern is to keep what they have,
- haven’t been freed to pursue a greater dream. That’s why they cannot love well.
Happiness and contentment with life keeps a person trapped in a cycle of desire that leads to pleasure instead of lasting joy in God’s best. How does God respond?
God’s Mercifully removes the good
“In his severe mercy, God takes away the good to create an appetite for the better, and then, eventually, He satisfies the new appetite, liberating them to love. It comes down to this: God’s best is available only to those who sacrifice, or who are willing to sacrifice, the merely good. If we are satisfied with good health, responsible children, enjoyable marriages, close friendships, interesting jobs, and successful ministries, we will never hunger for God’s best. We will never worship. I’ve come to believe that only broken people truly worship. Unbroken people–happy folks who enjoy their blessings more than the Blesser–say thanks to God the way a shopper thanks a clerk.”
As humans we have a tendency to love the good and blessings more than the Giver of all Good. God loves us enough to send tribulations, failures, and other difficult things to awaken us. We don’t know how desperate we are for God until things get hard in our lives and shatters the shallow veil of happiness. When all is good, we’re content to enjoy and savor the good times instead of seeking God’s best.
Example of Naomi: Despair before Joy
God shows us this in the story of Naomi and Ruth. Naomi was happy with her husband and sons until they all died. She returned to Bethlehem broken and bitter. Naomi renamed herself “Mara.” Yet God had something much greater in store for her and Ruth. Naomi had to lose the happiness to find the true joy in her God after first walking through intense despair. God moves us in a similar way in our journeys as well. Larry describes three characteristics of people in despair (pages 56-57)
- “You’re better off without me.” Naomi told her daughter in laws to leave her and find other men to marry. She displayed her loss of hope in having any descendants.
- “Happiness is only a memory, never to be experienced again.” Remember that Naomi remained 10 years after the deaths. “Yet Ruth sensed there was more. Her dreams were tied up with the virtues of relationship, virtues such as loyalty and persevering devotion.” Ruth wanted more than happiness! Naomi gave up on ever being “happy” again.
- “Naomi admitted that God does want He wants.” She refers to God as El Shaddai: the Almighty One–meaning “the force that can’t be resisted.”
This is a hard truth to accept. God works in miraculous ways! However, He doesn’t heal every sick person. God could prevent all wars and suffering, but He doesn’t! God could wipe out every despot and evil ruler. Yet, He doesn’t. Prior to the Russian invasion against the Ukrainian people, many fervently prayed that God would bring peace. Some have been praying for years! See article below for account:
God allowed Putin to attack. War has been ongoing for years with nearly 14,000 killed before the most recent invasion. God’s ways aren’t our ways! We don’t know why God allows things to happen (if we are honest with ourselves and others). We are often mistaken when we try to explain the unknown causing grief to others. We minimize and reduce others’ suffering instead of walking with them through the darkness. See how Ukrainian Pastor Gennadiy Mokhnenko (Mauripol, Donetsk ) helped his teens cope with their fears prior to war:
Let’s pray for Pastor Mokhnenko, Mykhailo Anopa, and the other youth caught in a war. You can google search the above names for pictures and information on them.
Pastor Mokhenko illustrates the words of Larry Crabb:
We need “the courage to not quit, to not settle for immediate pleasure that brings happiness back for only a moment, often depends on our conviction that God is moving, that we are being taken to an experience of ecstasy along a path of suffering, that there is no other way to get there.” All quotes from page 57.
What we believe about God and His nature is critical to our ability to endure and persevere. There will be times when you doubt God’s goodness. Any honest follower encounters things that just don’t make sense and we wonder “why.” There will be “whys” that we will never understand completely on this side of eternity. See my previous blog
But we can seek refuge in God and trust Him, seeking Him in His Word, and longing for His return.
Journey from Despair to Joy
Naomi’s journey toward joy begins as she returns home to Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning. “The darkest night precedes the brightest dawn. That is not cliche’; it’s how God works.” The next step comes when Ruth goes out into Boaz’s fields to get some grain to eat. It’s amazing to note that “deliverance from despair always comes through a person.” It is Ruth’s desire to collect food to sustain her and Naomi that leads her to Boaz. God is working! Do you think it was an accident that she encounters Boaz?
God uses His Word to reveal Himself. Boaz represents God’s redemption. Naomi and Ruth are both in a bad situation, yet all of this is about to change. “It is true that deliverance comes through a person, but it is also true that the person who delivers us must earnestly long to bring us joy.” Boaz meets Ruth and loves her. Christ is our Boaz! He meets us lost in our sins with truth, grace, love. He then redeems us, bringing us new life through His death and resurrection. We are born again into new life through Him!
Later in Ruth, we see that Noami is holding Obed on her lap. Larry reminds us:
“Her dream of growing old with her husband and enjoying her sons as adults was gone, but God created within Naomi an appetite for a better dream. The writer intends for us to see Naomi at the end of the story as a deeply content old woman, aware of a higher purpose than for things to go well in her life, experiencing a joy that more than replaced the happiness she had lost.” Naomi’s story is a story of loss and God graciously giving new life! Obed is the father of Jesse the father of David. Let’s remember these four things (paraphrased/adapted from pg 59):
- When life seems most barren, God is beginning His harvest as the sun rises over our darkness,
- God is present and working, moving as He sets the stage,
- Our deliverer is “eagerly preparing to bless, unable to rest till He does.”
- Holy Spirit is “able to conceive whatever fruit we have long been destined to bear.”
Remember that we don’t walk this journey alone! God is faithful and true. He never forgets or forsakes us. His love endures! God is near to the broken hearts. He isn’t done with you! Despair is just a stage for deeper joy in Christ!
Join me in fervently praying for our brothers and sisters in Ukraine that God will sustain and encourage them in their difficult situation(s). May God grant them courage to continue to endure, minister, and find peace in His presence!
In Christ alone we find true joy and peace during the storms of life, for His glory and to encourage others I write,