“God wants me to be happy.”
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard that phrase spoken. Christians and non-Christians alike have this idea that their own personal happiness is important to God. There is even a Christian worship song with a line that says, “You make all things work together for my good.” Now, this line is derived from Romans 8:28 which states, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” At first glance, the two lines do not appear to be stating anything differently; yet, I completely affirm the scriptural verse but absolutely refuse to sing that line in my worship to God. Let me explain.
There is a big difference between believing that God moves everything in a way that things are better for me than to believe that through every circumstance God is working to mature and grow those who seek Him. The song, in essence, is making a statement that God turns everything over for one’s personal goal. The verse is saying that in or through all things God is bringing redemption. The song represents Americanized Christianity; the verse represents the gospel.
Now that I have gone down that tangent, let me explain what ails me. There are so many Christians, good and well meaning Christians, who go through life singing, “You work all things work together for my good” and “You want me to be happy” — which, to not mince words, is downright prideful and arrogant. Let us think about who we are singing to and what we are saying: “I am so important that the God of the universe is going to turn things upside down so that I have a better life.” Friends, if this is what we believe — or worse, if this is how we live — then we have totally missed what the gospel is about.
The thing is, I’m not so sure this isn’t merely a symptom of a terrible disease that exists within the center of American Christianity. America is the nation of the individual, it is the place where you pull yourself up by your bootstraps and earn things for yourself. That way, the things that we possess are ours. I have earned a home, I have earned a car, I have earned a job, and all of that is mine. Therefore, like everything else, we make God, Christianity, and heaven as another thing we have earned. I have earned my spot in heaven and it is mine. How do you earn a spot in heaven, you may ask? Well, all you have to do is believe these five things and you’re in. If you do not believe these five things then you don’t earn your spot in heaven and you are going to hell.
My friends, this is not Christianity and it is certainly not gospel (good news)! Grace is not something that is earned and it is not something that we deserve and it is not about simply getting our own personal utopia in heaven. Grace is about being redeemed and partnering with God to bring redemption to this world now. Certainly, I am not denying the after life — I am not saying that there is no heaven or hell. What I am saying is that living into the life and teachings of Jesus Christ is not about claiming our own spot in heaven; it’s about taking hold of the grace that God has offered us and showing that grace to the world.
I believe that when we make that change (the change from looking at the gospel as something that I have to earn for my own happiness to a message of grace and redemption) then it becomes a lot more difficult to make statements like, “God wants me to be happy” or “God’s working everything for my good”. See, God wants a lot more for us than happiness — He wants us to be redeemed! He wants us to live life abundantly! He wants us to partner with Him to further redeem the world! He wants us to to fulfill our purpose! He wants us to be holy!
The Christian life is not the easy life and never let anyone tell you differently. Being Christian is not about your own personal happiness or utopia. Being Christian is being willing to lay down your life and in doing so finding what true life is all about. So let us throw away ideas about God seeking our own personal happiness and drink a little bit deeper into what the gospel has to offer and partner with God for the further redemption of the world. Amen.