Beth on Being Happy*

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*By Beth Smith

Is it true that the only difference between a yard sale and a trash pick-up is how close to the road the stuff is placed?

Why don’t we ever hear father-in-law jokes?

If you take NyQuil and NoDoz at the same time, will you dream you couldn’t sleep?

Life is full of questions, some funny and some serious. Here’s a common one. How can we be happy? We can start by being ready to laugh at life and at ourselves, quick to look for the humorous side of things. Laughter doesn’t solve our problems, but it can make them easier to bear for a while.

Most of us think we can be happy only when things are going well, but the Bible tells us how to be happy Christians no matter what. The Amplified Bible uses the word “happy” as a synonym for the word “blessed.” So, in looking to be happy, we can look at how to be blessed. The book of Psalms tell us that blessed or happy is the man (or woman) who:

  • is forgiven of sin (32:1).
  • trusts and takes refuge in the Lord (34:8).
  • helps the poor and weak (41:1).
  • continually sings praises to God (84:4).
  • fears the Lord and delights in obeying him (112:1) .

Proverbs says those are blessed who

  • keep God’s ways (8:32).
  • listen to God (8:34).

And Matthew chapter five lists these qualities of a happy person:

  • aware of a need for God.
  • gentle and lowly.
  • desiring righteousness.
  • merciful.
  • pure in heart.
  • peacemaking.
  • persecuted for following God.

Obviously, God has plenty of advice for us on how to be happy. I want to stress just two ways today. First, we need to be happy and thankful for a heavenly Father who loves us enough to discipline and correct us. Sometimes, when things are hard for me, when I am not getting my own way about things, I can almost hear God saying, “I’m allowing this situation only for your own good, because I love you. You need to change something in your life. I want you to be happy, and you will never be happy or have joy on the path you are following right now. Come on, follow me.”

Hebrews 12:11 tells us that, while discipline is painful, it leads to a rich harvest of right living. So, as odd as it may sound, we need to be happy that God will discipline us.

Here’s a second way the Bible tells us we can be happy and blessed. “Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him.” (Psalm 128: 1-2).

What does this tell us we should do? Fear and follow. Acknowledge our Lord as the Almighty God. Worship him. Obey him. Emulate Jesus. Will that be hard? Yes, because our flesh is weak and rebellious, and because Satan does not want us to be happy. But Jesus wants us to be happy – to be blessed and full of joy.

How can we become happy Christians? A full answer to that question would surely fill at least one book. These principles do not cover everything, but they are a great place to start:

  • Worship God.
  • Obey his commands.
  • Receive his discipline.
  • Follow his instructions.
  • And do it all with joy.

Humbled by Hospitality

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Last week’s definition of hospitality looked like this:

  • The generous reception and entertainment of guests.
  • A relationship between a guest and host, in which the host received the guest with goodwill.
  • Showing respect for one’s guests, treating them as equals.

So here’s this week’s question: How much does that definition relate to elaborate food, a perfectly clean home, and ready-to-converse information on the hottest news events? If you answered, “Very little,” then you and I are on the same page.

Steve and I spent many years opening our home to young people. They never cared if the carpet needed vacuuming. (In fact, it made more sense to vacuum after they left.) As for food, we called them the locusts (sorry, guys!), because any sort of leftover was fair game. No matter what we set out on our counters, they swept in and ate it all. And as to conversation, they didn’t care so much about what we said as they did about what we asked and how closely we listened when they answered. I thought the ease of entertaining them had to do with their youth. Now I’m not so sure. Perhaps adults would be just as pleased with an invitation to enjoy simple, relaxed hospitality as all those teenagers were.

Am I suggesting that we welcome guests into a dirty home and serve whatever falls out of our refrigerators when we open them? Not exactly, but how about this. Let’s help revive a culture of hospitality within our circle—and open that circle widely whenever possible.  Let’s stop allowing “I’m busy” to reduce our connections to a quick voicemail or two. What if we were all more willing to tidy up one room, ignore the dust bunnies, and welcome a friend, neighbor or lonely teen to come and play a game of cards? Or perhaps we could share a simple supper without chagrin. Nobody cares that much about what’s on the table when guests are received with respect and a desire for relationship.

This sort of hospitality requires a certain degree of humility, a willingness to let friends and neighbors peek around the corners of our busy lives into our imperfections. So what if they see a haphazard stack of bills, laundry, or dishes? So what if all we have to offer is a can of soup or some scrambled eggs? There is a time for well-planned parties, but we can practice hospitality even when time is short. Chances are that those we welcome into our own kitchens and living rooms aren’t leaving behind circumstances much different from our own.

Practice Hospitality

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A few weeks ago I was invited to dine at a famously scenic restaurant in Austin. I was ushered into a beautiful room overlooking the lake. My vantage point, one of the top stories of a multi-tiered establishment, also gave me a view of several crowded tables below me. One gave me pause. It was party of ten, apparently a family plus a couple of friends. They were enjoying appetizers and beverages as sunset approached…and eight of them were bent over their smart phones for many long minutes. I admonished them in my mind, then caught myself in a similar crime just days later.

  • When was the last time you looked at your smart phone?
  • When was the last time you looked someone in the eye?
  • And do you ever call someone, hoping to get their voicemail so you can just leave a message?

We have allowed ourselves to become broadly connected, yet at the same time oddly isolated. Is this shyness? An enslavement to efficiency? Just a bad habit?

Romans 12:13b is exquisitely direct. “Practice hospitality.” There was a time when I thought hospitality meant simply opening one’s home and serving cookies. (More about that in a later blog.) A bit of research has extended my understanding. Here are a few more detailed definitions.

  • The generous reception and entertainment of guests.
  • A relationship between a guest and host, in which the host received the guest with goodwill.
  • Showing respect for one’s guests, treating them as equals.

Reception, relationship, and respect all speak to our definite and deliberate focus on another person. In Matthew 18:20, Jesus said, Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” The gathering of believers is a sacred thing. What do we miss when we are distracted? And if we are gathered with those who do not know the Lord, what does our distraction say to them about their worth?

Furthermore, children may be heavily impacted by the number of words spoken to them in their early years. How much has that volume been reduced by the constant pull of a smart phone screen?

Focus. Attention. Concentration. These can be difficult to maintain in our swirling culture. But they are gifts we can give to those around us. They are gifts I think our Lord would have us mete out with generosity. They are a part of hospitality. Will you join me in a renewed effort to be fully present at the table–or at the office, or in the kitchen or…? Let me know how it goes. And if you discover tips that help you pay attention, I hope you’ll share them here.

Small Fasts

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Every now and then I read a little bit more of The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. It’s an old book, from the 17th century to be exact. The title alone challenges me. We would all do well to practice the presence of God. We do not, of course, change God’s presence by our practice. We merely change our awareness and the frequency of our communication with him.

“Pray without ceasing” is impossible if we define prayer as hitting our knees and shutting our eyes in order to talk with our Lord. That phrase must have some other definition. I believe constant prayer means, in great part, a constant awareness that we are in the presence of God. Furthermore, we are constantly able to talk with him and to ask him to make us ever better at hearing his direction in our lives. We can present our requests and our words of thanksgiving anytime, anywhere.

Recently, I’ve discovered something that helps me practice the presence of God. I warn you that it is not fun or fancy or innovative. It is what I can best describe as a small fast.

Many months ago, someone dear to me had a great need, a situation that would not resolve for the better part of a year. However, I’m a wimpy faster, very seldom going without food for a full 24 hours, let alone any longer than that. Even the most devoted in that spiritual discipline cannot go hungry for months at a time. How could I sustain a fast for so long?  I gave up one category of food—one I knew that I would miss. And miss it I did.

Perhaps it is the missing that matters most. Each time I made that small sacrifice, I was reminded to pray for my loved one. I must confess that there were days when I didn’t “make it.” But there were more days when I did, when I went back to prayer over and over and over again because of that mini-fast. Toward the end of the fast, the needs of my friend made it very clear that prayer and fasting were in order. Smaller, longer-term fasts are now a part of my spiritual arsenal. Would they fit in your armory as well?

The Encouragement Prayer

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I love the works of Catherine Marshall. One of the many lessons her books have taught me is that we can experiment with prayer. At first, that concept sounded wrong to me, as if prayer was something we use to figure out how to manage God. That’s not what she meant at all. Rather, prayer is something we keep learning about, a part of our lives that can continue to develop over time. Experimenting with prayer simply means we can keep learning to pray in different ways and to ask for different things. Here is the latest lesson I have learned

It’s okay to ask for encouragement. That sounds obvious to some of you. To others, it may sound selfish. But here’s the truth: the Lord who loves us has instructed us to ask for anything in his name and according to his will. I have no doubt that it is within his will for us to have encouragement. Sometimes, I come to a place where I just need a healthy dose of it.

When I ask for encouragement, I always receive it—not always on my timeline, not always in the way I expect or would even choose, but always. I wish I had learned the importance of this simple request earlier in life. Yes, of course, the Lord blessed me with encouragement before I ever began to ask for it. But now I know to ask. And after the asking comes the fun of receiving, of watching and waiting and then remembering how he answered my prayer.

Sometimes the encouragement comes as that still small voice within, just a knowing that the task at hand is an important one and that the Lord will see me through it. Sometimes it’s the lyrics of a song, up next on Pandora just when I need to hear it, or something I read, or a well-timed phone call from a friend.

Do you need encouragement today? If so, I hope you will stop reading right now and ask the Lord for it. And once it comes, I hope you’ll share with me the story of your answered prayer. We serve a mighty God, fully able to equip us with everything we need—including the encouragement to continue in all he has asked us to do!

Hope

(Shared by a member of Men Living R.E.D., Northwest Bible Church, Spring, Texas.)

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“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).

Although this verse is about suffering for doing good, it also applies to the way we handle difficulty. If we mope around like the world is coming to an end, who will be compelled to ask about the hope that is in us? If we know that heaven is our ultimate destination, that our joy is not in this world, we may provoke the question, “Why are you different?” Let me share a personal story —-

Back in my Texaco days, I was running a meeting and my daughter called me. I ALWAYS answer for my family – no matter what I am doing (sorry Texaco). I put the meeting on pause and answered.

My daughter had been in a minor car accident and she was pretty shook up.

I turned away from the meeting and went quickly through the Dad questions: Are you okay? Yes. Are you safe right now? Yes. Is anyone else hurt? No. Are the cars blocking the road? No.

Big sigh of relief – Okay, honey you are okay. Everything is okay. Cars are just equipment. Take a deep breath and calm down.

Do you want me to come get you? No, I can drive it home. Be careful. Sit for a few minutes and relax. I will look at it tonight. Not to worry. Everything is going to be fine. I love you.

It was over quickly, and everyone in the room could not help but hear the interchange. I told them that she was fine; it was just a fender bender. No big deal; she just needed to talk to me.

After the meeting and over the next few days, almost everyone came up to me to talk about the phone call and my handling of it. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but I learned that it spoke volumes about my relationship with my daughter. The Dads in the room were surprised that I wasn’t more upset about the accident and inconvenience and expense. The Daughters in the room were envious that their own dads were not as understanding. They saw my relationship with my daughter as something special. All of these conversations naturally led to talking about eternal things.

Why did I tell this story? Three lessons learned:

1 – Perspective – keep your eyes fixed on the real prize – show the hope that is in you.

2 – Don’t forget that everyone is watching – especially and even more closely during the down times.

3 – As the Holy Spirit said through Peter — Always be prepared to make a defense for the hope that is in you.

Is the way you’re living right now compelling any questions about HOPE?