“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” –Benjamin Franklin

Now before you prohibitionists get all up in arms, no, this post isn’t going to be about booze. This quote is one of old Benny’s that makes me chuckle, but today something about it made me pause. I was struck by the last statement, the idea that God wants us to be happy.

And I couldn’t help but think to myself, is that truly something God desires? My happiness?

And suddenly I felt very burdened by the notion of happiness and the way in which it has infiltrated our approach to our God and our walk of faith. To start, I do believe that God wants us to be healthy, balanced individuals able to love Himself and others to our fullest capacity. But I don’t believe those things are a pre-requisite to service.

What an American notion, at the heart of it all, to think that our happiness is God’s desire. American in that it’s our definition being described here, a happiness based on wealth, possessions, safety, and comfort. When using this general description, I tried to think of a time when these things were a top concern of Jesus’ for any of his disciples. When I picture those closest to Jesus, presumably the ones with whom he had the most intimate relationship while on earth, they were people most of us would refer to as “disadvantaged,” “vulnerable,” “underprivileged.” Poor, hungry, overworked, persecuted. How happy do you think Paul was while in jail? How safe were the disciples preaching under Caesar’s rule? How comfortable was Jesus himself, feeding thousands, walking through dirt and stones?

Over the summer it seemed like every day, or at every Bible study I was being confronted with Jesus’ demand for love and disinterest in comfort. Jesus’ lifestyle was one of homelessness, sacrifice, and immediacy. No! he says. There’s no time for you to bury your dead. Come, come, go. It is so hard to hear these words, words that say something as essential as home, as close as family, as comforting as possessions cannot stand in the way of you living a life of radical love. The message of Jesus’ word is harsh and painfully clear.

And yet who was more joyful than Paul, singing in a cell? The disciples dwelling in the Love of Jesus Himself? I think to better understand what tiny bit we can of God’s purpose for mankind we should turn towards Eden. A place of peace. Community. Joy. Worship. Direct and utterly uninhibited access to God. I think that is the place where God’s people, beloved creations, can experience true joy. And I think journeying to that place, making that other world possible in our own world today is what demands such sacrifice.

I think what I’m getting at here is this: Does God want me to own a nice car? Does God want me to live in a safe neighborhood? Does God want me to have nice clothes, hot water, good food?

I don’t know, and I don’t think any of those things are the point.

God wants me to serve others.

God wants me to love him with my utmost.

God wants me to love my neighbor, no exceptions.

I think if more people focused on that rather than whether or not they are “happy,” we would be on our way to finding true joy and increasing its presence in our lives and in the lives of others.

Even further, I also think that focusing our own (often material) happiness does two very dangerous things:

1. It aids in taking the focus of discipleship off the teacher and puts it on the follower

2. It can create pre-requisites for commission. Remember that worship song? “If you tarry till you’re better, you will never come at all.” There’s some wisdom to that. It’s bad enough when people can convince themselves that their material happiness is worth pursuing because that’s what God wants, but even worse when it continually encloses people in stagnant church without them ever acting out Agape as the living Church. This can happen when we wait for This That and the Other Thing to fall into place before we take the first step towards service. That is such a powerful tool to be used against the potential of a force of a love capable of changing the world.

To summarize I think that God loves us. I think that the lives he wants us to live are lives of love, worship, peace. I think that in this world today there are those who are unable to live that kind of life. And I think that as disciples we must be willing to set aside our own comforts until they are made available to our neighbors. To me, that is Agape. An unconditional love focused on others. I think we are all capable of it. I hope I can have the selflessness to exhibit it.