Sunflower in a field near Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

You can’t find happiness by knowing what it isn’t

The United Nations proclaimed March 20, 2013, as the International Day of Happiness. Yesterday, people all over the world celebrated in many different ways.

I guess it’s good to have a day dedicated to celebrating happiness, and the purpose for the day is to remind the world that being happy doesn’t mean being rich or famous. But in all of the materials I reviewed (briefly), I couldn’t find one where they explained what happiness is. All I could find was what happiness isn’t. And one thing I’ve learned about happiness is that you can’t achieve it without a focal point. You can’t be happy just by understanding what it isn’t. You have to have a reason to be happy.

At least, that’s how it works for me. I can’t just be happy because I know it doesn’t come from wealth or fame or beauty. I need to know what it does come from.

Sunflower in a field near Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunflower in a field near Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Jeremiah 17:7-8.

But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
    and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
    with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
    or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
    and they never stop producing fruit.

What does the word blessed mean? In some instances where it shows up (bless the Lord, call her blessed, etc.), it usually means to say good things about. When we bless the Lord, it means to say good things about God, remembering what He’s done for us. But in other instances, like this one, blessed means happy.

With that in mind, check the verse out again. “But blessed (happy) are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.”

And that’s what I’m looking for. If I trust in the Lord and make Him my hope and confidence, I’ll be happy. Why? Because like trees planted by a river, I never lack for anything I need.

You can’t find happiness by understanding what it isn’t. The only way to be truly happy is to understand where it really comes from. Not wealth or fame or beauty or even health. You can’t even find true happiness in the intangibles like family and security and love because none of those things last.

The only way to be truly happy is to place your hope and trust in God. So don’t flail around looking for happiness in all the wrong places. You can try, but you won’t find it.

Trust God and let His promises become the foundation you build your life on.

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Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Hope is dangerous

I saw a great movie this weekend, and while there were many parts of it that were stunning and remarkably well done, there was one concept that stuck out to me. I can’t remember the line, but the concept is that hope is poisonous. That life is nothing but despair and hope is the poison that kills us slowly. After all, there’s no worse prison than the one you think you can escape but never really can.

In that instance, I suppose you could look at hope as being poisonous, especially if you just want to die and hope won’t let you. And actually, it applies to life. Because there are days when life feels like a prison, where you’re surrounded by enemies, where you just can’t ever win, where you just can’t ever get ahead. Without hope, it wouldn’t be worth living. And even those people who live on hope from day-to-day, get tired.

In selecting a verse for today, at first, I thought of the passages in 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul is pointing out that if Christ didn’t rise from the dead, all our faith is in vain which would make Christians the most miserable people of all. And that’s true, but hope for salvation and resurrection isn’t exactly what I’m needing this morning. I know Christ is alive. I know He rose from the dead, and I trust that His sacrifice redeemed me and that when my time on earth is done, I’ll get to go home.

But what about today? I’m still on earth, and it’s Monday. Again. And no matter how much I try not to stress, I have a stressful life. And I have people in my life who are against me. And I have situations in my life that are discouraging. And I have relationships that are complicated and strained and overwhelming. So how do I hold on to hope today when all I really feel like doing is giving up?

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm – Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Jeremiah 17:7-8.

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
    and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
    with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
    or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
    and they never stop producing fruit.

Like faith, hope is a choice. It’s not an ethereal, abstract concept that’s just floating around in the void and can’t be truly understood. Hope is a concrete fact. It’s something you choose to do day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute.

The difficulty with hope isn’t that it’s poisonous. It’s just dangerous.

You have to be careful where you set your hope. If you have made your accomplishments or your education the source of your hope, you’re going to be in trouble. Because those things will fail you. If you have made your wealth or your possessions the source of your hope, those things will eventually fade. And if you’ve made people your source of hope or even the strength of the human spirit (whatever that means), they will eventually let you down.

You have to be careful where your hope comes from.

This passage out of Jeremiah talks about tree that draws its strength from a river. If that river were polluted, the tree would be too. And that river where the tree drew its strength would do more harm than good.

But if you’re drawing your hope from God, from Christ, from what is written in Scripture, you’ll be like a tree by a clean, pure river that grows strong and tall with deep roots. In bad storms, you won’t fall. And during times of intense discomfort, you’ll still be able to do what God created you to do.

So how do you put your hope in God? It’s a choice.

You choose to trust Him. You choose to believe what the Bible says: that God knows what He’s doing, that He’s working everything out for the good of those who follow Him, that He never makes mistakes, and that He always keeps His promises.

Or you can give up.

It’s up to you.

Jesus is alive. So I have hope that some day I will get to go home.

But I also know that God is still working in my life, growing me, helping me, walking with me. And because I know that, I also have hope for today, that no matter what comes He’s there. And there’s nothing we can’t tackle together.

Make like a tree and leaf

Did anybody go outside to watch the “supermoon” come up last night? We did. My folks came out and we watched it rise. I can’t say it looked a whole lot bigger than it normally did, but it was startlingly red. Then, it decided to go behind some clouds and we couldn’t see it anymore. But waiting for it to rise was interesting.

I am always amazed at all the sounds you can hear outside if you just listen for them. I live out in the middle of nowhere so there’s no city noise. So you can hear the wind blowing a rusty-hinged gate a mile away. And you can hear the chug-chug of the enging running the oil derrick a couple of miles away. And you can hear packs of coyotes howling in the distance. But the loudest sound that pretty much overrules everything (if it’s not a car driving down the blacktop) is the wind in the trees. A rushing, whispering sound, it silences most other noises until the wind lets up.

I love trees, and it’s sad that we don’t have a lot of trees in Kansas in comparison to other states. They make it easy to spot a road or a house or a creek or river from a distance though. It’s unusual to see a tree standing off in a field by itself. Usually, a tree will grow either because it’s been cared for or because its location provides it with everything it needs to flourish. Kind of like in an oasis. You don’t see lone trees in the desert unless they’re at an oasis where they can get plenty of water.

I’ve already rambled on longer than I’d intended to this morning. What I’m trying to say is that a tree planted beside a river never has to worry about running out of water. It can be unbearably hot. The air could be dry. But the tree will still have access to what keeps it strong and healthy and productive.

It’s the same with us and our relationship with God.

Jeremiah 17:7-8

7 “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
      and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
 8 They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
      with roots that reach deep into the water.
   Such trees are not bothered by the heat
      or worried by long months of drought.
   Their leaves stay green,
      and they never stop producing fruit.

At first I thought the reference was wrong because it made me think of Psalm 1:2-3.

2 But they delight in the law of the Lord,
      meditating on it day and night.
 3 They are like trees planted along the riverbank,
      bearing fruit each season.
   Their leaves never wither,
      and they prosper in all they do.

But they’re obviously different. It’s just God using two different writers hundreds of years apart to say the same thing. And when God takes the trouble to repeat something, it’s a good idea to listen.

Trees can grow without being planted beside a river, but if they aren’t they have to get their water from somewhere else. They have to rely on rain or human care. Well, what happens when it doesn’t rain enough? Or what happens if people don’t take care of them? And, those of us in Kansas know about weather issues. What happens to a fruit tree in a hailstorm? Or what if we have another April or May blizzard (I’m not exaggerating)? All its fruit is destroyed.

The comparison between trees and people is so clear, so perfect.

If you trust God, you’ll be like the tree planted at the riverside. You’ll have everything you need to survive — and not just survive but flourish — even when everything goes wrong. When you lose your job. When you lose your family. When nothing makes sense. When people let you down. If you trust God, that confident hope you have in Him will see you through any difficulty. People relying on their own strength will wither and dry up. And though you may not be surviving in the best circumstances, you’ll still be at peace if you trust God.

And, what’s more, God will be able to use you. Even when it seems like your life is spinning out of control, if you can hold on to God and His promises and trust that He knows what He’s doing, He will take your faith and use it to accomplish something amazing.

Trees have it easy. It’s not like they can move. They can’t decide one day that they don’t want to be planted by a river anymore and the next day get up and change locations. We do that all the time, deciding that God can’t be trusted and following our own ideas or opinions. We need to be like a tree. Planted. Solid. Rooted. So deep in God that we can’t move away from Him, that we can’t help but trust Him.

All God wants is our trust. That really is all that He wants. It’s all He’s asking for. And it’s all we need. Unfortuately, though, with my stupid human pride, it’s the hardest thing for me to give. Because I really think I know better most of the time (I know I don’t, but try convincing my deceitful heart of that). So it’s a daily struggle for me to stop trying to figure things out and stop trying to plan everything and just let Him do what He wants to do.

But what’s nice about that is if you’ve left Him, we can always come back. You don’t have to prove yourself to God. He already knows your heart and your motivation, and if you truly desire to come back to Him and trust Him, He knows. And He’s more than happy to give us a another chance, no matter if it’s a second chance or a forty-second chance.