We all want to be happy and fulfilled. Conventional wisdom says that if you want to be happy, then you have to look out for No. 1. You have to get out there and do whatever it takes to succeed and whatever it takes to fulfill your own desires and needs. It doesn’t matter who you step on; you have to think about yourself. That is what our culture would say.
But does it work? No. Most of us know, most likely having tried that approach to some degree, that it is a complete failure. We know that our happiness ebbed and flowed, and it wasn’t lasting.
The problem with happiness is that it is entirely contingent on good things happening. When things are going well, we are happy. But when things are not going well, we are not happy. It is amazing how we can go from one emotion to another so quickly.
God offers us something better than happiness. That is one of the primary themes in the New Testament book of Philippians, which speaks again and again of joy. In fact, the theme of joy is repeated 19 times in this relatively short book of four chapters. It is a book about joyful living.
God’s formula for a life that is meaningful and full runs in a contradictory manner to what our world tells us. Here is how God tells us to live: “[Agree] wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too” (Philippians 1:1-2 NLT).
Does this not go against the conventional wisdom of how to succeed and be happy in life?
The fact of the matter is the true and lasting happiness we are searching for in life does not come from a formula the world gives us. The Bible offers us something better than happiness, per se. It speaks of something called joy.
With all of the emphasis in our culture on the importance of self-love, self-worth, self-image and self-esteem, how different the Bible is. The Bible teaches that we already love ourselves. We already look out for No. 1. That comes with human nature. It is not something we need to learn how to do. We don’t need to learn how to love self; we need to learn how to deny self. That is what the Bible teaches.
Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23 NKJV).
This is what I call the upside-down life. It is upside down from what our culture says. Our culture says, look for self-fulfillment, and you will find it. But the Bible says, if you look for that, you will never find it. Put God first, others second and yourself third, and you will find joy. An acronym for “joy” is Jesus, others, yourself. That is how it works.
Who is our example in this? Who modeled perfectly what we are to do? The answer is obvious: Jesus Christ. If ever there were someone who walked this earth who deserved to be waited on hand and foot, it was Jesus. If ever there were someone who could justly demand his own rights, it was Jesus. Yet He modeled such incredible humility and gave us an example to follow.
In John 13, we find a wonderful story about the servanthood of Jesus. When all of the disciples were gathered together for a meal, Jesus did something quite unexpected. He took off his outer garment, got down on His hands and knees, took a basin of water and a towel, and began to wash the feet of each and every disciple.
Peter was so amazed at this that he said, “You will never ever wash my feet!” (verse 8 NLT). In other words, “This is crazy!”
But Jesus told Peter that if he didn’t allow him to wash his feet, then he would have no part of his kingdom. So Peter basically replied, “Give me a bath!”
There was God Almighty himself, the creator of the universe in human form, on his hands and knees, washing the feet of his disciples. What was he saying to them? He was saying, “I want to set an example of service.”
This also was a picture of what Jesus did when he came down from heaven to us. He set aside that outer garment, the privileges of deity, and he walked among us as a man.
Another thing that amazes me is that Jesus didn’t only wash Peter’s feet, John’s feet, and James’ feet, he also washed Judas’ feet. Personally, I would have not washed Judas’ feet. I would have wanted to drown him in that basin. But Jesus washed Judas’ feet, and he set an example for all of us.
Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35 NKJV). When you are a kid, you don’t get that. You think it is more blessed to get than to give. But as the years pass and you become an adult, you start realizing that it is a joy to give.
I love giving presents more than getting them. In fact, once I have found a gift for someone, I can hardly wait to give it to them. I don’t like to wait. That is because it brings me pleasure to give a gift. I have discovered that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
We could apply this principle to life in general. What if we were more concerned about the needs of others – about reaching out to them and about helping them? What if we were to take our eyes off ourselves and think about someone else? It could change our lives. And in the process, I think what we’ll find is something better than happiness.