Max Lucado: Finding Happiness Beyond Comparison

Happiness is a deeply rooted sense of contentment that does not depend on circumstances. And the fact of the matter is, happiness matters to God. There’s no call to naivete or superficial happy talk. Jesus spoke candidly about sin and death and the needs of the human heart. But Scripture has more than 2,700 passages that contain words like joy and happiness and gladness and merriment and pleasure and celebration and cheer and laughter and delight and jubilation. I could go on and on. Our joy level matters to God because joy is always in such short supply on the planet. Our happiness is contagious, and nothing brings greater glory to God than a population of happy people whose happiness is rooted in our identity in Christ. At the same time, nothing shadows our testimony more than cranky, grumpy Christians. And so I think we have a moral obligation to pursue a sense of happiness.

The sooner I can begin to celebrate the success of others, the happier I’ll be. Comparison is the bane of ministry. There is always someone who is apparently more effective than I. There is always somebody whose church is growing faster, somebody whose books are selling more. Somebody who has more speaking invitations than I. Somebody whose Easter service is more extravagant than mine. There’s always something that can pull me down. Ministers must be super careful not to give in to this. We must be very careful not to strive for affirmation but to work from affirmation. We have been affirmed by the almighty God. We have to operate out of that sense of affirmation. Whenever we find ourselves beginning to feel a sense of envy or inadequacy because of the effectiveness of another person’s ministry, we’ve got to reel it back in.

It is wrong to compare ourselves with other churches because every church is different, every circumstance is different and every season is different. I do not have your giftedness. You do not have my giftedness. So for us to compare ourselves to one another is like an eagle being compared to a fish. They have two different assignments, two different groupings of capabilities, so it is an exercise in futility. I almost wish we didn’t take attendance in churches. I almost wish we didn’t know how many members were in churches. I realize practically and pragmatically that this has to happen, but my goodness, we’re all in this together. This is a kingdom business, a kingdom enterprise. We don’t say, “That church is growing.” We say, “We are growing.” There is only one church. We cannot indulge and say, “That’s a great preacher.” We must say, “We are a great preacher,” because we’re all in the same family. We can find happiness as we share it with others.

It really is better, Jesus said, to give than to receive. I don’t know how a statement could be more succinct and equally profound. Now, the challenge is that we live in a culture that is telling us day by day that it’s better to receive than to give. We’re getting bombarded more than any time in history. Only one in three people in our society are saying they are genuinely happy. That’s the lowest it’s ever been since the Harris Poll began documenting happiness. That’s terrible. Can you believe only one in three people you see when you go to a restaurant have enough happiness to check “I am happy” on the questionnaire?

The media tells us happiness happens when we retire, when we aspire to have more, when we park a new car in our driveway or have new clothing in our closet. Happiness happens when we lose weight, get the date or find the mate. That’s what we keep hearing. So it takes a full-court press to stand against that and follow the side door to happiness that Jesus talks about. Happiness happens when you give it away. That’s the consistent story throughout Scripture, and that’s why I focused in How Happiness Happens on the “one-another” verses. Those are practical ways we can not only make others happy but find happiness ourselves.

Some of the challenges in the “one-another” verses I talk about in the book are pretty severe. Forgive one another. Accept one another. Even serving one another can be difficult. But you know what? We can all encourage one another. All of us can. Every person is an opportunity to give a word of encouragement. Another one that is very practical that’s often forgotten is to greet one another. The apostle Paul said that in every single epistle: Greet one another. Sometimes he said greet one another with a holy kiss. Now, I think that’s a little cultural. I think we’d get in trouble doing that today. But we can greet one another. If a person is down and out, they can lift their own spirits by giving an honest, heartfelt greeting any time they see somebody. How are you doing? How’s life going? Tell me your name again.

Imagine if every person in a church decided they were going to make 100 people happy over the next 40 days. That’s my challenge in the book. Christians nowadays are really known more for what they’re against than what they’re for. If we as Christians could be known as the happiest people in the city—not necessarily the people who’ve got it all figured out, or the holiest people in the city—I think only heaven can imagine the great things that would happen.

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Jessica Hanewinckel
Jessica Hanewinckel

Jessica Hanewinckel is an Outreach magazine contributing writer.