Are Christians Permitted To Be Happy, Or Is It All Business?

(Please note the inadvertent sharp contrast between yesterday’s post on how difficult it is to get through life on earth sane and today’s post. I didn’t plan it this way and I’m not sure what it means.)

I live where people go on holiday (that makes me sound so European). We even sell bumper stickers that say “my life is better than your vacation.” Chances are the mountains twenty miles from my house are July’s photo on the calender hanging in your kitchen. When we discuss the weather, it’s not small talk to break the ice in a conversation but to actually seek information on the powder conditions (and what it’s water content percentage is.) Skiing, mountain biking and kayaking are apart of the regular routine round here. We are a recreational bunch, and as such we have a high life satisfaction.

We asked a question recently in my community group – can Christians be happy? Not like is it possible, but is it permissible for us to enjoy our lives? It may sound like a silly question, but I think it’s worth exploring (and note I’m referring to something different from the joy that comes from the Lord). In Christianity we talk a lot about going into the dark places of our world and living your life for others, and quite frankly you can convince yourself that God doesn’t want you to be happy – that he made you for higher, holier things. Our earthly pleasure can seem very primal and dirty and hedonistic.

I don’t have a solid answer to harmonize the tension, but I do think we can get some clues by looking at our origins. Why did God bother to dream up and create this world and populate it with little soul bodies? We can give the true yet still obligatory pious answer of “to bring glory to himself,” but I don’t think that’s all there is. Hope that doesn’t make me sound like a bad Christian. I think ultimately we were created to enjoy the lives that God has given us. If you can imagine yourself in the Garden of Eden and receiving the freshly created land from God – I think you’d know that it was given as a gift to be enjoyed.

Am I’m not asking is it okay for me to go skiing this weekend. Of course it is, and even if you told me I must deny myself of all pleasures (especially in Lent!) I’ll still go because the powder has been low water content lately and ripe for spraying. But there seems to be a fine line somewhere between partaking in life’s pleasures and living a servant’s life.

I ask this hoping you have some insight – so swing away!

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31 Responses to Are Christians Permitted To Be Happy, Or Is It All Business?

  1. Most definitely. I feel that happiness when I am cycling. I have never watched the movie Chariots of Fire but I have heard and read enough to remember the quote Eric Liddell gave: “God made me to run fast and when I run I feel His pleasure.” That is not joy (least I don’t think it is). that is happiness…sheer, unadulterated happiness. So, I believe it is okay. Now…go out on the slopes and break a leg. Oops I mean have fun. πŸ™‚

  2. I think Christians should have the most fun of all. To be all John Piperish for a moment, we glorify God the most when we are happiest in Him, rather than being continually dissatisfied with what He’s given us.

    • I tried to read that book but it bored me to tears. I bought it thinking it was going to be the most revolutionary book ever too.

      • Yeah, I’ve never made it through it all, even though I was on a major Piper kick for a while. He’s a very smart man but I need more “consumer oriented” writing rather than that highbrow intellectual stuff. There really needs to be a John Piper with the communication skills of Rob Bell. Shame they don’t get along….

  3. David says:

    It is an interesting topic. I see it more like this. Faith is my reality, and feelings give me some information about my surroundings. IE: If I am worshipping (or doing anything unto the Lord, like everything from work to music.), I have joy in my spirit. The faith realm is much more important to me. I have lots of things that I like to do, art, music, writing, and programming; if it’s creative I like it. I enjoy running and travelling too. It all goes back to hearing God. If he permits me, I am doing great at whatever it is. If I do something fun that he has not permitted, then I feel convicted.

    I have a lot of freedom, and I don’t get too worried about whether or not I get to have fun. I am concerned about pleasing God with my faith and actions. That I can’t get from reading the rule book, I have to experience it with Him.

    I think about my 7-year-old. She’ll ask to watch TV at dinner, that’s not permitted in our house. After she has helped clear the table, gets 30 minutes if she has earned it by doing a handful of other chores. My point is this, you can’t make a rule about TV that is sure fire. It is based on the timing and the relationship; for that is how the Kingdom of God works.

    Personally, I think it is reasonably easy to determine the depth of a relationship by the amount of time, money and love we spend on it. If I were religious, I would say prayer, Bible reading and church attendance.

    Honestly, I meet very few Christians that actually feel like they know what God wants them to do. They get caught up in trying to be good, and doing the right thing.

    • I think getting to know you via our blogs really helps me “get” what you’re saying in the first paragraph. I agree too that Christians get caught up in trying to do certain religious acts and totally miss what God is saying to them personally. Thanks David.

  4. Angela says:

    My response: fo sho. I’m pretty sure we’re supposed to be happy…but our happiness shouldn’t be wrapped up in material things, drunkenness, gossip, and other things that oppose God. That’s not to say that God hates when we enjoy our latte, but I think God hates when we are in love with our car and put that above Him.

    • I get that our happiness should not be intertwined with material things – but what about material experiences? I think it’s a fair question, especially because the pursuit of happiness can twist into a very self-interested/selfish venture…

  5. Larry hughes says:

    At my age, I am just happy to be alive still. However, I still wonder if I have my name in that book yet.

    All that any one can do is make the best of your situation and let God take care of the rest. One should be greatful for what they do have and not what they lust for. As I have read in the bible God wishes us to be happy and joyous so dispite the pot holes in the road, I am joyful for what I do have ( I think as it could be worse).

    Now that doesn’t mean I will not wish for a Lambroghini or a Nikon super high end camera and droll when I see one, but I am content with what I do have most of the time.

    We shouldn’t be so consumed with material things that are out of our reach but enjoy what we can attain spiritually.

  6. Larry hughes says:

    Don’t worry. Be happy.

  7. Jeff says:

    My first reaction was… What a dumb question.
    Life is about the pursuit of happiness.
    If Jesus doesn’t make you happy you need to lose him like a bad joke.

    • ouch Jeff πŸ™‚ I think I was trained to not pursue happiness but the Lord only, and of course in the near-fundy church I grew up in we were told to live in self-denial. happiness and the Christian life were presented as nearly polar opposite things.

  8. Su says:

    That is a hard one… obviously a grumpy, cranky Christian doesn’t do anyone any good. But on the other hand, there is so much suffering in the world that it’s hard to shut it out completely– by which I mean, I’ll be cycling/running/reading/etc. but the thought will sneak into my consciousness that there are hungry people in this city who probably could have made better use of the money I spent on whatever fancy equipment I’m using. (But this could be a personality thing, not an “everybody” thing.)

    So my answer is yes, Christians are allowed to be happy. But I don’t think the pursuit of happiness is the be-all and end-all of our lives; God did give us work to do.

    • that is the tough balance to strike. Someone can always throw the suffering of the world back in your face if you’re out skiing or whatever it is you do – and turn it into a guilt trip. At the same time we are a community, a body, and therefore we can’t be too focused on ourselves.

  9. Joanne says:

    YES! Christians are supposed to be happy. After all they have the light of Christ shining through them. When I see grump Christians I feel that they are missing the boat!

  10. We had a similar discussion in our small group about music. Someone tried to argue that we shouldn’t just listen to music because we like it, but it should somehow connect us back to God. As we discussed more, the same person suggested that nonChristian music never does this. I think thats crazy. When we hear something that sounds beautiful that people have created we glorify God regardless of the intent. God gave the musician his talent to create. God gave me the brain to hear it an enjoy it.

    • oh man if we could only listen to Christian music I would break the rules and be an outcast…

      and though music can serve the purpose of connecting us to God, that doesn’t mean it must or always has to do that. that kind of mentality will actually get you burned out on Christianity, in my opinion.

  11. I think when time travel is invented I will go back and rewrite this one – it probably does sound like a silly question and maybe could be better stated as “what is the balance between pursuing happiness and selfishness (for a Christian)?” Because almost no one would say it is bad to pursue happiness and pleasure, however this pursuit can be so consuming that you neglect anything outside of yourself.

    • David says:

      Charlie, Charlie, Charlie – there is no such thing as balance! There is doing God’s will and not doing God’s will. Ignorance of God’s will is not an excuse. There is a list of sins, and a list of should do’s, everything else is permissible if God allows us to do it. The only caveat, is we have to hear His voice to know what that is. πŸ˜‰

      http://fireandgrace.blogspot.com/2011/02/not-sin-not-god.html

      BTW – I still think you are cool! πŸ™‚

  12. Lisa says:

    I think for me, my understanding of this topic comes primarily from the life of Christ. Even while on a most important mission and ministry, he give himself time to enjoy life. He enjoyed a good fish fry. We see him eating with friends, providing plenty of wine at a party, and finding things, in this world and in other people, to enjoy in the midst of incredible sadness and infirmities around him. He wasn’t simply working with the lost, sick, and poor, and dying and resurrecting. His life was fully orbed within the experience of being human.

    Great topic, Charlie.

  13. Tony Alicea says:

    There are so many verses that talk about joy. Not some holy kind of stoic joy (is that even possible?) but true rejoicing and gladness. I’m from the perspective that if you aren’t enjoying your life and living to the fullest, then you are cheapening what Jesus died for. Some people live as self-appointed martyrs which is just craziness to me. God never called us to that. Sure, we aren’t to run from suffering. But He didn’t call us to run to it either.

    I go a little deeper on the subject in this post if you’re interested: http://www.tonyjalicea.com/2011/02/is-your-dream-an-idol/

    • I really found your comment super helpful Tony. Truly. I love the line “that if you aren’t enjoying your life and living to the fullest, then you are cheapening what Jesus died for.” I’ve heard it before but I’ve forgotten it totally. And I think you’re dead on with what you said about self-appointed martyrs.

      Note to anyone who links to their blog in a comment: you’re guaranteed to get me to click if you comment something fascinating before the link.

      (I sound like a suck-up)

  14. Ike says:

    When you came into Christ, the whole flow of your life reversed. You crossed the Continental Divide from self-justification, with all its painful complications, to grace-justification, with all its happy freedom. Don’t cross back. The whole flow of your life is grace. Enjoy it, moment by moment.

    • Chris says:

      Here, here.

      I was going to write something sarcastic, like, no way do Christians have any right to be happy, ever. 😦

      But Ike’s comment put me on that train back to reality.
      I was listening to an interview with Peter Rollins. He was talking about how in his particular understanding Christianity would manifest in such a way that people should be more socially conscious of the clothes they wear, the food they eat, the car they drive. All the time I kept wondering, by whose standards is it enough? By Rollins’? If my car doesn’t get the kind of fuel mileage he thinks it should get then do I not measure up? This becomes a forever striving but never attaining, works-based, unhappy, forlorn version of Christianity. Rather than the grace-filled flow of life that Ike referred to.

      • @Ike – I really appreciated your comment too. It is a great reminder of the grace we’ve been given in life and how that empowers us to live a beautiful, enjoyable existence. There is an enormous freedom in that.

        @Chris – I have to admit I really like Pete Rollins (when I can’t follow what he’s saying, he’s leagues smarter than me). But I agree with you here – that the whole social consciousness can become another mask for legalism. It’s so easy to do that!

  15. Dee says:

    We (Christians) are given the inside scoop on the redeeming power of Jesus Christ (through the Gospel) and what’s to come of us because of it – eternal life. With that at the center of our thoughts and acting upon our desire to please God, there is nothing for us to be unhappy about! Anything bad, we know is temporary. Anything good we know there more of and better to come!

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