A few years ago, I was reading Gretchen Rubin’s New York Times bestseller, The Happiness Project, where she narrates a year of trying to become a happier person through implementing the research findings of positive psychologists (“happy scientists” as they are sometimes called).
As I read this fascinating and helpful book, I couldn’t help thinking, “Surely Christians can do better than this!” Although these science-based techniques can be helpful, surely Christian have truths that can produce far more joy. Having written Christians Get Depressed Too, I thought, why don’t I write the flip side, “Christians Can Be Happy Too!” (With the bonus that I might be better known as Mr. Happy rather than Mr. Depression!)
The result is The Happy Christian which I based upon 10 biblical formulas, summarized in graphic form by Eric Chimenti. (Here’s full resolution pdf and jpg for printing). To give you a general idea, here's a quick summary of each life-changing formula. (You can also get the first couple of chapters free at the website here.)
Like all formulas, these require work to work! Just as answers to math questions don’t just drop into our laps, so we have to work at these formulas to get the benefit of the biblical truths in them into our lives.
Also, none of these are one-off sums that we calculate once and then move on. They have to be practiced every day of our lives. Hopefully, the infographic will make it easier to keep the formulas in front of us and keep calculating them until they become instinctive and healthy habits.
Ten Biblical Formulas
1. Facts > Feelings: This chapter covers how to gather the right facts, how to best think about these facts, and how to enjoy the beneficial impact of this on our emotions and moods. After identifying a number of damaging thinking patterns that are pummeling our emotions, a six-step plan to retrain thoughts, knock out destructive emotions, and build a shield of protective positive feelings such as peace, joy, and confidence.
2. Good News > Bad News: Philippians 4:8 is applied to our media and ministry diets to ensure that we are consuming and digesting more good news than bad news, and thus enjoy more of God’s peace in our hearts.
3. Done > Do: While we need the demanding the imperatives of God’s law to reveal where we’ve gone wrong, we need to hear even more of the indicatives of God’s redeeming acts to reveal His grace and provision.
4. Christ > Christians: One of the biggest obstacles to evangelism is the inconsistency and hypocrisy of many Christians. It’s also the reason why so many leave the church or are unhappy in the church. But by focusing more on Christ than on Christians, we stop adding up the innumerable faults of Christians and start calculating the inestimable value of Christ.
5. Future > Past: This chapter helps Christians get the most our of looking to the past without falling into nostalgia or guilt. However, the primary emphasis of this chapter is to encourage Christians to have a much more future-oriented faith than is usually the case.
6. Everywhere grace > Everywhere sin: Without denying the deep and ugly sinfulness that affects and infects everyone and everything, this formula calls Christians to pay much more attention to God’s beautiful work in the world and in all His creatures, resulting in a more positive worldview, more joy in our hearts, and more praise for our gracious God.
7. Praise > Criticism: Although it often feels good to criticize more than praise, a critical spirit and habit is extremely damaging for both the critic and the criticized. This chapter presents ten persuasive arguments for why praise and encouragement should be predominant.
8. Giving > Getting: Perhaps the most unbelieved beatitude in the Bible is, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). By looking at charitable giving, giving in marriage, giving of thanks, and giving in leadership, this chapter presents biblical and scientific evidence to persuade that the beatitude is indeed true.
9. Work > Play: As work plays such a large part in our lives, it’s hard to be happy Christians unless we are happy at work. This chapter explains the bible’s teaching about vocation and proposes a number of God-centered ways in which we can increase our joy at work.
10. Diversity > Uniformity: While staying in our own cultures and communities is safe and easy, a more biblical engagement of other races, classes, and cultures enriches and enhances our lives. This chapter suggests ten ways in which we can increase diversity in our lives, families, and churches, and lists ten advantages of such choices.
Amid the reality of sin and suffering, Christians can find joy in repentance and in joyful submission to God’s providence. The book finishes with a look towards heaven, a world of happiness, where we can put our calculators away and enjoy God’s provision of perfect happiness.
David Murray is Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and Pastor of Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church. In addition to The Happy Christian, his other books include Christians Get Depressed Too, How Sermons Work, and Jesus on Every Page. He blogs at HeadHeartHand and you can follow him on Twitter @DavidPMurray.
The top-ranked book in the self-help section of the New York Times bestsellers list is The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. That’s right, a book on tidying up has become a bestseller. I suppose anything with “life-changing” in the title is going to attract attention, but that doesn’t fully explain its popularity. I believe that the book’s success is more about the “tidying up” part of the title than the “life-changing” bit. Like all best-selling books, it reveals something about our culture, about our personal lives – that we are in a mess!
A study of middle-class families in Los Angeles found that just one in four families could fit a car in its garage. It also found that mothers’ stress levels rose as they described their household mess.
Too Much Stuff
We all feel we’ve got just way too much clutter in our lives – too much in our heads, too much in our homes, too much in our offices, and way too much data everywhere. And it’s hurting us – we’re stressed out over all the stuff that’s encircling and enveloping us. But how to stop it? How to drive it down and out? We have the occasional cathartic clean out, but a week later, we’re back to messy (and stressy) central. We sense that there’s peace on the other side of the mounds of papers, clothes, boxes, tins, toys, and electronics, but how do we get there…and stay there?
Enter Marie Kondo with her welcome book on the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing.
Once I read the book, I bought copies for my wife and family. Not all of us have read it through yet, but we’ve had a couple of tutorials in which I summarized the key points of the book and we are all now one month into a crusade to clear out our clutter and prevent it re-invading – and even my teenage sons are on board, piling up the bin bags.
Although Kondo goes over the top in an OCD kind of way when she gets down to the details, the general principles are simple and do-able.
The basic thesis of the book is: Start by discarding. Then organize your space, thoroughly, completely, in one go.
The bit we usually ignore or short-circuit is the discarding. We start organizing without discarding, or without sufficient discarding, which makes it virtually impossible to organize anything in a way that will produce permanent clutter-free results.
But the second sentence is also quite revolutionary in that it swims against the general tide of advice on the subject which is to do a little bit of tidying every day. No, says Kondo, “tidy a little a day and you’ll be tidying forever…[Whereas] if you tidy up in one shot, rather than little by little, you can dramatically change your mind-set.”
If you use the right method and concentrate your efforts on eliminating clutter thoroughly and completely within a short span of time, you’ll see instant results that will empower you to keep your space in order ever after.
The third part of her text that we should exegete is “in one go.” By that, she doesn’t mean “in one day.” She means determined, concentrated, and sustained focus on the job until it’s done, which in her experience is usually about six months.
Although, as I said, she goes over-the-top in certain areas (like folding socks!), the book, especially the first half, has 5-6 basic principles that even the worst hoarder can put into practice:
- Do not start putting away until you’ve got rid of everything you want to discard.
- Tidy by category rather than location. For example, clothes today, books, papers.
- Start with the easiest stuff to discard and build momentum and skill to tackle the harder decisions (clothes first, then books, papers , miscellany, and lastly, mementos.)
- Focusing solely on throwing things away can only make you unhappy. Rather, choose what you want to keep and keep only what you love and makes you happy.
Despite four Saturdays (and four bonfires) spent on this, our family is probably only halfway through our discarding phase. However, we already feel significant psychological and even spiritual benefits, motivating us to press on to minimalist bliss. As Kondo said:
A dramatic reorganization of the home causes correspondingly dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective. It is life transforming. When you put your house in order, you put your affairs and your past in order, too.
It’s common sense, isn’t it? But it’s also biblical sense. I view it as my contribution to the cultural mandate (Gen. 1:28), and part of my imaging of the God who is a God of order and not of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33).
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.
As we experience an unprecedented level of hatred and hostility towards Christians today, we find ourselves asking continually, “Why do you hate us so much?”
Politicians, judges, journalists, producers, educators, and many others are sympathetic to, and tolerant of, every kind of false religion and every kind of perversity, except when it comes to Christian teaching and values. Then the sharpest knives are out.
And we ask again, “Why do you hate us so much?”
We pay our taxes, we pray for our leaders, we give generously to charities, we volunteer in local schools and community projects, we love and educate our children, we feed the homeless, we send millions of dollars and thousands of people abroad to help needy nations, and make many other positive contributions to society and the world.
What have you done?
So why do you keep lining up against us and lining up with those who do little or nothing for society or the needy? You love the new atheists, the philosophers, authors, and comedians who launch vile diatribes against Christians and their God. Why doesn’t someone somewhere ask these elite men and women, who have devoted their lives to destroying Christianity, “What have you ever done for the poor? How much money and time do you devote to your neighbors, your community, the poor at home and abroad?”
And yet, it’s us you hate? Why?
R C Sproul supplies the best explanation for this seemingly irrational enmity in chapter 4 of The Holiness of God. He gives two examples, first the Peter Principle and then the Curve-Breaker.
The Peter Principle
This principle, named after it’s creator, Laurence Peter, says, “People tend to rise to their level of incompetence in the corporate structures.” People keep getting promoted until they end up in a job that is beyond their abilities and where they cease to do well. The super-competent are one of the rare exceptions to this rule. They tend not to succeed by moving up the ladder because their bosses feel frightened and threatened by their competency. The result is that they often have to leave a company to move up. But the point is, their advancement is hindered because their bosses are scared of being shown up.
Dr. Sproul then tells the story of a brilliant female student who deliberately failed an exam because her excellent results made everyone else look bad by breaking the grading curve that other students were relying on to get their marks up. By committing this social unpardonable sin, she was treated like a pariah.
Using these two illustrations as a springboard, Dr. Sproul then applies this to Christ. “Jesus was the supreme curve buster. He was the ultimate super-competent.”
And that’s why the Pharisees and Saducees hated him so much. Although these men were renowned for their so-called holiness, “here authentic holiness appeared; the counterfeiters were not pleased.”
“With the appearance of Jesus, their righteousness took on the luster of unrighteousness. Their curve was broken too…The super-competent had to be destroyed.”
And insofar as Christians reflect the holiness of Christ or remind others of the holiness of God, they too will experience this same hostility. It may seem irrational, but it’s really quite rational. “Your virtue makes us look bad and feel guilty; you must be damaged and destroyed.”
The truth is that many in the world, especially the elites, would far prefer to be surrounded with homosexuals, thieves, polygamists, criminals, and every false religionist under the sun, than to spend time with a holy Christian. The former make them feel good about themselves, the Christian makes them feel guilty.” The Christian must be destroyed.
I don’t want to minimize in any way the horrendous damage that false prophets do to the church and to individual souls. But our sovereign and wise God can turn even this great evil into a good in four ways:
- by helping us discover the questions people are asking
- by guiding us to a better understanding of the Bible
- by highlighting where the church has been silent
- by encouraging true Christians
1) What’s the question?
If there’s one thing false prophets are really good at, it’s identifying the questions that people are asking. They “sniff the wind” with their super-sensitive marketing antennae and skillfully pick up signals about the issues people are struggling with. They provide the wrong answers of course, but they are experts at detecting where people are at, with the aim of maximizing their audience.
For example, when “evangelicals” start moving their churches to accept gay marriage, we should realize that they are responding to serious challenges and pressures from within their congregations and/or families.
When Rob Bell “questions” the doctrine of hell, we should understand that many are asking real questions about hell and are not liking the traditional answers.
When Joel Osteen promotes the prosperity Gospel, we should conclude that many are trying to find a way to think more positively about themselves and their lives. (By the way, this realization of how false teachers can indirectly benefit the church came to me as I was writing a critical review of Joel Osteen’s, Your Best Life Now.)
When a preacher throws out God’s commandments and replaces them with his own “10 Guidelines,” we should figure that lots of people are wondering about how to get rid of God’s law.
2) What does the Bible say?
The second benefit is that we are forced to study the Bible more closely to figure out what God really says about these issues. That’s been the pattern throughout church history. For example, whole epistles of Scripture were written in response to errors in the New Testament church.
Also, challenges to the deity of Christ in the early church resulted in more thorough Bible study and then clearer credal and confessional statements about what the Bible really teaches about Jesus Christ. Similarly for justification at the time of the Reformation.
And that’s what we see happening today as well. Witness the tremendous work that’s been done by conservative modern scholars in exegeting the Bible’s teaching about homosexuality and gender. The same goes for the multiple books and papers that have recently been written to prove the eternality of a literal hell. My own study of Osteen has forced me into the Scriptures to discern the accurate interpretation of passages that Osteen perverts, and also to find passages which disprove what he teaches.
3) Where have we been silent?
As lies thrive in a vacuum, false prophets usually target subjects that the church has neglected, moving in where Christians have been silent. For example:
- When ministers are not teaching and preaching about hell, that’s fertile ground for Rob Bell.
- When the church doesn’t explain the place of the law in the Christian life, you get the law being discarded or being re-written as personal guidance.
- When the church hasn’t constructively addressed sexuality, you end up with confused Christians embracing homosexual propaganda and caving in to the redefinition of marriage.
- When the church doesn’t address the nature and use of suffering, Benny Hinn will step in with promises to remove it for a fee.
- When the church doesn’t help people develop a healthy self-image, Joel Osteen’s self-image-making will attract many.
Whenever I see the particular emphasis of a false prophet, I ask myself, “When was the last time you taught or preached about that?”
4) Who are true Christians?
The Bible says that one reason for heresies in the church is to expose and highlight those who are not real Christians, but only have the name of Christian (1 Cor. 11:19). When people are swept away with false teaching, they demonstrate that they were never really true Christians. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us” (1 John 2:19).
But if we stay the course when others are dropping out, if we refuse to be swept away by false teaching, we may use that to encourage and assure ourselves that we really are true Christians by the grace of God.
Notice, I’m not saying that we should all study what false prophets are teaching – that would be a foolish waste of time for most, and a dangerous path for many. But in today’s hyper-connected world, it’s difficult not to encounter their teaching here and there, and even in some very surprising places. As we do, let’s use their falsehood to help us discern what questions people are asking, to make us study our Bible more thoroughly, to highlight where the church has been too silent, and to encourage ourselves that He who has begun a good work in us is continuing it until the Day of Jesus Christ.