One of the primary values we have for life is happiness. This means we make choices based on what we believe will bring us the greatest happiness.
There are a few problems I see with constructing our lives around the value of happiness.
The first problem is that happiness is a fleeting reality. It is something that we have one minute and loose the next minute. We can make a choice today that we believe will make us happy, and for a time it does, but after awhile that choice ushers in pain and complications. The happiness we desired disappears. We see this many times in the context of relationships, especially romantic relationships.
A second problem is that we are short sighted. We don’t have all the information that we need to make the best choice for our greatest future happiness. For instance, eating ice cream right now might bring you happiness in the moment, while lifting weights for 30 minutes might bring you pain for the next few days. A pattern of choosing the momentary happiness over the short term pain could lead to a life that is over all less happy.
A third problem is that happiness is not God’s ultimate will for our lives. God’s greatest design for us is holiness. In holiness we will discover a joy and a hope that is beyond compare, but it also requires making choices that will not make us happy in the short term. When we choose to do what will make us happy in the moment over what will make us holy, then we are choosing that which will rob us of God’s best.
Spiritual formation is the process in which we seek to become the people God created us to be. People who are guided by the Spirit rather than by the flesh. People who worship God over the cultural idols of the world. People who have chosen God and His kingdom over everything else that they see.
In his book Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard wrote, “Spiritual formation in Christ is the process by which one moves and is moved from self-worship to Christ-centered self-denial as a great condition of life in God’s present and eternal kingdom.” (p. 77)
This means that for spiritual formation to happen in our lives, we need to choose things that will not make us happy in the moment. Self-denial is the choice not to gratify what our flesh wants, and to honor God and nurture our spirits. In other words, we need to sacrifice. Sacrifice always involves things that are valuable to us. Spiritual formation requires the sacrifice of our happiness, our dreams, and our desires to experience the life God has for us.
Sacrifice is a key component of worship. We see this in the Old Testament when the sacrificial system was the basis of Israel’s worship. We see this in the New Testament when Jesus said: “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24; NLT)
I don’t care who you are, unless you are willing to sacrifice your happiness for God’s greater design for your life, then you will not be able to experience the life God created you to live. God created you to be holy, and holiness is found on the other side of sacrifice.