Acts 16:22-25; Psalm 31:1-13

October 18, 2020

— Gratitude is the Key to Happiness/Dedication Sunday

Even though I have only been with you a short time (since midMay), I feel like I know something deeply personal about all of you.  Before you become too spooked by that and call the police, let me tell you that deeply personal thing that I know about you is actually something I also know about myself and all people.  This is something about us all that we have deep down at the core concerning who we are and how we view life and our place in the world.  It is something we have deeply in common with every person who has ever lived: we all very much want to be happy.  This deep, innate desire is at the very center of our being and at the heart of what it means to be human.  We so profoundly desire to be happy.  [Anyone agree?]

But for something so profound and seemingly interwoven into our very DNA, it is not so easy to actually be happy.  In fact, it can actually seem fairly difficult.  I expect you all here are aware of how as a society we have turned more and more to outside help with dealing with life; sometimes this is in better ways than others. There is a real struggle for us to be happier in life, and quite honestly, we are floundering a bit with this, especially in a pandemic.

One reason for this is that there are things or situations or times that do make us happy, and there are things or situations or times that we THINK make us happy but really don’t, and we all experience happiness in different ways.

I love a good book and some peace and quiet, and I like time alone with my mind.  Those things can make me happy.  But those delightful things would be a waste on my wife who wants to be socializing out in the world in the middle of happenings.  She delights in the social engagement of life and has been known to delve into Facebook.

It is also not easy to be truly happy or to find real happiness all the time.  Our moments of happiness are often fleeting because there are always things that pop up that steal our happiness – interruptions, demands, crises, and tragedies. It is hard to obtain happiness at all, let alone hold it for any length of time.

And yet, there are people out there who are generally and genuinely happy.  Sometimes these people are not the ones that we might expect.  We might expect the people who “have it all” to be the happiest – the ones with the most success, the most wealth, the most fame, the most respect, or the most stuff.  In America, we have never been wealthier, but depression and suicide are far too common.  For all that we have, we are not happier.

On the flip side, there are those whom we would not expect to be happy who are able to rejoice in life – those who know loss, grief, illness, and brokenness.  Please note: This is good news for those of us who want to be happy but aren’t quite where we want to be.  If those who suffer can be happy, even in their suffering, then there is hope for us all.

There is hope for us who Scripture says are supposed to be able to rejoice in everything, including in our suffering.

So how is this possible?  David is going to help me here.

That same David who was for years hunted relentlessly by King Saul through the wilderness, who had no home, who was surrounded by enemies, wrote this psalm – Psalm 31.  The first 13 verses reflect what we would expect from that David in that desperate situation of trouble.  His life had plenty of trouble.  These verses speak of desperation and heartache and despair and tragedy.  We should be able to identify with this.  These are real feelings of being overwhelmed by brokenness.  David is not glossing over anything here but calls it as he sees it, as it is.

But what does he do with that hurting heart?  He does not fix it.  He cannot flip a switch and turn it off.  He does not throw away his feelings or self-medicate.  **He gives his pain and suffering to God. Verses 14-18.

That’s all you need to do, right?  Just give it to God and all the problems will go away.  All will be roses and sunshine.  David’s problems were all solved, right?  No, but he does show us what is really going on in reaching for happiness and attaining happiness and holding happiness.  Happiness, joy, and gladness do not begin from within us but are themselves gifts from God.  God, in making us emotional people, included these emotions to share.  We have been given these gifts, sown into the very fabric of our existence, and we need to remember that our life is in God’s hand before we can truly appreciate these gifts.  If we remember who our God is we can much better reflect God’s joy and share it.

In human terms, we have the mistaken idea that if I do this or that, I will be happy.  If I have this or that, I will be happy.  If I achieve this or that, I will be happy.  It does not work that way.  Simply doing exciting things or having expensive things or achieving grand things will not make us happy, at least not for long.  That’s why David is able to give his trouble and suffering and distress away.  He gives it to the Lord.  Happiness does not originate from us but from God.  Meaningful happiness exists with and from God.

That’s why David continues in his song. Verses 19-24

What’s our favorite holiday time of the year?  Thanksgiving into Christmas.  Gratitude, Gratefulness, Thankfulness.  This is what gives us happiness.  Once David brought to mind the grace of God that helped him in the past and gave him hope, then he found room to rejoice.  Even in the midst of trouble he could rejoice.  Even in the valley of death, he could find comfort.  The trouble did not suddenly disappear.  He was still in a tough spot in life.  His enemies were still there.  His life was still a target, but he was able to find room even in the difficulty to know joy.

Paul and Silas in Philippi, Acts 16 (beaten, publically humiliated, stripped, imprisoned).

Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Colossians 3:16-18

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Ephesians 5:18b-20 says be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,;

1 Thessalonians 5:15-18 says See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.  Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

The answer is gratitude.  This is absolutely amazing and so incredibly simple.  If you want to be happy, and we all do, the answer is simply being grateful, beginning with God’s grace.  The more thankful we are, the happier we will be.  David was filled with gratitude for what God had done for him and for what he believed God was about to do.  His trust and faith in God and God’s goodness gave him room to be grateful and gave him reason to rejoice.

But saying it and doing it are two different things.  We live in a world that connects happiness to – wild living, having lots of stuff, having lots of money, being famous, being powerful, or being comfortable.  And yet, we know of people who should be happy, have every reason, even good reasons, and they are not.  Then, there are those who should not be happy, those who are living in poverty or under oppression or those who are suffering with illness, those who have lost or those who have little hope for a better day, and they are still able to be find expressions of happiness, in spite of their circumstances

This does not make sense unless we realize something about the gift of life.  It is a gift.  Every day is a gift.  Every day is full of opportunities, even if very small ones, to live life better.  Every day is a day full of opportunities to know love, to remember love, to share love.  Every day is a day to grow in wisdom, understanding, faith, and learning.  Every day is a day to discover grace, but it is not always easy to see the gift, especially if your are in quarantine.

Except, David discovered the key.  He is not glad bad things are happening to him or that his life is at risk.  He is not happy about being in that mess.  Who can be grateful for violence, pain, or loss?

The key is that even in those circumstances, he was still able to be grateful forsomething.  God was still with him in faithfulness and love, even in the midst of his trouble.  We do not need to be grateful FOR everything to find happiness, but we do need to be able to be grateful IN everything to find happiness.

I don’t know if you have ever noticed how many people are consumed by negativity.  We may be there ourselves sometimes.  Everything may seem to try to kill our happiness or erode our spirits – lack of respect or love, the financial times, or work and family pressures.  There is a flood of difficulty out there and most of it is out of our control.

But God who created all the universe is with us.  We have blessings upon blessings if we will look.  Each breath is a gift.

Grateful people are fundamentally kinder, more generous, more forgiving, more loving, more compassionate, more cheerful, more peaceful, and less irritable.

When we are truly thankful, genuinely grateful, we act differently.  This is God’s purpose, to make us different people, better people – all of the time, not just once or twice a week.

It may not make sense to the world, but we are not here to conform to the expectations of this world.  We are here to rejoice in God with one another.  We are here to share in the gift of this world and this life with each other.  We are here to find what God has done for us and to be thankful.

As we look to recommit and rededicate ourselves to the work of building the Kingdom of God through Farmville Presbyterian church for next year, it is my prayer that you will do this with full hearts for what God has done for us and for what we may in turn do for others to the glory of God, today and every day.  Amen.