My friend Brenda was on the television being interviewed about happiness. There she explained the difference between hedonic happiness and eudemonic happiness. She said that hedonic happiness is found in instant gratification whereas eudemonic happiness is found in having a life filled with purpose. Hedonic happiness is found through partying and pleasure and having a good time. Eudemonic happiness is found in living for something or someone bigger than yourself and by having meaningful relationships with people. Hedonic happiness does not last very long and eudemonic happiness is what we should be striving for.
As I watched this clip of Brenda talking it occurred to me that Christianity has so much eudemonic happiness to offer. It invites us to be a part of a story that stretches from infinity past to infinity future. It offers us an intimate relationship with the God of the universe and his people. We can live for something bigger than ourselves. God even uses our lives, words and prayers in the extending his kingdom.
God often redirects our lives in ways we never expected
King David is now settled in his capital, Jerusalem. He has brought the Ark to the city. He has built his palace. The Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies. He is very conscious that God has been good to him.
As he contemplates his situation, he seems to have a very good idea. ‘I am living in a house made of cedar, and the Ark of the Lord is in a tent. I should build a house for God.’ When he shares this idea with the prophet Nathan, Nathan also thinks this is a good idea. But then God informs Nathan that this is not actually his plan. Sometimes even the best plans, made with the best motives, are not actually what God will have us do. God may redirect our plans in ways that we have never imagined. Many people have been sure that God was calling them to one area of service, only to have the door closed in front of their face. God had something else in mind!
God always does more for us than we ever expected
God often redirects our plans and always does for us more than we can imagine. God is about to inform David about the purpose he has him.
When does the story of David begin? The story of David’s life did not begin when we are introduced to the shepherd-boy whose dad thought that he could never be a candidate for king. David’s story goes back to the book of Genesis, to Jacob blessing his sons and prophesying that from the tribe of Judah would come a king (49:10). In fact, David’s story goes back before that to before the foundation of the world, when God planned, the establishment of his kingdom. We do not play David’s unique role in the Bible’s story line, nevertheless God choose us before the foundation time (Ephesians1:4). He has prepared works in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). God’s story involves us, and so our story is eternal.
When does the story of David end? You could read of the death of David in 1 Kings (1 Kings 2:10). But the story of David continued. Remember the words of angel Gabriel to Mary, ‘You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David …’ (Luke 1:31-33). Think of Jesus entering Jerusalem and the people crying out, ‘Blessed in the coming kingdom of our Father David’ (Mark 11:10). The life of David pointed forward to his descendant, Jesus. Indeed, in the very last book in our Bibles the cosmic Christ declares, ‘I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright morning star’ (Revelation 22:16). While we may not be an ancestor of Jesus, we are destined to rule with him for all eternity. God’s story involves us, so our story is eternal.
Clearly David’s life, and ours, is a part of a greater story. What eudemonic happiness David must have experienced as he contemplated that God was going to use him as part of his eternal plans. He lived for a cause bigger than his little self. David saw the future through a glass darkly. We have been given an even bigger view than he. We have seen more of the story unfold.
David wanted to build a house for God, but God says that he will build house (a dynasty) for David. Our God is so different from the gods of the ancient near east. The kings of the ancient near east built temples in payment for the blessing of their gods. God has blessed this shepherd-boy, David, but he does not need David to build a temple in payment. God wants nothing in return but the opportunity to pour out more blessing. God does not want us to even try and pay him back!
God is not only exceedingly gracious to David, he is spectacularly kind to all of his beloved! ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’ (1 Corinthians 2:9).
God brings us blessing through the Son of David
Old Testament prophecies often work at a number of levels. You see the mountain on the horizon but when you reach the peak you see that there is a bigger mountain on another horizon. Some of the prophecy in this passage points ahead to David’s son, Solomon, and the kings in that line, but more of it points to the Son of David, Jesus. ‘I will be his father, and he shall be my son’ (19) is especially true of Jesus (and these words are echoed at Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration). Solomon will be the son who builds the temple, but Jesus refers to his body of God’s temple. Jesus’ body is a temple that will destroyed and raised up in three days (John 2:19). It is through Jesus that God’s manifest presence is experienced. Solomon will be given a throne, but it is only Jesus’ throne that will be established for ever.
The mention of the son doing wrong and being punished seems to fit Solomon but not Jesus. However, I think it does point to Jesus, for Jesus takes our sin upon himself. In a very real sense God does ‘punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands’ (14).
Indeed, it is through this Son of David, whose eternal kingdom is established as he is punished for our sins, that we enter into God’s big plan. He is the one who enables us to become beloved of God. He is the king who makes us his co-heirs. How exciting it is that he chooses failed people like us to be his ambassadors? How amazing that the Son of David uses our prayers, our words and our lives in building his church?
Our hearts rejoice as we thank God for his kindness
My friend Brenda did her PhD on gratitude. That’s why she can speak so well on the subject of real happiness. For a thankful heart is great medicine for the soul. On that television program, Brenda said that we should cultivate happiness in the day to day of our lives. David delights in the fact that he is a part of God’s big story, and then furthers his delight by opening his mouth with a prayer of gratitude.
David is amazed by grace. ‘Who am I?’ Like David, we brought nothing to the table. God has reached down and rescued us from a life of emptiness. His love adopted us when we were spiritual orphans. He pursued us when we were spiritual rebels. He has forgiven us, cleansed us, made us holy and treats us as his beloved children. Though we let him down every day, he continues to delight over us. ‘Who am I?’
As well as gratitude there is praise. ‘There is none like you, and there is no God beside you.’ There is only one God who rules, only one story that really matters, and only one cause worth every fibre of our being.
Conclusion—Do you want real pleasure?
Recently I was talking to two young men who once seemed to walk close to God but who are now living very far from him. I asked each of them, ‘is it not true that you were happiest when you were walking with God?’ They both said they were. I then explained that people often choose to walk at a distance from God because they think that he is the enemy of our pleasure. But this is a lie. It is only Jesus who can offer us life in all its fulness. They actually agreed with me!
But it is not only the backslider who fails to enjoy the pleasures of God. I often feel convicted about the fact that I am so foolish. We will have gone a whole day without even thinking about God, but rather than approach his throne of grace to find refreshment in our hour of need, we go vegetate in front of the television. Such behaviour doesn’t revive us or strengthen us or bring us real happiness. We listen to Jesus command to forgive as we have been forgiven, but we nurse old bitterness, even though bitterness is an acid that destroys its own container. We hear God’s challenges, but we retreat to safety. We demand that some special person complete us, but only Jesus can. Without Jesus we get to the top of the ladder and yet don’t feel fulfilled. We seek all the world has to offer, but the world leaves us empty. We settle for comfort rather than adventure. We are so slow to surrender our petty ambitions, but God wants us to be a part of a bigger story!
These promises remind us that our lives can be incorporated into a story that has its origins in eternity past and travels into eternity future. We are being invited to live for something bigger than ourselves.
As Brenda spoke about living for something or someone greater than ourselves her eyes lifted to heaven. I think it was the subtlest piece of evangelism I have ever seen (actually Brenda talked about her faith but the editor cut it from the program). You see she knows that he is the source of true happiness! The Son of David died that we could truly live. The Son of David lives, and we can live with him. The Son of David is building his church and has given each of us a role to play. He is the source of true eudemonic happiness!