Second Reformed Church

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Review: "The Happy Christian"

I have to start out by confessing that I have a problem with the word “happy.”  And when I see books about being “happy,” I tend to let out an exasperated sigh.  My reasoning is this:  I draw a distinction between being “happy” and being “joyful.” 

I consider being “happy” to be a fleeting, unstable emotional state, which I would usually say I am not and don’t put much hope or desire in.  Being “joyful,” however, is a state of permanence in which 
I believe every Christian ought to find him or herself because it is founded and grounded in the work of Jesus Christ.

Although this book is titled, The Happy Christian:  Ten Ways to be a Joyful Believer in a Gloomy World, by the subtitle and the book’s text, the substance of what he is talking about is why Christians are joyful.  He describes what he means thusly:  Christian happiness is a God-centered, God-glorifying, and God-given sense of God’s love that is produced by a right relationship to God in Christ and that produces loving service to God and others.” (xix, italics his).

His ten ways to encourage this are:

First, he says we ought to look at the facts and put our feeling in their place, asking ourselves why we are thinking and feeling the way we are and comparing them with the actual facts of the matter.

In this chapter, he distinguished between Norman Vincent Peal’s “positive thinking,” which tends to deny the reality of the pain and suffering that is real in the world, and what he is advocating, a “positive psychology.”

Second, he says we ought to focus on the true and beautiful (Philippians 4:8), and avoid the speculative negativity especially found in the so-called “news media.”

In this chapter, one of the things he encourages is that ministers do “more wooing than warning” (38).  By this he means that preaching should center on the beauty and glory of God, not the threats of God’s Wrath – though it is not to be neglected.  While I agree, I don’t like the word “woo” – it conjures up images of dishonesty and weakness to me.

Third, he encourages us to rest in the finished work of Jesus and not, as Keith Green once put it, “we get so wrapped up in the work of the Lord that we forget the Lord of the work.”

Fourth, he encourages us to present Christ, not Christians, and to look at each other as those for whom Christ died – who are being transformed into His Image, rather than complain about the sin and failure of other Christians.

Fifth, while we ought not to forget the past, and we must live in the present, we are to be eschatologically-minded people – with the great hope of that final day and the restoration of all things blazoned across our minds, and be focused on that.

Sixth, he says we should take note of the “common grace” of God exhibited throughout the Creation, including in the lives of non-believes.

Seventh, he argues that, although there is a place for constructive criticism, we ought to be a people who seek out – truthfully and appropriate – ways to praise and affirm others.  This idea is one that especially struck me as a pastor, and I am going to purposefully seek out reasons to affirm each member of our congregation and to be thankful for them.

Eighth, he explains how joyful it is to give.  I believe I have this gift – I love to give to others – especially to give books and other things that will help them in their growth in Christ-likeness.  Although I still hold onto my “stuff” and worry in ways I ought not, I know the joy of giving and pray that God will loosen my grip on things and increase my faith in Him, that I can give more to His Glory.

Ninth, he talks about the goodness of work.  In this, he does not mean to say that rest is bad – in fact, he says it is a necessary, God-honoring good.  But, it is better to work to the glory of God – and all lawful work can be God-glorifying Christian “ministry” – and working for the glory of God is greater and makes the Christian more happy that settling for pleasure, so-called, that is against God’s Will.  For example, it is a greater joy to remain celibate until marriage than to engage in sexual encounters prior to marriage.

Tenth, he encourages us to engage with people who are of difference race, education, and social status to have the joy of knowing how God is working in a variety of types of people and, also, to expose – for the sake of killing – any prejudices and racism we may have.

In the conclusion, he explains that, although all he has recommended will lead to more joy, it will not do away with all sin and suffering.  Sin and suffering remain until Jesus returns, though, as God is pleased, we will grow in our faith and obedience and live lives of holiness more frequently and become all the more closer to the Image of Jesus, into Whose Image we are being transformed.

This is a very readable and encouraging book with many good ideas about how to live the joy the God has given us in Jesus Christ.  While some of the language is off-putting to me, I found it a profitable book and encourage others to read it as well.

[I received this book free for an honest review from Tyndale Publishing.  This review appears on my blog and] #TheHappyChristian

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