Church Army - May 2010 - Peter Graystone Be Happy!
Church Army's PETER GRAYSTONE considers why some of us don't appear to enjoy life, and offers some tips for finding real contentment
I asked someone from church: "Are you happy?"
She reacted like she had bumped into a lamppost. "No. But as a Christian you're not meant to be happy, are you? Instead, I try my hardest to be joyful."
"What's the difference?" I asked.
I sensed her becoming tearful. A lack of happiness and a lack of joy are just as miserable as each other in a Christian life. But sometimes Christians feel confused or guilty that they do not have the happiness they believe God should be bringing them, and so they invent 'joy' as an alternative, gritting their teeth as they declare how hard they strive to achieve it.
Last year I wrote a book called Be Happy! because I want people to go through life with a real sense of contentment. That is why I have put my faith in following Jesus Christ.
It is my belief that going through life accompanied by the living God can make you a happier person. Woman, man, child ... you!
I have joined the staff of Church Army because it is an organisation of people urgently seeking opportunities to take that good news to people who have absolutely no idea how vast is the love that God has for them.
Writing the book has led me to the conclusion that what this generation most needs to be rescued from is discontent – the feeling that somehow the hand you have been dealt is not good enough. And sadly I see that in churches almost as much as I see it in shopping centres.
The state of feeling ill at ease and hankering after more cannot possibly be how God intends his children to live. The most significant thing that God can do for this itchy, acquisitive generation is to make them glad to be alive. That is why I believe with all my heart in the salvation that Jesus can bring.
May I suggest three practical things that you can do this very day in order to start you thinking about how glad you are to be alive?
The first is: Stop for a moment before every meal. There's no need to say a single word. Instead, look at what you are about to eat and drink, with all its contrasting colours and textures, and anticipate the tastes that are on their way.
Think about whether you are grateful for this. If you are, who are you grateful to? What a world God has given us that has such delights in it!
The second is: Practise focusing on what you enjoy about people, thanking God that friendship and pleasure are possible in his good world.
Of course, some relationships can be impossibly difficult - there is no point in pretending that you will never be hurt again. But if you stop and think about what it is about particular people that lifts your spirits, you will find yourself thinking that the world is a richer place because they are alive in it.
And the third is: Lie in bed at the end of the day reflecting on good things that have happened, and register that they are part of the fascinating world God has spread out before us.
If you practise doing these things day after day, God will make you a happier person.
If you don't find content that way, there are plenty of people who will try to sell content to you. Many will persuasively tell you that you can find content in shiny, bleeping things.
It starts with very young children who discover hand-held, computerised, shiny, bleeping things. It escalates when adults are lured toward four-seater, shiny, bleeping things. Or four-ring-hob, shiny, bleeping things.
In High Wycombe, Debbie Orriss works for Church Army in a town centre church that is right next door to a huge shopping centre called, ironically, Eden. Debbie wants those who work and shop in the town to discover that the kind of content they are looking for cannot be bought, but can be discovered with no cost at all.
Her early days as an evangelist in that marketplace are full of plans. A beautiful Quiet Garden in the church offers a thought-provoking alternative to the hurly-burly of the daytime shops.
Street Angels, trained to offer help to those outside the clubs, offer a caring alternative to the chaos of the night-time binge.
Debbie and her colleagues are seeking ways not only to give people a rich experience of God when they venture into the church building, but also to ease the Christians out of the church to share God's love on its busy doorstep. They know that meeting Jesus can change the way people find happiness for ever.
Shiny, bleeping things – or spiritual contentment. It is the choice God has given us on this magnificent, unpredictable planet. Choose wisely!
- Peter Graystone is the author of Be Happy! A 40 day journey to contentment (Canterbury Press, £9.99).