I read, many years ago, that real, lasting happiness is only found in the worship of God. John Piper calls it Christian hedonism. I latched onto this idea immediately. I had just become a Calvinist and Piper was one of my heroes. Not only that, but the concept looked sound, according to the Bible, which I viewed as a sort of instruction book for life at the time.
So I set about trying to find happiness in the worship of God. I was told, and I believed, that the two most important ways of touching God were reading the Bible devotionally and praying.
I gave it my all. I got up at six every morning to spend the first dark hour of the day ‘alone with God.’ I said prayers and wrote prayers and sang prayers. I tried all the spiritual disciplines. I fasted once every couple months. I preached in churches and on street corners. I studied old and new theological books. I did it all.
None of it worked.
Oh, I had some good times. Prayer would sometimes lift me into a deep level of connection with the divine. The Bible, especially the words of Jesus, would sometimes enrich my soul and wake up my spirit. But those times were exceptional. Rare. Adrenal, not coronary.
It became hard, so I tried harder. I did street evangelism and vowed to become a missionary to a scary Muslim country. But that made things worse.
I was not a hypocrite. I was honest. I honestly thought that true happiness could only be found in the ‘Christ centered’ life I was living. And that was my message as I preached in the churches and streets of Peterborough, Toronto, Welland, and, eventually, Pakistan. But I wasn’t experiencing it. I promised others that they would, and I made them believe I was. But I was mostly empty.
I don’t know when it changed. I don’t know when I started drifting away from the evangelical Calvinism I had so loved. But I eventually came to a startling realization.
He who loves, knows God.
Connection to the joy-giving source of life does not come from reading holy books a certain number of times. Spirituality is not measured by how many prayers you utter in the dark mornings while the world sleeps so sinfully. It does not come through sermons or songs or having the right theology or going to the right churches or temples or mosques. It comes from love.
And not just a general love. Not the effortless love that everyone has. Not the love that is willing to protect friends and family. It comes from the powerful, Christ-borne love that strives to protect enemies. The love that is never willing to punish, but to forgive and reconcile an infinite amount of times. The love that paves the narrow road that leads to life.
And then what happened?
When most people talk about their Christian journey, they usually emphasize their struggles. How they still fight against depression and sin and their commitment to live a Jesus life. How they still can’t seem to hold into the joy of God in a consistent way.
I don’t talk like that anymore. Because my happiness is finally real. I found it buried in a field, and I went out and sold everything I had for it. I took it home and put it in my heart. I no longer experience long periods of darkness and depression punctuated by flashes of joy. Now it’s long, extended flashes of joy, once in a while punctuated with down-time. It wasn’t religion or Christianity or positive thinking that changed me. It was love. Just love. It makes many of the old songs I sang in my fundamentalist Sunday School so much more powerful than I could have ever imagined:
And I’m so happy,
So very happy,
I’ve got the love of Jesus in my heart.