He Seeks Our Happiness

He Seeks Our Happiness

I have inserted endless disclaimers into my prayers over the years. On thousands of occasions I have prayed something like this: “Lord, it is the desire of my heart (or the desire of the heart of the person for whom I am interceding) that such-and-such happen. I ask you to grant that desire, but only if it is within the scope of your will. If you can work things out so that your highest will can be done and this thing can occur, then please do it. Nevertheless, in the end may your will be done.”

That’s a perfectly legitimate prayer. My unspoken assumption in many such prayers, however, is that God’s highest will often is not something that will bring the greatest happiness to me or to the person for whom I am praying. So I ask God to somehow work things out so that my friend or family member can come out of this situation with acceptable levels of happiness. My heart seems to believe something like this: Yes, I understand intellectually that God loves this person infinitely more than I do, and he wants the highest good for this person. But God’s highest will—i.e., what would happen if “Your will be done” is actually accomplished in this case—likely will not leave my friend in as happy a situation as my friend might prefer, because God’s highest will often is more austere and Spartan and grave than what she would choose.

After all, look what happened with Jesus. Three times he prayed that he would not have to suffer. But his underlying affirmation and surrender, “Not my will but yours be done (Luke 22:42),” led him in the end to a Roman cross! If that’s what happened with God’s own Son, what might happen to me when I pray a similar prayer of surrender?!


It is not risky to say, “Your will be done”

So often I fail to examine the entire picture. What did the “Father’s will,” painful as it was, bring about? Consider the following:

Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. . . —Philippians 2:9-11

Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. . .” —Matthew 28:18

I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”       —Revelation 5:11-13

We are told that Jesus, “. . . for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” —Hebrews 12:2

The Father’s will indeed! What many of us forget over and over again is that the Father loves us and delights in us infinitely more than human parents love their children, and he desires our happiness even more than we do!

Jesus surrendered to the Father’s will, and look what happened. Yes, he went through unimaginable suffering, but in the end he was able to look back and say, “Wow, was it ever worth it!”

And we can do the same.

We tend to focus on the adverse circumstances that loom before us. When I genuinely tell the Father that I’m willing for him to have his way, I often fear I may be in for painful and miserable times—I suspect that he’s not as interested in my happiness as I would want because he’s more into character building and stuff like that, and sometimes that really sucks!

Well, yes. But I want to proclaim here that the Father genuinely seeks your happiness. He adores you. You are his precious adopted child. He is joyful when you feel joy, and he is hurt when you feel pain. He knows the possible paths down which your life might go at this moment, and in most cases he can predict the path that will lead to your greatest happiness. That path may lead through suffering (or it may not); but if it does, you will be able to look back and say, “It was definitely worth it. I can see now that I became more like Jesus because of the suffering than I would have been without it!”


Happiness vs. Joy

A note about happiness: In this fallen, dark world, we are not guaranteed happiness. Happiness in this context is defined as pleasant circumstances—emotional, relational, familial, marital, parental, economic, aesthetic, health-related, psychosocial, or whatever.

Joy, on the other hand, is a function not of circumstances but of the inner presence of the Holy Spirit. Some of us may be privileged to lead lives that are extremely happy, while others of the Father’s children may end up living in sorrow. In the most miserable of circumstances, however, you are promised joy (assuming you accept it), because God’s Spirit is within you no matter what happens outwardly. You can live in ongoing, painful circumstances that leave you extremely unhappy, while at the same time you experience deep joy through the indwelling Holy Spirit. It’s something our Lord gives that the world cannot take away, just as he gives peace and other fruit of the Spirit.

. . . You will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. —John 16:20

You have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.        —John 16:22

. . . My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. . . —John 14:27

Joy, then, is a given. Happiness is not—at least in this life. In the end, however, after spending a few decades on this planet, we are promised trillions of years of happiness and joy. Such a deal!



God Desires Your Happiness

Many believers think God is interested only in their inner joy and doesn’t care about their external happiness. Not true!

He’s your Daddy! He adores you! He wants your happiness much more than even you do (sometimes, for various dysfunctional reasons, we unconsciously cling to misery). Given free rein in your life, he will work things for your greatest happiness to the extent that it’s possible to do so while simultaneously leading toward your maximum joy for eternity. If, for example,  your great desire is to pursue a career in dance or in drama or music or history or writing (all highly unemployable fields), you should certainly pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance; but unless you are given an unequivocal red flag (which very well might happen), go for it! In most cases, your Savior will be happy to help you achieve those desires. If you want more than anything else to marry a particular person, you should certainly pray for guidance, since it’s quite possible that there is someone much better for you whom you haven’t met; but unless you are given an unequivocal red flag, go for it! God is the ultimate romantic. He’s not a tyrant—what makes you happy makes him happy!

I believe the essential system under which we should act is this: Always have your spiritual “receiver” turned on and in good working condition (you probably know what life activities tend to block reception in your particular case), so that the Holy Spirit can give you a clear “Whoa!” or “Go!” when either is appropriate; and be sure you are committed to obeying his directions no matter how contrary to your desires they may be. Absent specific direction from your loving and all-wise Father, however, follow your own godly desires, your own godly creativity. In most cases, our Lord delights in seeing what we choose to do next, just as earthly parents love to watch our young children play and explore and create.

Remember, on the other hand, that he is smarter than you, and he knows more than you, and he can see all sorts of things down the road that you’re not aware of. It may be dangerous, all things considered, for you to take the path you want to follow right now, and he may send a loud “Whoa!” your way. But if that’s the case, just a little further down the road there likely is a turn-off that will lead you to deep happiness in a situation you hadn’t even considered.


For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure,  because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. —II Corinthians 4:17-18


Since he created human beings in the first place with the intent of giving their (unfallen) imaginations free rein on this planet, God does not frown on our daydreams or our valid desires or our long-term goals, any more than a human parent would frown on the legitimate desires of her children. If you would be incredibly happy in a particular career, or living in an especially beautiful place, or marrying a certain person, your heavenly Parent smiles on such dreams, and delights in helping you accomplish them. Although this assertion is contrary to a common doctrine that God has a specific will concerning every grand as well as trivial aspect of our lives, it is highly consistent with the opening chapters of Genesis in which the Creator expressly charges human beings to exercise their own creativity. One of the fundamental ideas behind our having free will is that God delights in sitting back and watching what we decide to do. It makes for a much more exciting and fun universe than one in which God has a specific purpose for every event in every second of our lives, and our task is to find what that purpose is. God is SO much bigger than that!

There is a caveat, however. In addition to exercising our creativity, we also are called to take up our crosses daily and follow Jesus. That statement does not mean God wants us all to be poor and miserable, as it is sometimes interpreted. It does imply, however, that we do well at all times to submit our desires humbly to our Lord. He often is tickled that we want to pursue even a particularly dodgy dream—in fact, he’ll help us pursue it! Sometimes, however, he says, “I’m happy that you submitted your will to me, because I have another way for you. It’s not what you’ve been wanting, but I promise you that, in the end, you’ll be much happier going down my path than you would seeking your own desires in this matter. I can’t tell you why, but I have demonstrated to you that I am trustworthy. Will you trust me in this?”


“Your will be done on earth”

Our Savior taught us to pray that the Father’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven.

What does that mean? Does it not, presumably, refer to the spiritual world? Yet God’s will is not being done in the spiritual realm anymore than it is in our earthly, physical realm—after all, there appears to be a widespread, ongoing rebellion of spiritual forces that are not willing to submit to the sovereignty of our Creator. So what kind of sense does it make for us to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven?

To decipher this conundrum it may be helpful to ask ourselves, What is the difference between the physical realm (approximately represented by earth in Jesus’ prayer) and the spiritual realm (approximately defined as heaven in Jesus’ prayer)? A major difference is that on earth God delegated to his creatures, human beings, a certain level of sovereign authority (cf. Genesis 1:26-28, 2:19-20, also Revelation 5:10, 20:6, 22:5; cf. also Psalm 8 and Hebrews 2:5-10). There is no indication that, in the spiritual realm (“in heaven”), sovereignty has been assigned to any other creature—God retains sole sovereignty in that dimension. On earth, however, in an incredible tour de force that has had mind-bending consequences for all of history, the Creator of all things assigned one of his creatures—Homo sapiens—to exercise sovereignty. One consequence of that momentous decision was that it required a human being, Jesus of Nazareth, to wrest back the scepter from the evil spiritual powers to whom humans ceded their authority. The price that the man Jesus paid to accomplish that transfer of power—his own suffering and death—is to be proclaimed throughout creation for all time, in praise to our Creator and to the One who willingly shed his blood in order to regain human sovereignty over this planet.

The significance of human sovereignty in this world is intimated in Jesus’ model prayer. God’s intentions will ultimately and unambiguously be accomplished “in heaven” (although for the time being there is still rebellion there), because God is in fact the only Sovereign in the spiritual realm. There was no delegation of authority. The situation on earth is different. God is overall Sovereign, but long ago he shared his sovereignty with human beings!


What is a human being, that you pay attention to him, or a son of a human (ben adam ‎ בֶן־אָ֜דָ֗ם) that you attend to him? You have made him a little lower than God  (וַתְּחַסְּרֵ֣הוּ מְּ֭עַט מֵאֱלֹהִ֑ים) and you have crowned him with glory and honor. You have made him sovereign over what you have made, and you have placed everything under his feet.  —Psalm 8:4-6, trans. BCM


The Father’s will cannot be done on earth, according to my understanding of scripture, until human beings say it should be so! That’s why it is so important that we humans pray for God’s will to be done on earth. His is the only will that ultimately counts in the spiritual realm (i.e., in heaven); but in this dimension of creation, that is, on earth, he has ceded a certain amount of authority to human beings. It is our choice. The good news is that the ultimate human being, Jesus of Nazareth, has already made his choice that the Father’s will be done here as it is in the spiritual realm, and therefore we can rest assured that, in the end, God will hold sway over the entire universe (see I Corinthians 15:24-26). But in the meantime, in the midst of the spiritual battle for this planet between God’s forces and the forces of evil, we human beings have an incredibly significant part to play as we proclaim, in the authority that we were given at the beginning of creation, “Yahweh’s will is to be done here! We bow our knees to him! Let all that is within us, let all that is in creation, proclaim that Yahweh God is sovereign, and specifically that Yahweh God is sovereign on earth! Praise him!”


God’s will is good

The glorious promise I want to communicate in this essay is that the Father’s will is good! He wants your happiness! He loves more than we love. His choice is unequivocally for our happiness. There are many situations where we won’t be able to experience that happiness as we might want to experience it, just as Jesus’ prayer of relinquishment led him to a cross. But that’s not God’s highest desire for us: If he can work things out to avoid such evil, he will do so, because he loves us without measure and he doesn’t want us to suffer any more than we want our children to suffer. He won’t force us to yield our wills to him, since he was serious when he gave us the incredible freedom that enabled our sovereignty in this age; it has to come from our own choices. Yet if we do yield our wills and our futures to him, we are guaranteed the best possible outcome. He is that trustworthy! Again, look what God did with Jesus’ surrender! Yes, there was incredible suffering on a Roman cross; but when you have a chance after the resurrection to have a chat just between you and Jesus, ask him if he feels his eternal joy is worth the suffering of the cross; I assure you his answer will be resoundingly affirmative.

Since God is even more concerned with my happiness than I am (joy is already guaranteed), I am free to pray sincerely, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Increasingly, I do not pray specific prayers for my friends and family, even though I understand clearly that our Father delights in our making known to him the desires of our hearts. Increasingly, I believe that, when a friend is afflicted by a very specific problem, I have the option to request from God the desire of my heart about the situation, and he will certainly smile on my request because he loves my friend and he loves me; but I also have the option to dispense with those specific requests and simply to pray, “Your will be done,” because I understand more and more that my Lord’s will encompasses the very best, the happiest outcome for my friend. If God has his highest will in my friend’s situation, my friend, in the end, will be maximally happy and maximally filled with joy, even if s/he must go through continued misery in the meantime.

Even though the following words were spoken by Jeremiah to a specific people on a specific occasion, I believe they reveal the eternal reality of God’s heart toward all of us:


For surely I know the plans I have for you, says Yahweh, plans for your welfare and not for harm,

to give you a future with hope. —Jeremiah 29:11