It’s on coffee cups, greeting cards, and posters of cute little baby animals. It’s one of the most important words in the Bible, yet one of its least understood and unpracticed concepts: joy.
Christians, by and large, do not seem to be terribly happy people, at least if you give any serious thought to the stereotypes that exist about us. We’re mean, intolerant, hateful, spiteful… but not terribly happy (unless, it seems, we’re telling a particular group they’re going to hell). And while it’s important that we realize stereotypes do not equal reality, it’s still worth considering: why do non-believers have the impression that we lack joy—and just as importantly, how do I actually become a joyful Christian?
In The Happy Christian, David Murray wants to help readers recover a positive faith—to help us “return to the overall positive balance of biblical truth and the elevating experience of real Christianity” (xxi). To do this, he offers ten ways we can increase our joy:
Happy Facts: Facts > Feelings
Happy Media: Good News > Bad News
Happy Salvation: Done > Do
Happy Church: Christ > Christians
Happy Future: Future > Past
Happy World: Everywhere Grace > Everywhere Sin
Happy Praise: Praise > Criticism
Happy Giving: Giving > Getting
Happy Work: Work > Play
Happy Differences: Diversity > Uniformity
More than “positive thinking”
If you’re unfamiliar with David Murray, you should know: he’s not on a mission to become the next Robert Schuller or Joel Osteen. The Happy Christian, therefore, is not a rehash of The Power of Positive Thinking, or my personal (fake) favorite, Get Happy, Stupid! What Murray offers is not an encouragement to think positively, but realistically:
The kind of thinking I’m advocating is not so much positive thinking but realistic thinking, thinking that faces the facts (even the most unpleasant and unwanted facts), deals with the facts, uses the facts, and reframes the facts to move thoughts and feelings into a more appropriate perspective, resulting in a more positive mood. It’s all about reasoning and persuading on the basis of evidence and truth. And its foundation is not faith in self, but faith in God. (21)
Consider how what Murray suggests here changes how we view recent events close to home, such as those faced by the owners of a pizza parlor in Indiana who were forced to close their restaurant due to threats as a result of a hit piece on the local news that exploded online. Many Christians look at what’s going on in America—to say nothing of the serious persecution of Christians in the Middle East and beyond—and lament.
While, obviously, there is cause for great concern (for the social and political left’s agenda logically ends in a form of fascism), we need to look at events like these in light of what Scripture says. We should not be surprised when these events happen, for the world hates those who are like Christ (in as much as we are genuinely like him, and not just being grade-a jerk stores). But we should also remember that Jesus promised hostility and persecution—and we would also be wise to remember that while our afflictions are real, they are temporary. The hope of Christians should not be a Christian America, or a Christian Canada or United Kingdom, for that matter. Instead, our hope is in Christ and in his kingdom. While it isn’t easy, when Christ is our hope, our joy increases, even as grieve what’s going on around us.
Challenging deficient anthropology through common grace wisdom
What I appreciate most about the book is Murray’s grasp of common grace wisdom. After all, “The Christian should see far more beauty in the world than the non-Christian” (119). The same is true with, well, truth. Therefore, readers will notice right away that, in addition to Scripture, he frequently refers to extra-biblical material in support of his conclusions—scientific studies and secular books, in particular. Here are a couple of ways this approach—seeing far more beauty and truth in the world—helps us:
1. It challenges our deficient anthropology. We are right to be skeptical about much of what we see in the world, for a good deal is suspect. However, we cannot forget that, though fallen and lost in sin, every single man, woman and child is still made in the image of God. However stained and marred the image is, we still get a glimpse of the reality, usually through the moral actions and right conclusions of non-believers. Thus, it challenges us to think better of those around us, even as we recognize their right knowledge condemns them (a la Romans 1:18-23).
2. It encourages us to see more of God’s grace in the world. Along the same lines, just as we need to embrace the reality that all humans—regardless of our standing before God—are still made in his image and likeness, we would be wise to remember that Gods grace is bestowed upon all. Remember, God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” alike (Matthew 5:45). Thus, we should recognize all true things as true and receive what is true with thanks to God (which, incidentally, leads to greater joy…).
Joy moves and spreads
“A Christian pessimist is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms,” Murray writes (93). More than that, a Christian pessimist doesn’t move forward. It doesn’t spread beneficially. But Christian hope always looks forward. It doesn’t long for the past, or fear the end of the world, but longs for the beginning of eternity, even as we work to help those suffering in the present. After all,
Christians have a future hope … that should form a much larger part of our conscious thoughts than our present or our past. Our prevailing viewpoint is forward, onward, advance. (92)
If we want to see the gospel go forward, if we want to see true, lasting joy spread, we need to embrace that sense of joy for ourselves. Let’s recapture that viewpoint Murray describes. Let’s, as he puts it, beat non-Christians at the happiness game because we can. We have the greatest reason to hope in the entire universe! We need to remind ourselves of reality. A great way to start is by reading The Happy Christian and put the wisdom contained within its pages to work.
Title: The Happy Christian: Ten Ways to Be a Joyful Believer in a Gloomy World
Author: David Murray
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2015)