The Connection Between Holiness and Happiness

“What makes a people holy, will make them happy.” When I encountered this statement in Mathew Henry’s commentary on Zephaniah 3: 14-20, my first response was, “Huh.” I’d never heard that equation before, that a state of holiness and a state of happiness are shared ground. Past seasons of unhappiness paraded through my mind like:

  • The years when I longed for a teaching job but could not find one
  • Some long-term conflict situations in churches where my husband and I served
  • Sitting home with pneumonia several winters in a row

Henry’s statement caused me to view those times with fresh eyes. I wondered how I stepped away from holy ground and its privileges, which Henry says include happiness. Digging deeper into the chapter, I found clues in verses 1-6 where the prophet compares the sinful behavior of God’s people in Jerusalem and the righteous actions of God. Look at the contrast between verse 2 and verse 6.

(Speaking of Jerusalem) “She obeys no one, she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the Lord, she does not draw near to her God” Zeph. 3:2 NIV

“The Lord within her is righteous; he does no wrong. Morning by morning he dispenses his justice and every new day he does not fail…” Zeph. 3:6 NIV

Verse two rang with conviction as I considered my behavior during those unhappy seasons. I used the failing of the Israelites as a personal checklist.

  • Obedience

Truthfully, I didn’t comply with God’s commands about several things. For example, I didn’t fix my mind on all the lovely and true things God graced into my life (Philippians 4:8-9).  Instead, I focused on troubles and disappointments. Rather than counting trials as joy and character builders (James 1:2), I fumed, fussed and moped, not all the time, but too much.

  • Accepting Correction

When the Holy Spirit or a family member pointed out an ungodly attitude about my situation, I often justified it instead of repenting.

  • Trusting God

I knew many verses, like Jeremiah 29:11 and Psalm 84:11, plainly told me that God’s hand is generous toward me and that he will never keep good things from his children.  I questioned the truth of those promises being specifically for me. I felt jealousy when God granted the things I desired, to others, but not me. I wanted answers but God wanted my unwavering trust.

  • Drawing Near to God

Typically, I spent more time talking to people about my troubles and sorrows then communing with God, listening carefully for his voice and insights.  Times of pain are the times when we should pull our chairs in closer to God than ever. Sometimes I did that, but not consistently.

My conclusion?  I was the architect of my own unhappiness, not my circumstances, health or other people. Me. God made tables for me in the wilderness (Psalm 78:19) but I didn’t dine with him nearly enough.

Dear one, if you find yourself in a place of great unhappiness right now, use Zephaniah’s yardstick as a measure of your own attitudes and responses to life. God wants your feet planted firmly on holy ground, in His presence, where there is fullness of joy. Ask yourself the following:

  1. Am I breaking one of God’s commands by action or inaction?
  2. Am I receptive to suggestions or criticisms about my behavior and attitudes?
  3. Am I trusting God completely, regardless of the loneliness of the desert of disappointments, or the choppiness of the sea of troubles?
  4. Am I deliberately drawing nearer to him, spending more time in prayer in the Word?

What makes you holy, will make you happy. Can you see it? Ask God to create a clean heart and renew a right spirit in you. (Psalm 51) Jesus promised us troubles in this world but in the same breath assured us that he overcame them. I don’t think he equated overcoming with instantaneous problem resolution. Instead, I think he meant that our spirits can soar above whatever circumstances attempt to drag us off the high, narrow road down into the pits.

That’s why I love Psalm 103 and often say it out loud when I sense I’m being tempted into an unhappy state. I encourage you to use this one or another similar verse attesting to God’s goodness. Use your mighty sword of the Spirit, as soon as you find yourself slipping off the holy ground.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”

 

 

Loving God Well-Dangers of a Stagnant Heart

 

Crusty is not a word I ever want anyone to use as a descriptive of me. Except for freshly baked bread, there are more negative connotations of that word than positives.

“Promises are like pie crusts- easily made, easily broken.”

The “Upper Crust- “referring to society’s elite

“…a crusty old man….”   Popular descriptive in fiction of a grumpy guy

“Oh my, that’s quite a crust there!”  My eye doctor commenting on my

nasty eye infection.

Webster’s dictionary defines the word two ways; either an irritable older person or something with a hard, outer layer or coating.  Even the Urban Dictionary uses it in a negative way which I cannot adequately describe to you as it involves language that would shock my keyboard. The point is, I’m not the only one who thinks of being crusty as a negative quality.

Turns out, God’s not a fan of that quality in humans either, according to Zephaniah 1:12. In this case, the King James version comes most close to the original Hebrew thought.

And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees: that say in their heart, The Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil.”

“Settled on their lees,” is an interesting phrase that made me excited when I read it’s meaning.  According to Jamieson, Fausset and Brown’s commentary, it refers to a hard crust that forms at the bottom of a wineskin that is long left undisturbed. Can you see it? God is saying he will punish hardened, crusty folk who think that since they’ve gotten away with sin so long, God apparently doesn’t care.

The Amplified Bible version also captured my heart, putting a slightly different color on the Hebrew words.

“It will come about at that time
That I will search Jerusalem with lamps
And I will punish the men
Who [like old wine] are stagnant in spirit…”

While old wines today are valuable, due to bottling technology, in ancient times, old wine could be become very stagnant with a nasty crust on the bottom. That’s quite an interesting word choice God uses.

From the outside, old wineskins may not have looked completely different from newer ones but when you touched them the difference became obvious. Aged wineskins become very brittle and can burst as the wine continues to ferment in them, creating more yeast and expanding its volume. Do you understand better now what Jesus meant in Matthew 9:17?

“Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved”(NIV).

When I put all this knowledge together, I came away with several conclusions about God’s view of the human heart.

  • A crusty, stagnant heart displeases God.  Proverbs 4:23 warns me to guard my heart because everything I do, flows from it. Therefore, God determined to punish these hard-hearted folks in Judah. The dreadful fruit flowing out of their lives reflected their sinful hearts.
  • God will not pour fresh wine into brittle wineskins. God is always on the move in billions of ways we can and cannot see. Amazingly, he chooses to partner with flawed humans to fulfill his purposes on earth. Although he accepts our imperfectness if we remain submissive and soft, he will not force the details of new things he’s doing into complacent, sour hearts. His new work every day is like the best, most flavorful of wines. Jesus intimates that only a fool would pour beautiful new wine into a stagnant, brittle wineskin.
  • Delayed discipline does not equal no discipline. Time and time again, the settled Israelites made the mistake of thinking they could continue in sin unpunished. I wonder if they turned the stories of Miriam’s episode with leprosy and the earth opening and swallowing Korah and his rebellious followers alive, or the venomous snakes God used in the desert to teach complainers a lesson? Did they legendize these true stories and forget that God’s nature is justice?

 

They are a cautionary tale to me to faithfully pray as David did in Psalm 139:23-24.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
 Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (NLT).

There’s lots of things I hope people remember about me when I’m gone, particularly my grandchildren. Crusty, is not one of them. I’ve resolved many times that by God’s grace and the Spirit’s work in me, I will never become one of those folks who make pastors and deacons roll their eyes and young people groan under their breath.

My goal is that they will recall a woman whose wineskin stayed soft and poured out sweet refreshment on those around her until her dying breath. For someone whose natural character leans towards spicy hummus, this will be an ongoing battle.

 

 

Trying To Love God With A Divided Heart

Growing up Baptist in the 1960’s and 70’s meant no movies, dancing, playing cards, smoking or drinking. Externally, I obeyed these rules, but internally, I chomped at the bit, certain I missed out on great times. On my own in college, I followed friends to bars and nightclubs and learned to enjoy different forms of alcohol.  I never took up smoking (it tasted horrible!) and I never once became intoxicated. I formed a new set of morals that seemed to be very high road compared to the low road on which many of my college friends lived.

Sundays, I attended a church near the college, logging extra spiritual points for getting up early and going, even when I stayed out late the night before. Although I didn’t consciously think this at the time, I believe that I thought I lived the best of both worlds. I enjoyed all the security of knowing my heart belonged to Christ while still kicking up my heels with some of the world’s pleasures.

What fruit did I produce during that season of life? I earned a bachelor’s degree. That’s it. Unlike high school, I led no one to Christ, nor did I disciple anyone.  I dare say, many college folks who intersected with me didn’t know I was a God-follower.  How would they?  I was home from church on Sundays before most of them rolled out of bed and never once invited a soul to attend with me.

The illusion that we can live with one foot in the presence of God and the other dancing with the world, is just that, an illusion. The prophet Zephaniah dealt with people in Judah, much farther down the road with this divided kind of lifestyle than myself, yet who knows how far I might have gone had the Holy Spirit not grabbed onto me like a tenacious Rottweiler?  They still worshiped in the Jewish temple while offering their children in the fires of Moloch and Baal.  I doubt that’s where they started, but it’s certainly where they ended up.

Maybe it began with a house god on the kitchen window by the herbs. Or perhaps their entrance to evil living started as a spectator at one of the many pagan festivals the godless nations around Judah hosted. Small sins grew to large ones over time until they became as perverse as their pagan neighbors.

I’m not endorsing legalism. That’s a different sin in which we adhere to rules more stridently than we passionately seek God. There is, however, a call on the life of all who profess Jesus as Savior and Lord, to love God best, before anyone or anything. Then, our obedience to him flows out of love and gratitude, not obligation. Honestly, it’s not as complicated as we make it. I spend time with God in scripture and prayer then listen. After that, I do what he says and stop doing what he dislikes. Ancient Judah forgot how to do that.

Zephaniah is the last prophet, in a series of nine, that warns God’s people of impending doom if they do not repent.

“I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and I will cut off from this place the remnant of Baal and the name of the idolatrous priests along with the priests,  those who bow down on the roofs
to the host of the heavens, those who bow down and swear to the Lord
and yet swear by Milcom (the king of Judah) those who have turned back from following the Lord, who do not seek the Lord or inquire of him”
Zephaniah 1:3-5.

Like me, I think those folks thought they could ride the fence between God and the world, but that’s an untenable life. Matthew Henry, in his commentary on Zephaniah 1 says, “If Satan have half, he will have all; if the Lord have but half, he will have none. Neglect of God shows impiety and contempt.”

Obedience to God is an all or nothing thing and will look different for you than it does for me.  This is the problem with rule-oriented living. One set of rules does not fit all. For example, playing card games with face cards doesn’t lead me into sin. For my grandfather, a reformed gambler, those cards had completely different meaning.  This is why the Pharisees had like a bajillion rules, covering all bases for all people all the time. That’s some crazy living.

On occasion, I dip my toes in sin’s pool with poor media choices, but I found that I recognize quickly now when I’m grieving God and step out. There’s a sensitivity to the Spirit of God I want to develop even more deeply where I won’t stick my toes in at all.

Zephaniah’s first chapter is not just a prophecy against wicked Judah, it is a call to assess our walks of holiness, as 21st century believers. The pagan culture around Judah perceived THE God of heaven and earth as just another god because of the behavior of his people. What are the godless in our society understanding about our God by watching you and me? What are the people following behind us in the body of Christ learning about being a God-follower  by observing me and you?