“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.
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.
When the Holy Spirit or a family member pointed out an ungodly attitude about my situation, I often justified it instead of repenting.
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:
Am I breaking one of God’s commands by action or inaction?
Am I receptive to suggestions or criticisms about my behavior and attitudes?
Am I trusting God completely, regardless of the loneliness of the desert of disappointments, or the choppiness of the sea of troubles?
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.”