I am a mother to two preschool boys. And I’ve found in parenting, there always comes a point where we have to choose between our child’s happiness and our child’s ability to become a contributing member of society in the future. In other words, sometimes it is more important for them to be unhappy and learn obedience and respect of authority than to be happy and turn out to be a brat. Granted, in a perfect world, our children would be happy being obedient and respectful but that’s probably a little much to ask for two preschoolers. Understanding which battle to fight that strikes the balance between those two things is a constant struggle for the parent. However, one of the hardest things I’ve learned in parenting is how similar my dealings with my children are to God’s dealings with me! Oh why can’t I be happy being obedient and respectful of what God desires for me!!
I’m not out on a limb making that comparison though. Jesus does the same thing in Matthew 7:9-11 “Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” And clearly that passage tells us that God will give us good things. So doesn’t that mean God just wants us to be happy? I mean, we always love to reference other verses like Jeremiah 29:11 (For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope), and Psalm 37:4 where God will give us the desires of our heart. And so we take those verses and say, “Follow your heart! And God will give you all that you desire!” “Ask and it will be given to you!” “God wants you to be happy!” But what kind of theology is that? Where does that lead us in life and in our walk with God? Is that what God really intends from those verses? Does He want us to be happy?
Well, even though we as earthly parents desire good things for our children, we still must be more concerned with their obedience and their hearts than we are their happiness. After all, God’s word also tells us in Hebrews that He disciplines those whom He loves. It makes the same comparison to earthly parenting. We are disciplined by our human parents and paid them respect. So we should all the more be in subjection to our Heavenly Father who disciplines us for our profit “that we may be partakers of His holiness.” So what is God truly concerned about? Our happiness? Our holiness. So just like we are more concerned with raising considerate and responsible adults, God is more concerned with raising us up in His holiness than He is in us just being happy.
Consider His servant Job. If God were concerned with Job’s happiness, He never would have pointed Job out to Satan. Satan had come before God, and God said, “Have you considered my servant Job?” Satan claimed that Job only worshiped God because he had many blessings, after all Job had 10 children, over 11,000 livestock and a huge household. I’m sure Job was very happy with all of that. If that was all God wanted, for Job to be happy, then He would not have allowed Satan to take all that away. During the course of Job’s testing, Satan killed all of his children, destroyed all of his livestock, ruined his household, and attacked his health. Was Job still happy now? Did God deprive Job of the desires of his heart? Didn’t God know how to give good gifts to His children? Well it was in the depths of that suffering that we saw the true desires of Job’s heart – to remain in God. In the depths of his suffering, Job still cried out to God. So the good gift that God gave to Job was His presence in the midst of suffering. God took those fleeting, earthly pleasures that we think made Job “happy” and taught Job to be content with just the presence of God. God wanted Job’s heart to stay with Him more than He wanted Job to be “happy.”
In 2 Corinthians 12 we see the great apostle Paul, who had already suffered so much for the cause of Christ, speak of a “thorn in the flesh.” If God were merely concerned with Paul’s happiness, He would have removed this thorn from him. After all, Paul had even repeatedly asked God to take it away. Shouldn’t God have given Paul the desire of his heart and remove this thorn? Didn’t God know how to give good gifts to his children instead of giving Paul a thorn? Well, it was from this thorn in his flesh that Paul was taught that God’s grace is sufficient and that He is strong when we are weak. Paul’s true desire of his heart was to gain Christ. He counted all things loss but to gain Christ. And that was what he gained through this thorn. He gained the sufficient grace of Christ and the strength of God in his weakness. He says the thorn was put there by Satan, but left there by God so that Paul would not be tempted into pride. Ironic, considering that pride was what instigated the fall of Satan himself. God left the thorn to teach Paul to rely on Him.
The clearest picture of God being more interested in our obedience than our happiness is found in Jesus Christ. After the Last Supper, Jesus goes to the garden to pray to God just hours before His betrayal, arrest, and trial. As God, Jesus knew what lay before Him, but as man Jesus did not want to go through it. We see the intense struggle because He told His disciples that His spirit was “exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.” And as He prays, He cries out, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Jesus wanted there to be another way other than Him being tortured and crucified on the cross. It would have made Him happy to NOT have to walk through that. So what good gift was God the Father going to give to God the Son? Would God the Father give God the Son the desires of His heart? Well the true desire of the heart of Jesus was to come and give salvation to mankind. And there was no other way to do that except through the perfect sacrifice as an atonement for the sins of all mankind. God gave Jesus the desires of His heart, even though it involved pain, suffering, and death. God was more interested in His obedience than in His momentary happiness. It was as Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” Paul’s “light momentary affliction” involved being stoned nearly to death, beaten with rods, shipwrecked, imprisoned, in hunger, thirst, and constant danger (1 Corinthians 15). But the “light momentary affliction” of Jesus was flogging, a crown of thorns shoved into His brow, a spear piercing His side, and death by crucifixion on a cross.
In each of those situations, as it is in each of our situations, God wants us to love Him more than we love our circumstances. He wants us to rely on Him, cast all our cares upon Him, because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). Because the most important thing is not how happy we are in this life, but where we are for eternity. God wants our hearts; He wants us to love Him. How do we show our love for God? John 14:15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” God is more interested in our obedience than He is in our happiness.