We are saved, recipients of the greatest gift we can ever receive, and have heard the best news possible; why don’t our faces show it? This may not be you, but it’s more people than you realize. We are saved but we still go through life like we’re not! Why do we feel miserable? Why do our lives seem to be in a perpetual rut? It’s like someone asked, “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands,” and only a few people, if any, clapped.
We have heard Peter’s sermon, realized our salvation, accepted Jesus, and believed in the resurrection. However, life doesn’t stop. The life hits keep on coming. Getting out of bed is still tough; family and friends are diagnosed with serious illnesses, and people are being shot for no other reason than pulling into the wrong driveway. The world appears to have lost its ever-loving mind. We may believe in the Good News and accept salvation, but the world feels far from any sense of salvation. As such, this impacts our outlook on life and our salvation. What does salvation look like when it goes from something we read about on a page, a two-dimensional experience in the Bible, something happening to other people, and becomes a three-dimensional, real-world thing happening to us? It ought to make a difference in who we are at a core level. In practice, not theory. It should change our identity, outlook, and vision.
Now that we are saved, why don’t we feel any better about ourselves and the world in which we live? Why are things essentially the status quo? Things might seem bad, but why don’t Christians have more hope? Everywhere we look, there is a sense of scarcity instead of abundance. Yet, when Peter recounts the story of salvation, plenty abounds, in the face of scarcity and fear. Thousands convert. What creates this disconnect today? Why is there a disconnect today? What can we do about the disconnect between what we’ve said we accept, what’s been done on our behalf by Jesus, and how we feel and respond to that action on a day-to-day basis?
How do we live like people who are saved and transformed instead of those who are saved, and the gift of salvation has no measurable impact on our lives? So, let me ask again, if we are saved, why do we still look so miserable, like we’re all in the colonoscopy waiting room and living like we were before Jesus saved us on the cross? Perhaps we can find some reasons and bring salvation and happiness together, once again, to our Good News story.
I will need one tool, a ladder, to help us put the joy of salvation back into our lives and kick misery to the curb. Don’t worry; I’m not bringing in a real ladder, though I did consider it. All I need you to do is picture a ladder with ten rungs. Now remember, we’ve heard Peter preach. We have responded to his message. Now we’re in this “what will we do about this beautiful gift of salvation” phase. We’ve heard the most important news we will ever hear. Jesus has died and risen. Our sins are forgiven. Yet what do we do with good news, and why do we still feel crummy?
Think with me about the ladder. Suppose the top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you, and the bottom represents your worst possible life. If the top step is ten and the bottom step is 0, on which step of the ladder do you feel you stand at present, having heard what Peter just preached?
Having encountered the best news, how satisfied are you with your life? A one means you’re completely dissatisfied, and a ten means you’re completely satisfied. I’ll give you a moment to think about your number.
Here’s a fact: when this survey was last done with most Americans, the average was 6. Yes, most Americans gave themselves a six. Most Americans are somewhere between miserable and ultimately unsatisfied. That sounds like a living hell if you ask me. You’ve heard the most extraordinary story ever told, and the best response we can muster is “Maybe,” “If I feel like it,” “How much does it cost,” “Do I have to get up out of my chair,” or a shoulder shrug and “meh.” Despite the great gift of grace and salvation, our lives tend more toward dissatisfaction and misery than toward happiness. How can this be? We’ve got to be doing something wrong. Are we not listening? How can we fix this?
There are three or four ways, depending on how you do the counting. First, you need to do the ladder exercise. You need to take stock and see where you are. You can’t go forward until you know where you’re starting from. Make an honest assessment. Realize you’ve heard the best possible news; how are you responding? Is your joy meter moved at all? Are you reflecting on the love that Christ showed you in your life? Is your light under a bushel? Everything begins with stock-taking.
Secondly, we devalue happiness. Sometimes we live with the crazy notion that we don’t have the right to be happy. Whether we picked it up from our childhood or developed a warped version of the protestant work ethic, we believe we don’t have the right to be happy. Happiness is for other people. We must work, provide for our families, and do the hard work of living. Jesus died for me and all that church stuff two thousand years ago, but that won’t put food on the table or gas in the tank. In short, we devalue happiness. We’re essentially saying that being happy (and happy with God) isn’t worth our time. And when we see our true happiness as a byproduct of our salvation, a gift from God, we’re effectively saying that salvation, Jesus, and God are also not worth our time. Show of hands, who wants to say that?
Third, trust others and trust God. Do you trust that you’ve heard the best news ever? Do you trust that nothing will ever top what Peter told you and will never top the salvation experience? Do you trust at such a visceral level that it is inseparable from your identity and being? Trust is the key to happiness. Or are you going to go another way? Saying something to the effect: I’ll trust God to a point. After that, I’ll trust God with 10% of my life or something less than 100%. Let me ask you, if you’re not trusting in God and God’s grace and the message we just read from Peter, is there any reason you feel so miserable? The gap between your trust, rung on the ladder, the top, and 100 percent accounts for your misery and lack of happiness. It also forms a map of where God could take you as a person and us as a congregation. Besides, when you can’t trust others, you can’t relax. If you can’t relax, you can’t be happy. You’ll never be satisfied if you can’t relax and trust God. If you can’t relax around God, who can you relax around?
Fourth and finally, don’t be overly controlling. Leave room for the Holy Spirit to work. Controlling people aren’t usually the happiest of people. I don’t know if you’ve noticed. However, in the Good News, Peter’s message is infused with the Holy Spirit doing its thing, and the Holy Spirit needs room to work. That means we must get out of the way and loosen our grip on the moment. What is it I always say, “Let Go, and Let God!”
We obsess over the little things; details matter, but we often focus on the wrong details, which we should leave for God and the Holy Spirit. No one thrives in perpetual uncertainty, but God can spice up our lives in ways we’ve never imagined or expected. So let God work God’s magic in your life today. There are miracles in store if you’ll smile, loosen your grip, and let the joy in and say, “Holy Spirit, I let go; this is the best news I’ve ever heard; change my life forever, turn me upside down, and set my heart on fire for Jesus, not the minutiae of being annoyed at traffic, waiting in line, annoying people, or supply chain disruptions.” And make a note, whether mental or otherwise, every time your trust is validated. If someone trusts you, you trust someone else; that’s the Holy Spirit at work. (Illustration.)
This is the best news possible, folks. So, let’s act like it.
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