Mount of Beatitudes - True Happiness

Reading: Matthew 5.1-12
Above the north-eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee is the place where Jesus gave that group of sayings we call the Sermon on the Mount. It is a natural grassy amphitheatre. Modern acoustic engineers have tested the area and concluded that a large crowd would have no difficulty hearing what was said.

On the top of the hill is the Church of the Beatitudes. It is eight-sided, each side featuring one of the eight beatitudes.

Nearby is a garden where you can wander thoughtfully and prayerfully. Plaques – in Latin! – again highlight each of these sayings.

These words of Jesus stand in stark contrast to the way most people regard happiness – and how to achieve it.

Many people seem to think the beatitudes should read –

J.B. Phillips made a similar set of suggestions in the early 1950s – they still seem pertinent all these years later. But these common attitudes aren’t the route to true happiness.

According to Jesus, true happiness comes to those who are "poor in spirit," the "mourners," the "meek," those who "hunger and thirst for righteousness," the "merciful," the "pure in heart," the "peacemakers," and the "persecuted."

We have looked on happiness as such a personal thing. It should centre on us. And what could be so simple, straightforward and logical as that?

So we go about suitably arranging – and re-arranging – our environment and circumstances – so that we will be happy. On this basis, people have assumed that, if they are unhappy, it is because of this wretched washing mashine, this wretched heart, this wretched person I am living with… They believe that they will become happy by changing their lot in some way.

Someone asked Rockefeller how much money it would take to make him happy. He replied, "Just a little more! Just a little more!"

It becomes a never-ending quest. Happiness, we assume, must be fun and laughter and expressing our own personalities ("doing our own thing") – free from suffering, sorrow and hardship. In this quest it is everyone for themselves. In the resulting struggle for the "survival of the fittest" (whether expressed on the international scene or in some local "rat race"), the illusory bubble seems to vanish before us. And what do we do about that? We question our methods, our "system", but not our basic assumptions – and we keep on trying.

Our problem is that we have made happiness an end in itself, instead of a byproduct of something else. And we model our hopes on those who act out a learned role – with all the right make-up and props and with enough "takes" to look happy and at peace – even when the evidence suggests the "happiness" doesn’t carry over into real life for them. No wonder our quest ends in frustration and anxiety.

So what is true happiness? In John 17.3 Jesus said, "Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." Jesus was talking about quality life, not just extended life. It centres, not on ourselves, but on God. It is the result of a positive relationship with God. True happiness is found in the fulfilment of our life in relation to God and what he expects of us. It is being part of his Kingdom.

Later in the Sermon on the Mount we hear Jesus telling them not to worry, but "seek first [your heavenly Father’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matt. 6.33).

That’s the secret of a happiness which no outward circumstances can take away from us!

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, you know that sometimes we despair of the circumstances of our life. We fully persuade ourselves that we would be happy – and able to serve you well too! – if only things were different. What’s that, Lord? You want to begin to make us different? You want to begin the change in us? You accepted the cross – who are we to complain? Lord, that we may love you and know your love! We commit ourselves to serve you today. Thanks, Lord! Amen!

In all Circumstances

I can trust God
when the weather is fair.
I can be happy
when happiness reigns.
I can love others
when they are kind.
It’s easy to serve
the cheerfully clean.

But then again –
when things turn nasty,
is God really there?
There’s no shred of hope
in my wrung-out remains!
You’ve got to be joking –
you’ve got to be blind
if you think there’s some joy
when life is so mean!

Now look at the cross –
my sadness he bears!
The happiest Man
is the Lamb that was slain!
He carries my load
so in him I can find
a new way of living,
all wholesome and clean!

You haven’t made promise
all days will be fair.
Yet living with you
all my losses are gain.
Lord, help me to see
past the storm and the wind,
to know love and joy
when living seems lean.

© Peter J. Blackburn, Burdekin Blue Care Devotions, 17 July 2001
More photos of Israel are available here.
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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