Have you ever heard the saying, "God is interested in your holiness, not your happiness?" I just realized that it's wrong.
Of course, people like John Piper and Jonathan Edwards and the writers of the Westminster Shorter Catechism (question 1, if you want a reference) are light years ahead of me in figuring this out, but there you have it. God IS interested in our happiness after all.
But here's the deal, we say this phrase as though happiness and holiness are diametrically opposed, and we say it in the same tone of voice that a dad uses when he tells his kids, "This family is not a democracy, it is a benevolent dictatorship." We, the kids in the divine family, are supposed to swallow the bitter pill of holiness at the expense of happiness because this is what The Great Benevolent Dictator has arbitrarily deemed best for his family.
But here's what I've been figuring out about God lately (again, pardon me if this seems a bit slow on the uptake; I have a stubborn heart that can render me slow of mind): God prescribes holiness for our happiness. It's a "both-and!"
Consider this: cars are made to run on gasoline. Hot chocolate is delicious, but it won't make a car go and will, in fact, damage the engine. We are made to thrive while operating within a particular set of "design specs" that happen to be revealed to us in the Bible. Too much hot chocolate in our engines can ruin us, too. A happy car is a gas-fed car.
The problem is that this sounds a lot more like "holiness" than "happiness" to our rebellious human ears that don't want to be told what to do, ever. I think that's why books keep being written on the subject, and some day I will have the time and self discipline to make it through "Desiring God," which I suppose is the definitive book on the subject for our generation.
In the meantime, I think I need to keep training myself and my children to delight in God's law, to see it as a revelation of his love and beauty and perfection (the same way that we all love to eat our broccoli; seriously, the kids love it). To pray for wisdom, "knowing and loving what is best." To have self-discipline to say "no" to short-term pleasures and to trust God that when he says he has greater pleasures in store for us, he means it. To believe that obedience isn't quenching happiness but is training our hearts to enjoy what will bring us the greatest, most lasting pleasure .. And a side benefit is that holiness helps us learn to enjoy the journey along the way. To revel in beauty and fun and laughter and make them a never-wavering part of my kids' lives.
God is happy because he is holy. "And we all, who with unveiled faces reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit" (2 Cor 3:18).