How To Be Happy – Devotional By Dale O’Shields – 11/16

How To Be Happy

“I’m not happy!”

How many times have you proclaimed your discontent with the circumstances of your life? When was the last time you voiced your unhappiness, inwardly or outwardly, with your life situation, relationships, responsibilities or current challenges?

Unhappiness, dissatisfaction and discontentment are at epidemic proportions in our culture. Notwithstanding all of the comforts, conveniences and opportunities around us, most people struggle with some degree of irritation and agitation about their lot in life. The common mantra in the minds and mouths of many is, “I would be happy if _____________________ !” People are on a perpetual journey for the “perfect” job, spouse, friend, house, church, vacation … They are looking for the “magic medicine” that will cure most, if not all of their frustrations, and resolve the restlessness in their soul.

Here is the bad news –– perfection doesn’t exist in this world. The search for a “perfect life” always leads to a dead end. It is an expectation that will always be disappointed. It is a sure way to live an unhappy life.

But there is some good news. Although perfection is impossible in this life, happiness isn’t! God has prescribed the path to happiness. We get there by practicing certain attitudes –– the attitudes of contentment and gratitude.

To be “content” is to be satisfied with what we have. It is to look for the blessings God has given us, and to express our gratitude to Him for them. It is the changing of our perspective from concern over what we want but don’t have to true appreciation for the good things we do have. This shift produces a radical change in our feelings, decisions and interactions with others.

Although these attitudes run counter to our human nature, they can be learned. Take a look a what the Bible says about them:

“… For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” — Philippians 4:11

“… I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation …” — Philippians 4:12

“But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” — 1 Timothy 6:8

“… Be content with what you have … ” — Hebrews 13:5

“I will thank the Lord at all times. My mouth will always praise Him.” — Psalm 34:1 (GW)

Contentment and gratitude go together. Contentment declares, “I’m going to stop focusing on deficits. I’m going to look at the assets in my life!” Then gratitude takes over. It is an attitude that becomes an action. When we are grateful, we appreciate the kindnesses, benefits and blessings we have received and communicate our thankfulness to those responsible for them.

Have you been battling with unhappiness lately? The way to happiness is not a change in your outward circumstances, it is a change in your inward attitude! The secret to happiness is a spirit of contentment demonstrated through expressions of gratitude.

Go ahead, start counting your blessings. Take your mind off of the things you don’t have. Get busy thanking God and others for the good in your life. And don’t be surprised when a new level of satisfaction sweeps over your soul!

Dale O’Shields

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Quiet Walk – November 17

November 17

2 Timothy 3

As Christians, we must be on our guard to follow the truth continually.

INSIGHT

The Scriptures are designed to be the basis of truth for leading a Christian to maturity in Jesus Christ. They are accurate and trustworthy, afford adequate knowledge, and lead to a godly, biblical lifestyle. They also yield a biblical ministry: “that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (v. 17). A mature Christian is one who knows what he needs to know (knowledge), is what he needs to be (lifestyle), does what he needs to do (ministry), and is guided by the Scriptures in all of this.

PRAYER

Praise the Lord for His magnificent Word that contains perfect instructions on how to live:
Deal bountifully with Your servant,
That I may live and keep Your word.
Open my eyes, that I may see
Wondrous things from Your law.
I am a stranger in the earth;
Do not hide Your commandments from me.
My soul breaks with longing
For Your judgments at all times.
You rebuke the proud and the cursed,
Who stray from Your commandments. . . .
Your testimonies also are my delight
And my counselors (Psalm 119:17-21, 24).

Pause for praise and thanksgiving.

Pray this confession to the Lord as you seek to keep your life free from sin:
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
And sinners shall be converted to You (Psalm 51:12-13).

Confess any sins that the Holy Spirit brings to your mind, and pray this affirmation to the Lord:
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:6-8)

As you make your requests known to the Lord, include:
greater self-control,
those who minister in our inner cities,
your activities for the day.

Finally, offer this closing prayer to the Lord:
Fear God and keep His commandments,
For this is man’s all.
For God will bring every work into judgment,
Including every secret thing,
Whether good or evil (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). 

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Are Your Bad Habits Hurting Your Faith?

Mildly annoying quirks can do serious damage to your soul.

By Stephanie Hertzenberg

Everyone has at least a few bad habits. Some poor habits are only mildly irritating and do no real harm. For example, someone who chews their finger nails has a nasty habit, but it is not hurting anyone. It may gross out their friends, but no one is seriously adversely affected. There are also people who are always running late. This can be a more seriously problematic habit as it inconveniences friends and family and can lead to people missing buses, trains or airplanes because they had to wait for the person who was running late. There are also bad habits that can be serious problems and cause health difficulties. Any variety of addiction, whether to drugs or to a person’s smartphone, is a critical issue. Other bad habits, such as routinely skipping out on sleep or eating unhealthy meals, can also do damage to a person’s body and mind.Bad habits can reach more than just the physical and emotional levels of a person. Bad habits can also effect a person’s spiritual growth and expression. Even “harmless” bad habits can do damage to a person’s faith through one of a variety of ways. 

Procrastinating

Everyone procrastinates from time to time. They put off cleaning the gutters because they hate how the bits and pieces of leaves stay tangled in their hair no matter how many times they wash it. They procrastinate writing up that report for their boss because they really hate crunching numbers. They avoid preparing for that meeting with their children’s coach because the woman really gets on their nerves, and they do not want to think about her any more than necessary. 

Most people are aware that procrastination can harm a person’s work or academic life. It is hard for a person to do their best work if they are scrambling to meet a deadline. Putting unpleasant things off, however, can also start to hurt a person’s faith. A Hindu may have to hurry through puja because they really need to finish writing that report. A Christian may end up skipping church on Sunday because they have to get all the housework they have been avoiding done. A Muslim may find themselves rushing or skipping prayers in order to cram a little more work into a day. A Jew may find it impossible to keep Shabbat depending on how badly things have piled up during the week. It may seem harmless, but putting things off often comes back to haunt a person in some spiritual way.

Tardiness

While it is annoying to have a friend who is always running late, tardiness is not a bad habit that most people would assume causes spiritual harm. Lateness, however, can do some spiritual damage. Running late either to church for Christians or prayer for Muslims can throw off the entire experience. Tardiness can mean that the person is not in the proper frame of mind to really be present. They may be standing in the church or mosque, but mentally they are still elsewhere. Running late can also mean a Muslim rushes through wudu and may accidentally forget a step. 

Tardiness is also problematic for all adherents of religions that have karma as a central doctrine.Forever inconveniencing others or causing problems by being late can build up poor karma for adherents of religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism. Neopagans are not excluded from such spiritual problems either. A number of Neopagan traditions believe in karma or a similar force. Wiccans, for example, hold to the Law of Threefold Return, the idea that any action a person takes, whether good or ill, will be revisited on them three fold. Goodness thus begets goodness, and harm begets harm. One could also argue that causing problems by forever being tardy is a violation of the Wiccan Rede, “Do as ye will so long as it harms none.” “Harm” can be tricky to define, but tardiness has the potential to cause enough problems to potentially fit the bill. 

Wastefulness

It is always frustrating to watch some be deliberately wasteful. While everyone has at some point overestimated how much food they want at the buffet, some people make a habit of being flagrantly wasteful. They leave the lights on when they go to work. They drive the 50 feet between two mall shops instead of walking. They always order large meals, but they never take home the leftovers. If anything, they do not seem to believe in leftovers at all. They turn the heat up as high as it goes and sit around in shorts during the winter, and they throw away perfectly good phones in order to upgrade to the latest and greatest. To anyone who was raised to “waste not, want not,” this sort of attitude is infuriating. It can also do some spiritual harm. Most religions emphasize charity and prohibit greed. Wastefulness flies in the face of both of those ideals. 

Complaining

For how much people tend to complain, one would think that everyone is living miserable lives. In reality, however, most people complain simply because it is expected of them. People are far more likely to start conversations about either things that annoy them or troublesome events in their life than they are by telling a coworker or neighbor about something good that just happened. In addition to turning people into a flock of small Johnny Rain Clouds, complaining about everything is a good way to do some spiritual damage. When a person complains, they focus on everything that is wrong in their life. This leads to anger at the problem, envy toward those who seem to have fewer or lesser problems and a certain greediness for either a lifestyle that requires no complaining or a complaint that can “one-up” someone else. Buddhists are taught to avoid greed, envy and anger at all costs, and Christians are not supposed to embrace greed and envy either. Some Neopagans believe that a person attracts what they focus on and so see complaining as a good way to cause further problems in a person’s life. 

Endless complaining also causes people to lose track of the things that are going right in their life. When a person complains, they are not feeling gratitude, and being thankful for the blessings a person does experience is a large part of several religions.

Technological Overload

Everyone has been out to lunch with a friend only to find that their friend is more interested in tapping away at their phone than actually interacting with the person sitting across the table. This sort of technological overload often harms relationships, limits friendships and can cause physical damage when a person who is overloading themselves on technology stays up late reading Facebook or eschews exercise in favor of watching the latest video from their favorite YouTuber. Even before technological overload hits the point of addiction, an obsession with technology can cause all sorts of spiritual problems. Too much time on social media may lead a person to be overly judgmental when they compare carefully posed pictures with true candid images. They may also get swept up into the digital lynch mobs that form so easily on platforms such as Tumblr. Even if no one is physically hurt, hate filled words and insults definitely break the “do no harm” rule found in nearly every religion.

A person who is always dealing with technology can also find themselves getting into trouble with all sorts of temptations. The Abrahamic religions place a lot of emphasis on sexual morality, but the internet is overflowing with porn. Gambling is often eschewed by religions, yet online betting is big business. While plenty of people manage to deal with the internet without getting themselves into trouble, there are also a lot of people who start out with good intentions and end up getting in over their heads. Surrounding oneself with temptation and hoping for the best is not normally a plan slated for success. 

Never Say ‘No’

“No” is a word in the human vocabulary for a reason. There will inevitably be times when a person is asked to do something that they do not want to do, cannot do or that will harm them or someone else. In those times, “no” is the response. There are some people, however, who struggle to say “no.” This may seem like a small and harmless problem, but being unable to say “no” can cause almost endless struggles. A person who cannot say “no” will quickly find themselves overwhelmed by tasks and duties that they do not have the time, energy or resources to perform.

An inability to say “no” can also lead to a number of spiritual problems. A person who cannot say “no” may find themselves being pressured into taking part in activities that are against their faith. A Muslim may find themselves struggling to refuse an alcoholic drink or pressured by oblivious friends into wearing clothing that they find to be immodest. A Christian may find themselves unable to turn down an invitation to a séance, and a Jew may find themselves sitting uncomfortably in a restaurant grappling with the decision to eat food that they have no way of knowing whether or not is kosher or skipping dinner. It may seem like more of a time management issue, but an inability to say “no” can rapidly become a real spiritual problem.

Bad habits are never fun nor are they easy to break, but it can be done. With a little creativity and some patience, a person can get rid of their poor habits and replace them with new, better ones. Breaking bad habits will not only help a person physically and emotionally, but it can also help a person who is struggling spiritually reconnect with the good in their life and the power of their faith.
Stephanie Hertzenberg is a writer and editor at Beliefnet. She is a graduate of the College of William and Mary where she majored in Religious Studies and minored in Creative Writing. She maintains an avid interest in health, history and science.

Grasping the Goodness of God

But the one constant thing about life is that it never stays the same, and when circumstances blew in, they didn’t leave us much option about stepping off the boat, since they pretty much overturned it and left us hanging on to the sides.

Woman Breath of Fresh AirFor many years of my young middle adulthood, life was smooth. Not perfect, obviously – when you raise a family of six on one ridiculously modest income, there’s always the stress of making the mandated property tax, insurance payments, and assorted fees involved in living in a “civilized,” bureaucratic regime. But life was relatively predictable, and God was good.

The goodness of God is something to bask in, with joy, like warm sun on a spring day. 
 
I knew that latter because people were always telling me how good God is, and how much He loves us, and how He is always there to meet our needs. Given that most of our needs were being met adequately through sources considered standard and expected in our society, I really had no need to put my foot on the waters, step off the boat, and see if He would catch me.
 
But the one constant thing about life is that it never stays the same, and when circumstances blew in, they didn’t leave us much option about stepping off the boat, since they pretty much overturned it and left us hanging on to the sides. At this point, the goodness of God lost it theoretical usance and it became very, very important to know that it is truly real, and something upon which we can depend.
 
This is not a concept one learns, accepts, or understands overnight, quite frankly, and it is also not a default setting. Another thing it is also not is something that God blames us, or punishes us, for not having, because,

“We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4: 15)

That high priest, on the cross, cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27: 46). We don’t have to wrangle theology to accept the simple fact that feeling abandoned by God, bereft, alone, and in despair, is something that Jesus understands.

This is a significant truth that is well worth reflecting upon, because, when you are going through something especially difficult, excruciatingly painful, and inexplicably confounding, you are sure to run into people who have absolutely no idea of what is happening to you (they’re a bit like I was, in my young middle adult years), and they will respond to your angst by saying,

“God is good. You simply must have more faith. Otherwise, how can He help you?”

The central message is that He is limited by our lack of faith, not a particularly hopeful piece of intelligence, because – while you can generate an outward appearance of having faith that is realistic looking enough to fool not only others, but yourself (and this is far easier in the good times when there’s no need to call upon it) – that’s all it is, an outward appearance. True faith, true trust, true rest in God is the result of a process.

Romans 12: 2 tells us to “not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Woman ExcitedThe faith to move mountains is not something that we generate within ourselves, but rather, ask God to introduce into our lives and make real. 
 
For grammar fanatics out there, it’s interesting to note that “conform” is in active voice, meaning that we choose to conform, or we don’t; but the renewing of our mind is accomplished by the passive construction of “being transformed” – passive construction, as its name implies, means that we’re not accomplishing the matter directly, but are having it accomplished by someone, in this case, God.
 
He transforms our minds – and one of the most successful ways this is done is during horrendously difficult circumstances, when the external factors we normally depend upon (a regular paycheck, decent health, or predictable family/friend interaction, for example) implode. I know I am not the only one who has been driven to intense prayer and focused Bible reading in order to learn more about, and connect with, God.
 
But sometimes, Bible verses aren’t enough – the very succinctness of the words lack, and this is when it’s good to remember Romans 1: 20:
 
“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
 
By looking at the stars, we contemplate His greatness. In the eyes of a child, we see what trust looks like. And in our interactions with others, we see how He honors His promises: The other day, I let drop a comment to a woman about someone I love who is looking for a job with a particular organization, but can’t get past the singularly unhelpful front desk.
 
“My brother runs that organization,” she commented. “If you give me the information, I’ll pass it on.”
 
You can bet that the resume and cover letter were expeditiously placed in her hands. And, now that they are in her hands, I leave them there, trusting to her goodness, integrity, and honor in fulfilling the promise that she made.

I do not need to pop by, several times a day, and remind her of this promise – indeed, to do so would be casting aspersion upon her character – and yet, when we pray to God, who tells us through 1 Peter 5: 7, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you,” we feel a necessity to remind, plead, cajole, convince, hint, demand, insist – or worse, for those who have fallen for the lies of the prosperity doctrine, to declare, name, claim, speak a word of faith – as opposed to doing the most difficult thing of all, wait, and trust in the goodness of God.
 
Happy Woman BeachAsk for what you need, and while you’re there, ask for the trust it will take while you await the answer. “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence , so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4: 16)
 
This is the goodness of God.
 
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. I am an ordinary Christian who is the child of an extraordinary God. I write to encourage all ordinary people that we can find God, and live in His love, without having to go through a convoluted hierarchy of churchianity, haplessly dependent upon the teaching and guidance of other human beings.
 
There are good teachers out there, and it is good to learn what we can, where we can, but always with the knowledge that our ultimate teacher is the Holy Spirit, and He will lead us in the direction we need to go.To read more from Carolyn Henderson click here for her Beliefnet blog Commonsense Christianity.