Where can we find happiness in our daily lives?
In 2019 Coldplay released a song called ‘Everyday Life’. In it, they lament the state of the world that we live in, and the pain that everyone goes through. In the opening line they cry out, ‘What in the world are we going to do?’
Their answer, I think, takes us a little by surprise: the only way to ‘keep dancing when the lights go out’ is to turn to spirituality, or God, for help. The refrain of ‘Hallelujah’s’ is an unexpected but hopeful ending to a song and album that are full of pain and fear.
The ancient songs of the Bible strike a similar note. Psalms 126-128 are songs about everyday life: hardships and longings, daily labour, home and family. Psalm 128 reaches the bold conclusion that happiness (to be ‘blessed’) is found in fearing God and obeying him (v1).
The conclusion of this song and of Coldplay’s might surprise us, because it seems too modest and inhibiting. We don’t want to turn to God for help: we want to be God of our own destinies; we want to be able to fix ourselves. Our culture sees ‘obedience’ as life-restricting; we’re told again and again to ‘forge your own path’ (and, ironically, we’re commanded to obey that rule rigidly!). But if everyone did that, it wouldn’t lead to happiness; it leads to selfishness, and it corrupts us.
But what if Coldplay are on to something right? What if happiness is found in fearing God and obeying him – what might that mean? Not what we might initially think.
‘Fearing’ God in the Bible does not mean terror, but rather, recognising and respecting how much bigger and more right God is than me; one writer describes it as ‘a fear that is not fear at all,’ but something that motivates us to right living(i). ‘Obedience’ in the Bible is not a robotic adherence to a list of rules, but a loving response to a kind heavenly Father; it is quietly following the example and teaching of Jesus in the way that we conduct ourselves and treat others day to day. And the results of this ‘fear’ and ‘obedience’ are palpable: fruit and family (v2-3) in the ancient world were images of prosperity, contentment and hope; not just for the individual, but for the benefit of the whole community (‘Zion/Jerusalem’ v5) and the generations to follow (v6).
Another writer has described the Christian way of living as ‘a long obedience in the same direction’(ii) : making small choices every day that contribute to a better world and the benefit of others. Psalm 128 is not a slot machine equation for life (‘be a good person and you’ll be happy’); life certainly isn’t always this visibly straightforward or successful. But this is what it means to ‘have faith’: do what God says, trusting that he knows what brings happiness, and trust that in his own time he will keep his promises. The testimony of Christians down the ages has been that throughout all sorts of life challenges, this ancient wisdom is worth returning to, to find happiness in everyday life.
PRAYER God, your ancient words speak with such relevance into my daily experience. I long for such happiness, prosperity, contentment and hope. Help me to see how following your wisdom could change my life, and show me what it means to truly fear and obey you. Amen.
A song of ascents.
1 Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him.
2 You will eat the fruit of your labour; blessings and prosperity will be yours.
3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots round your table.
4 Yes, this will be the blessing for the man who fears the Lord.
5 May the Lord bless you from Zion;
may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.
6 May you live to see your children’s children –
peace be on Israel.
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(i) Alec Motyer, ‘Journey’, p93.
(ii) Eugene Peterson, ‘A Long Obedience In The Same Direction’, p17 (citing Freidrich Nietczsche).