Posted by: rcottrill | August 9, 2017

Happiness Is the Lord

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Words: Ira Forest Stanphill (b. Feb. 14, 1914; d. Dec. 30, 1993)
Music: Ira Forest Stanphill

Wordwise Hymns (Ira Stanphill)
The Cyber Hymnal (Ira Stanphill)

Note: A gifted musician, Stanphill was already playing piano, organ, ukulele, and accordion by age ten. By the time he reached seventeen, he was composing and singing, participating in revival crusades, prayer meetings, and tent campaigns. As a singing evangelist, he preached all over America and in over forty other countries. He was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1981.

What is happiness? Or what does it mean to be in a happy mood? The dictionary suggests a happy person is delighted, pleased, and glad about something. The word has been widely applied and frequently used, or misused.

The term “Happy Hour” came into common parlance in the 1950’s and 1960’s. It refers to the time, roughly 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. when bars and taverns offer drinks at reduced prices, or with free snacks. The name seems to imply that alcohol is a significant ingredient in the prescription for human happiness. But that’s more than questionable. Surely a temporary drug-induced euphoria is not true happiness–especially when its aftermath is a headache–or worse!

The American Declaration of Independence states that “the pursuit of happiness” is a God-given right. For the eighteenth century authors of the declaration, happiness meant personal well being and prosperity. But is that a right? Or perhaps are these things more of a privilege earned by hard work?

Cicero, a Roman lawyer, said happiness is “tranquility of mind.” But the Greek philosopher Aristotle went much further. He said, “Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” Taken in its most obvious sense that’s very self-centred. It implies that everything and everyone around me is there to make me happy, and it misses the grander and eternal purpose expressed in the Bible.

As an important aside, I know sometimes modern Bible versions substitute the word “happy” for the King James Version’s “blessed,” (e.g. in Psalm 1:1), but the latter is far richer than a fleeting happy mood. And knowing Christ as Saviour is not necessarily a guarantee of unwavering happiness. Way back when I was a kid we used to sing in Sunday School:

I’m inright, outright, upright, downright
Happy all the time.

But that is simply not true. Even the Lord Jesus, “a Man of sorrows” (Isa. 53:3), while on earth, wept and was grieved (Lk. 19:41; Jn. 11:35). And I prefer to use the words joy and rejoicing rather than happy and happiness. Happiness seems to have more of an association with happenings in our lives. Joy goes deeper. We can find joy, even in trying circumstances that do not engender happiness (cf. Heb. 12:2).

As the Westminster Shorter Catechism (created in 1646-47) puts it: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” This calls attention first to the reason God created us: for His own rightful glory.

“For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36). “Glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (I Cor. 6:20). “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31).

Our enjoyment of God is the other side of the coin. As the children of God seek to bring honour and glory to Him, they enjoy His fellowship.

“Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You?” (Ps. 85:6). “I will be glad and rejoice in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High” (Ps. 9:2).

“Truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full” (I Jn. 1:3-4). “You [Lord] have made him most blessed forever; You have made him exceedingly glad with Your presence” (Ps. 21:6).

The glorifying of God and the enjoyment of God are not merely to be the occupations of time, but of eternity too. In the heavenly city, “A voice came from the throne, saying, ‘Praise our God, all you His servants and those who fear Him, both small and great!’” (Rev. 19:5). “You [Lord] will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11).

One day in 1974 pastor and hymn writer Ira Stanphill was driving home from his church office in Fort Worth, Texas. The car radio was on, and a bar was advertising their Happy Hour, and promoting their alcoholic beverages. Then a cigarette commercial told of how their product would bring happiness to smokers.

That’s standard for commercials, isn’t it? Whether it’s toothpaste or deodorant, a smart phone or a car, it’s touted as the last great answer to the problems of the human race. If you want true happiness in life, you’d better buy the right yogurt or the right glue.

Pastor Stanphill found the repeated use of the word happiness jarring. He thought, “Happiness does not come with these things, but with knowing Christ.” As he drove along, he created a chorus in his mind, and sang it. When he got home, he went straight to the piano and wrote it out.

That song has since been sung around the world. And notice how Pastor Stanphill seems to recognize that mere happiness, by itself, was not enough. He adds, “Real joy is mine, no matter if teardrops start.” The joy we have in Christ shines through the clouds that sometimes overshadow our path. Happiness (or better, “real joy”) is found in a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. He Himself is our joy!

The song says, in part:

Happiness is to know the Saviour,
Living a life within His favour,
Having a change in my behaviour,
Happiness is the Lord.

Real joy is mine, no matter if teardrops start;
I’ve found the secret–it’s Jesus in my heart.

1) Why are Christians able to have joy, even in trying times?

2) What does the Bible mean when it says, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10)?

Wordwise Hymns (Ira Stanphill)
The Cyber Hymnal (Ira Stanphill)


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