The Democratic Party’s presidential debates begin tonight. According to the Wall Street Journal, this is the largest Democratic presidential field in modern history. The candidates are hoping to differentiate themselves from each other and make an impact on the voting public.
Robby Mook, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign manager, explains: “The biggest question is who is driving the news. Who is getting attention.” Dan Pfeiffer, a former adviser to Barack Obama, added: “They need moments to create attention and virality to increase their poll numbers and, more importantly, get the online donor number up.”
There is much in the news we could be discussing this morning, from the border crisis (which I plan to address later this week) to the ongoing tensions with Iran to the Middle East peace plan. But this week’s debates will make headlines both for what the candidates say that is memorable and what they say that is regrettable.
Meanwhile, a story receiving less attention caught my eye as a parable for our contentious times.
Finding the “secret to happiness” in Denmark
If you’re unhappy with your job, perhaps you’d like to become a “happiness hunter.” Furniture chain Ikea is looking for someone willing to live for two weeks in Denmark and get paid in money and meatballs to help them “find all the keys to a real home of happiness.”
You need to hurry—applications end next Monday. You need to have “at least 18 years of experience as a human being” and be a person who “always wanted to find the secret to happiness.” Ikea will cover your travel and give you free “köttbulla” (Swedish meatballs) at their restaurant.
The “secret to happiness” seems to be more elusive today than ever.
A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports a 30 percent increase in suicides in the US from 2000 to 2016. Rates increased in all age groups, but “adolescents are of particular concern, with increases in social media use, anxiety, depression, and self-inflicted injuries.”
As an example of the suicide epidemic, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain took his own life June 8 of last year. His fans celebrated his birthday yesterday, designating June 25 as Bourdain Day and inviting people to toast his memory all over the world.
While the “pursuit of happiness” is a right enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, we’re not doing well in achieving what we are pursuing. In fact, the United Nations ranks us in eighteenth place in its World Happiness Report. Finland comes first, followed by Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Switzerland. We trail Canada, Costa Rica, and Luxembourg, among other nations.
And we’re getting worse. In measuring positive or negative changes in happiness over the last ten years, Togo is in first place. The US ranks 107th out of 141 countries.
God’s countercultural invitation to true happiness
The good news is that God’s version of happiness doesn’t depend on our circumstances.
It isn’t based on the highs and lows of the stock market or the latest news from the Middle East. It doesn’t depend on which candidates excel in this week’s debates or next year’s elections. We cannot find it or lose it working for Ikea in Denmark.
Jesus began the most famous sermon in history with the most countercultural statement imaginable: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). “Blessed” translates makarios, a sense of well-being that transcends circumstances. By contrast, “poor” translates ptochos, the Greek word for a person who is totally destitute and has no idea where their next meal is coming from.
To be “poor in spirit,” therefore, is to be spiritually desperate. It is to understand how fully and completely we need God’s help. As the New English Bible renders the phrase, it describes people who “know their need of God.”
Those who admit their total dependence on God make him king over every dimension of their lives. As a result, “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This is not a works-righteousness formula: admitting our need for God positions us to receive what his grace intends to give.
“As we pour out our bitterness, God pours in his peace”
What challenges are keeping you from happiness today?
Let’s reframe them as opportunities to be “poor in spirit.” You can turn your frustrations, disappointments, and suffering completely over to your Father and depend entirely on his provision and love.
Here’s what will happen as a result: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6–7).
You’ll find that his Spirit transfuses you with a sense of his presence and peace the world can neither give nor take. And you’ll find that your transcendent peace is a powerful witness to an unhappy culture.
- B. Meyer: “As we pour out our bitterness, God pours in his peace.”
Warren Wiersbe added: “Real contentment must come from within. You and I cannot change or control the world around us, but we can change and control the world within us.”
How peaceful is the world within you today?