It’s been almost two weeks since I returned from Cape Town. I’m still trying to put the pieces together in my mind. But let me say before I begin my rambling that the trip was incredible. I met some amazing people who love Jesus and taught me very well that my faith is actually quite small. Bizzaro (pronounced like be thorough) and Edwina Brooks blessed me deeply with their friendship and open house, and I look forward to seeing them again. While my group informed me that this particular trip was not as jam-packed with activity as prior trips, I found little to be bored with. Even in the down time when we were waiting for our next event I was often deep in thought trying to process everything that was happening or enthralled in conversation. The trip has definitely altered my view of life and happiness. And it is about happiness that I wish to speak.
I know that I recently wrote a post about happiness. If you would allow me one more excursion to this topic, I believe it will be worthwhile. I came to a fresh reminder of something critical while in Cape Town. First, as suspected, I witnessed poverty at a level which I had never seen before. The shanty towns are made up of homes that are pieced together from whatever materials can be found, ranging from cinder blocks, to scrap tin, to wood from crates – and often homes are built from all three. Shockingly, the shanties that I visited were not even considered the worst. The flats (government apartments) are small, overcrowded, overrun with crime, and drug use is pervasive. The gap between the poor and the wealthy is enormous. Yet, there was a gigantic difference between the Cape Town believers and many, if not most of the believers I know here in the States.
They possess a fundamental happiness. I don’t mean they feel happy most of the time. I mean they POSSESS happiness. They own it. I indicated in my last blog that Americans are sold out to the pursuit of happiness. Here’s the mind-blowing truth that I rediscovered in Cape Town. The pursuit of happiness, no matter how we pursue it, will never end in happiness. It was about halfway through our stay in Cape Town that I was pondering why these Cape Town Christians are so stinking happy, that I heard Timothy Keller in one of his podcasts say that the Beatitudes never say, “Blessed are those who pursue blessedness.” Translation: the Bible never says, “Happy are those who pursue happiness.” Real, fundamental happiness always comes as a result of pursuing something else (for starters read Matthew 5:1-12). My friends in Cape Town have laid down their pursuit of happiness for a pursuit of God that has in turn given them happiness that cannot be shaken and is in fact their possession. Happiness is the fundamental average state of their lives. It is inevitable that anger and sadness will come and swing their emotional pendulum to different extremes, but the pull from the center that balances and brings the pendulum back down from its extremes is the joy, gladness, happiness (whichever you prefer to call it) that God has gifted to them.
Keller says it is like the tree planted by a stream of water (Psalm 1). Because the tree is planted on the edge of the stream, there is always a supply from which the tree can draw. Even in dry seasons when the rain doesn’t fall, there is a supply of water deep down. The tree isn’t dependent on the whims of the weather; it has a supply that is never exhausted because it is planted on the bank of the stream. So it is with us. Too many of us have planted ourselves in places that seem right and feel good, but in the end are dependent upon the regularity of the rain to sustain us. For me, I planted myself in a field of human approval. My rain was the praises of men. When those praises weren’t consistent and regular, my spirit suffered. God be praised that he has uprooted me from those fields and planted me by his stream where I can be nourished no matter if the rain comes or not. Since he has done this, I am learning happiness as the steady mean of my life. When hard times come, I can choose to draw from an unending supply of life-giving, Living Water that will sustain me.
So here is where I think God has me. As I’ve tried to piece together the jigsaw puzzle that has been the year 2012, he used the trip to Cape Town to teach me something afresh. I need to remember where I’m planted. My friends in Cape Town seem to do a much better job of remembering the source. When God adopted me, he planted me by the stream of Living Water. In my stubbornness I sometimes don’t take advantage and wait for the rain to fall instead of drinking the water that is already there. Rain is unpredictable, you never know when it’s coming and you never know how long it will last once it does come. I need this truth to burn into my memory, as do you. Drink the Living Water from the source and abiding happiness will become a familiar companion.