Four Habits of a Happy Heart
Today’s happiness is not promised, and it refuses to be assumed.
True happiness — the kind that really anchors, satisfies, inspires, and lasts — is not something to be taken for granted. It’s not a reasonable, predictable, effortless expectation, not even heading into the freedom and rest of the weekend. Happiness can be very hard work. If you’re honest, I really don’t have to convince you of that. You’ve tasted too many Mondays, too many Thursdays, even too many Fridays.
The reasons happiness is so regularly elusive are the hurdles in our hearts — the sin that still remains, still deceives, and still wars against what’s best for us. It creeps into our lives in creative and destructive ways with murderous lies, some conspicuous and outrageous, others subtle and compelling.
Psalm 130 puts words to a pattern of conviction, repentance, waiting, and praise that purifies the sinner and glorifies the Savior. It’s a paradigm for pursuing happiness among the everyday realities of temptation, weakness, brokenness, and failure.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? (Psalm 130:1–3)
Guilt is an awful and appropriate affection for the human heart. We have all experienced death (Ephesians 2:1) and were wallowing in the depths of sin, wrath, and sure destruction (Ephesians 2:3). We all begin with God there — no exceptions, no excuses, no hope. But God. By grace, we’re rescued from hell, restored through faith, and made new in Christ.
Still, even after the miracle of our resurrection — made alive with Christ, raised with him, seated with him right now (Ephesians 2:5–6) — we’re called to war every day against whatever’s left of our old selves. Grief over our sin is good and godly as long as it longs for more of God and more of his likeness in us. There is a guilt — a weeping — that leads us to God, not away from him, to his means of restoration, not away into isolation. We’re all damned by our own doing, but God’s mercy can triumph over every evil and welcome us home to himself.
But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. (Psalm 130:4)
We are welcomed home by the unfailing forgiveness of an otherwise terrifying Father. He is horrifying. That is, without the refuge we find in Jesus. If we don’t know him as infinitely holy, powerful, and just, we’ll never weep and we’ll never know the fullness and sweetness of his forgiveness.
The perfect God that punishes all unrighteousness paid our debt in full when he crushed his Son on the cross (Isaiah 53:10). And this God — our God — forgives in order to be feared. Somehow, God gets more glory, more fame, and more awe in the world when he saves sinners. He didn’t renounce his renown to rescue us. He highlighted and fulfilled it. He forgives and saves to be seen for all that he is.
“God didn’t renounce his renown to rescue us. He forgives and saves to be seen for all he is.”
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. (Psalm 130:5–6)
When we meet a God like ours — the all-knowing, righteous, and forgiving God — we will wait for him. There’s no other way to respond to a God of such awful wrath and such merciful welcome. If we’ve tasted and seen that he is good, we’ll wake up wanting more of him, asking for more of him, creating space in our days and plans and dreams for him to come and meet us.
This side of heaven, we’re always waiting. Waiting for wisdom about that difficult decision. Waiting for a breakthrough in that relationship. Waiting for him to make things right around us. Waiting for him to answer the hard questions on our hearts. Waiting for him to make us whole and holy. Waiting for him to recreate the world and everything in it. Waiting for him to finally bring his sons and daughters home. We’re never not waiting until Jesus returns.
More than anything, though, we’re waiting for him — for more and more of him. And in every other kind of waiting, we’re waiting for him, too. He is the sustaining power and guiding direction and culminating meaning of all our lives. Everything relates to him. “For from him and through him and to him are all things” (Romans 11:36). So we wait for him, and only him.
O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities. (Psalm 130:7–8)
While we are always waiting this side of heaven, God is also always moving. He is always giving us reasons to remember him, give thanks, and rejoice. From the moment he made the earth, the sun, and the seas, he has wanted to inspire worship. And everything he does is worthy of worship — not begrudging, dutiful worship, but affectionate, awe-soaked, spontaneous worship. Everything he does should cause our hearts to rise. It doesn’t always have that effect on us, but that problem’s not his. Everything about him is good beyond our imagination, especially the abundant life he gives to undeserving and unfaithful insurrectionists like you and me.
The hope we have with him can’t be held in. It won’t be trapped in our hearts or in our homes or even our church gatherings. The hope is so full, so real, so compelling, so life-changing that it runs around inside of us frantically looking for a way to escape, desperately longing to be shared with others. “Hope in the Lord!”
Worship is the way the redeemed respond to the good we have with God. It’s the invitation to all the world to come, buy, and eat, without money and without price. It’s the sound of the soul’s happiness in him.
“Worship is the way the redeemed respond to the good we have with God.”
Sermons on happiness from John Piper: