But like others this year, we also experienced pain and heartache. We felt the grief of losing loved ones. We faced missing our family and friends who we left back on the mainland. We encountered circumstances that revealed sinful patterns of thinking and behavior that God wanted to root out of our lives.
At the outset of 2023, if it had been up to me, I would have chosen only the experiences of comfort, joy, and ease. Like most of the world, I always want a happy new year. But in His perfect sovereignty, God has much better plans for me. Happiness is not His primary goal. God cares far more about my holiness than my happiness. He will do whatever it takes to accomplish this purpose, and it is only through His committed pursuit of my holiness that I can know true joy.
What is Holiness?
God is holy. The word holy means set apart. For God, being holy means that not only is there no sin in Him, but there is also no one else like Him. He is far above and beyond our finite understanding. However, when we become followers of Christ, we are transformed into a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) and are now called by the Holy One to be holy. For us, being holy means that we are set apart for His purposes, reserved for His plans, belonging entirely to Him. We are no longer living life on “our terms” but rather on His.
From a worldly perspective, this may seem unfair. An unbelieving mind can easily paint God as a despot who manipulates His creation like puppets for His own selfish purposes. However, we know this is not the God we serve. His purpose in setting us apart and making us holy is proof of His kindness and goodness. In making us holy, God provides us the ultimate happiness – far greater happiness than we can achieve when left to our own devices and desires.
Why Holiness is Greater Than Happiness.
Happiness is a moving target. If we spend our lives chasing what makes us feel good or think brings us peace, we will find that we can never really hit the mark. There will always be something else to do or attain. On our own, we can never reach that place where all is well or what we desire life to be. Something is always missing.
Truth be told, we overvalue happiness. Every experience, relationship, and even our purpose for living is filtered through the lens of “Does this bring me personal happiness?” This mindset leads us to view everything and everyone as a means to gain pleasure. And when people or circumstances inevitably let us down, we see this as a personal attack on our joy.
This is why Peter challenges us with these words:
“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” 1 Peter 14-16
Peter basically tells us, “This obsession for happiness is the old, sinful man. You are now a new creature, made for something far better.” Happiness is far less than holiness for two reasons. First, happiness is fleeting. It cannot be kept. Secondly, a preoccupation with happiness presumes that we can somehow avoid suffering and difficulty. If we just try hard enough and can get what we desire, we can somehow stave off pain or hard times. We can insulate ourselves with happiness and avoid sorrow. When we find ourselves so disappointed and dissatisfied by the difficulties of this life, it is because we have bought the lie that our personal happiness is can do something for us that only God can do.
How Do We Pursue Holiness?
1. Seek After Holiness in Our Thoughts
In 1 Peter, he shows us that holiness begins in the mind. We become what we dwell on. This is why Peter tells us to “[prepare] your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13). We must strengthen and ready our minds to do what we know is right and leads to holy living. In order to change the way we live, we must first change the way we think.
2. Seek After Holiness in Our Heart
As our minds are transformed by God’s truth, He also works in our hearts. Our desires will change. What we longed for and sought after before will no longer hold our gaze. Through the work of the Holy Spirit in us, our affections will shift. We will love what God loves and hate what God hates.
This is what David means when he says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). As we submit to God to make our hearts holy, He changes our formerly selfish desires into ones that long solely for Him. And then He graciously gives us a never-ending supply of all that we desire – Him.
3. Seek After Holiness in Our Actions
When God transforms the way we think and what we desire, holy living is sure to follow. We will trust Him regardless of our circumstances. We will seek to obey and please Him in our words and the way we live. We are no longer slaves to our earthly passions but rather we are lovingly led and satisfied by our Father. As my pastor has said, “God is not the means to an end (our happiness), He is the end. And it brings us joy to make Him our happiness.”
As we embark on this new year, let us make holiness, not happiness our priority. We can pursue our resolutions for the year but not without remembering that even if we attain them, they won’t bring us lasting happiness. Loving God and seeking after holiness will be our anchor no matter what comes in 2024. Let us make our plans and set our goals while keeping in mind that “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). Let us set our hearts on Him, what He loves, and His purpose for us. Only then can we live confidently that whatever happens this year, His commitment to making us more like Him will be our true source of joy and peace this year and for all that is to come.
How have you seen Proverbs 16:9, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” play out in your life recently?
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