This week in the iBelieve series on the Apostle’s Creed, we are moving into the passion of Christ—his suffering and his death. In John 18, we witness Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, and trial before Jewish and Roman leaders. What is in question are Jesus’ identity and mission. The contrast between Jesus and all the others in the narrative is remarkable. There are so many words flying and so many actions being taken against Christ.
We see the fear of Peter manifested in betrayal, the anger of Jewish religious leaders seeking to manipulate the Roman government to help them in getting rid of Jesus, and Pilate’s wrong use of power to end an innocent man’s life in order to quell an uprising and maintain the pax Romana and to save his political career. You could say there is a lot of unhappiness for many reasons in this passage. That’s why I included the quote from Basil Pennington in the questions for the devotions today:
Unhappiness is always a result of not being able to do something I want to do, have something I want to have, or concern about what others will think of me. This brings us back to the core of the false self—placing my value in what I have, what I can do and what others think of me” (quoted from The Gift of Being Yourself by David Benner).
Everyone except Jesus in the passage narrative is unhappy about something for one or more of the above reasons. In contrast, Jesus is getting what he doesn’t deserve, but he remains at peace in the midst of unbelievable suffering on every level—emotional, physical, relational, and spiritual. Jesus knows who he is and what he is about, so though he is caught up in human religious and political systems that are out of control, he remains rooted and grounded in his relationship to the Father and the mission he has come to accomplish.
I read the quote above some months ago and was really convicted about my attitude. There are life circumstances that really make us unhappy, and I have lived some of those myself and know others who are living them now. But to be honest, at this juncture, most of my unhappiness is, in the grand scheme of things, for trivial reasons.
So for the last few months I have been trying to pay attention to when I feel unhappy and to examine what is at the core of it. I am discovering from my own experience that Pennington is right. And I am noticing the truth of his statement in others and many and varied circumstances as well.
So what do I do? The main thing I do is notice, and then ask God what he wants me to do. I often confess my sinful, self-referenced attitude or action. And then I can choose to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Joy and gratitude and a life of prayer are God’s will for me. If I’m unhappy, it may well be a sign I’m drifting and striving to take things into my hands. It’s time to stop, let go of my agenda, get reoriented, and ask the Holy Spirit to help me focus on God and his will for my life.