A few years ago at an amusement park, I watched a mother become very exasperated with her five-year-old son. The boy kept whining and complaining until his mother lost patience with him. She seized him by the shoulders, shook him, and snarled, “Look, I brought you here to have a good time! Now you have a good time!”
The world tries so hard to be happy. But most of the things it offers — drugs, alcohol, sexual adventures, expensive entertainment, financial reward — don’t work for long. Self-indulgence always produces emptiness, dissatisfaction, restlessness, and what the Bible calls “a continual lust for more” (Ephesians 4:19).
After washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus said, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). Then he promised, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:17). To be blessed means more than being happy it means being joyful, fulfilled, contented. The formula for blessedness is to forget happiness and pursue service.
Dr. Karl Menninger was once asked in an open forum what a person should do for depression. The noted author and counselor offered an answer that surprised his audience.
“If I felt a sense of futility overwhelming me,” he said, “I’d go out of my house, lock the door, go across the tracks, and find someone in need and do whatever I could to assist that person.”
In other words, sound mental health depends on ministering to others. We are happiest when our lives have a purpose. We find that sense of purpose by serving others in the name of Christ.
I grew up in Mishawaka Indiana. I graduated from Mishawaka high school. At that time in my life I loved rock ‘n’ roll.
I recalled one time when I was lounging around in the living room, listening to Rock and Roll, on the radio when my dad came in from shoveling snow.
He looked at me quizzically and said, “In 24 hours, you won’t even remember what you’re listening to now. How about doing something for the next 20 minutes that you will remember for the rest of your life? I promise that you will enjoy it every time you think of it.”
“What is it?’ I asked. “Well, Son, there are several inches of snow on old Mrs. Brown’s walk,” he said. “Why don’t you see if you can shovel it off and get back home without her knowing?”
I did the walk in about 15 minutes.
She never knew who did the job, and Dad was right. It has been a lot more than 20 years, and I have enjoyed the memory every time I have thought about it.
There is a blessedness that comes from serving others that you don’t get from indulging yourself. The secret of happiness is to forget self and pursue service.
That sounds simple, but it’s not easy to do. It means you have to go against your own lazy, egotistical, carnal nature. It means you go counter to the proud and indulgent world around you. It means you daily follow the one who humbled himself and washed the feet of his disciples.
Victor Frankl endured the misery of a Nazi concentration camp. He later wrote, “The reason so many people are unhappy today and seeking help to cope with life is that they fail to understand what human existence is all about. Until we recognize that life is not just something to be enjoyed, but rather it is ‘a task that each of us is assigned, we’ll never find meaning in our lives and we’ll never be truly happy.”
Or, as C. S. Lewis put it, “Aim at earth and get nothing. Aim at heaven and get earth thrown in.”
1. If there was one thing you could do this coming year to make you happy, what would it be? Why?
2. Why did Jesus choose to wash his disciples’ feet instead of doing some other task? What lesson does this teach us about service?
3. Jesus set an example to follow. What are some ways you can “wash feet” (that is, serve others) this week?
Paul Leavens is the Minister of Lindsay Christian Church. Visit the church website at www.lindsaychristianchurch.org.