Sermon delivered by Joel Snider, pastor of First Baptist Church in Rome, Ga., on September 20, 2009.
2 Samuel 13:7-20
Half of the world is on the wrong scent in the pursuit of happiness. They think
it consists in having and getting, and in being served by others. It consists in
giving and in serving others.
I have never actually seen a survey where anybody has polled parents scientifically, but in my experience if you ask parents what they want for their children, most parents will answer happiness. “I want my children to be happy.” If a person is happy, it covers a lot of problems in life. We probably all have known individuals who have lost money, a job, or a loved one, but these individuals continue to have a sense of gladness in their lives that seems to get them through. You can lose a lot, but if you are still happy, life continues to be rich and full.
How do we get happiness for our children? If that is the one thing that we would like for our children to have, how do we get happiness for them and how are we doing? How happy are they?
If you pay attention to my sermons, you will probably recognize that there are several predictable patterns. A lot of times in the introduction, I bring out something that is common wisdom or the way people think, but it is not always what we really want. You might be thinking, “Is he going to take the opposite approach and say we should make our children unhappy?” Clearly not. I have children now grown, but if you were to ask me what I want for them, I would want them to be happy.
The problem is not that we want our children to be happy, but it is the priority that we give it and the way that we go about trying to get it. This, indeed, is a trap, and it is what I call the Happiness Trap. I am going to preach a series on how to raise children using David as a model. The unfortunate thing is that David doesn’t do well in any of the sermons. It is amazing what a great biblical hero David is and some of the things that David gets wrong. It actually should be very hopeful to us. David makes many mistakes but he is still a person who was very useful to God.
We will see that David deals with three different sons and fails. We have to look to the New Testament and the words of Christ. In the words of Christ, we find the corrective to those things where David has fallen short. This week, the child of David and the relationship that we are looking at is Amnon. It is not an easy name to say. Amnon is not one of the better known children of David. He was actually the firstborn son. He was supposed to be king. If you can imagine all the glory that came to Solomon later, that should have been Amnon’s. If you read on in the story, you will find that he was killed by one of his half brothers.
This is a story that is particularly difficult to try to talk about and explain when the youngest ears of the congregation are listening. If you were not paying attention earlier, you need to go back and read it. We have only taken a slice out of the center. There is more before and there is more after. To get the full understanding of the story, you need to see all of it.
Amnon had eyes only for his half sister, Tamar. A friend, if you want to call him that, advised him to set a trap. The friend told Amnon to pretend to be sick, to ask David send his half sister in to take care of him, and then spring the trap and have her.
The trap was sprung, Tamar protested, and it was a very interesting thing that she said to him. She said, “I will be ashamed and you will be a scoundrel, but I tell you that if you are insistent upon this way, ask the king because he will give you anything.” Did you notice what she said? “Ask the king, even this, because we know the king does not deny you anything.”
Her hope here is that, at least, they might mimic the kind of marriages that were arranged in Egypt and other places and that there might be some sense of officialness about it. Not only would this evil not befall her, but she would not have the shame that would follow later. “Ask the king. He will give you anything.” Why does she say that? In observing the way that David has raised the one who was going to be king, he had never denied him anything. Whatever he wanted, he got.
Amnon denied his sister. We read the story and we know what happened. Then when it was over, instead of really loathing himself, which was probably what was going on here, he did what typically happened and he hated the victim. He cast her out and she went to live with her full brother, Absalom, whom we will look at next week. If you read on in the chapter, it says that David heard about it but David did nothing. He had lived his life wanting Amnon to be happy and I guess he was afraid to cross his son for fear that he would be unhappy.
We learn two things from this. This was about 3,000 years ago and I assume it was going on before and I know it has been going on since. One, is that a lot of times parents, in an effort to make their children happy, give them everything. Very rarely does it work. Instead of trying to make Amnon happy, what David was really doing was that he was trying to stop him from being unhappy. Do you see the difference?
If there are children in your home and you have some role in raising children, we have all fallen prey to this. What we really want is that we want to stop our children from being unhappy and we have confused that with giving them happiness. It is not the same thing. It is a happiness trap and it is what we fall into.
If we recognize the absolute terror of the way David has gone about this, then surely we would want to be looking for a better way. If we want our children to be happy, what do we do?
Look at the meditation text from Henry Drummond. Viktor Frankl, one of the more famous people who lived through the Nazi concentration camps, said this: “Don’t aim at happiness. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. Happiness cannot be pursued. It must ensue and it only comes as the unintended side affect of personal dedication to a cause greater than one’s self or as a bi-product of surrender to a person other than one’s self.” I think I hear the echo of Jesus in this.
In Mark 8, Jesus is talking to his disciples at Caesarea Philippi. He said, “For those who want to save their life will lose it. Those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel will save it. For what does it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed what can they give in return for their very life?”
Do you realize Jesus said this six different times in the Gospels? He said, “The secret is to give yourself away in the name of God.” Isn’t that what Jesus himself does?
If you want children to be happy, let me suggest this: Teach them to follow Jesus Christ. This is not the same thing as saying, “Get them to join the church.” That is good, but in and of itself that is not going to do it. People join the church and are not happy. It is not the same thing as making sure they get baptized. People get baptized and are not happy. But forgetting ourselves, following Jesus Christ, and living according to the way he lived puts us in a path of giving ourselves away in the name of God. We find this is what gives us meaning and this meaning provides a sense of gladness and joy that nothing else does.
Think of the different things that Jesus said. The disciples were talking to him about being hungry. “Aren’t you hungry? Don’t you want some food?”
Jesus said, “I have meat and food that you don’t know about. It is to do the will of my Father.”
How many times does he say, “I didn’t come to be served, but to serve”? How many times does he talk about giving himself away as a part of God’s mission? If we want children to be happy, we can’t aim at happiness. We can’t think that if we give them everything that we think will make them happy, they will be happy. We certainly cannot spend our lives trying to keep them from being unhappy. I am not saying you cannot ever make your child not be unhappy, but if that is the aim and direction of our lives, all it does is produce that same kind of dynamic that is present in Amnon’s life. You get one thing, and then you want another, and another, and another. If we really want our children to be happy, then we teach them to follow Christ in a way that brings purpose, meaning, and mission to their lives. As they learn to do these things, they find the truth of a Viktor Frankl and a Henry Drummond. They find the truth of the people that we look around in life and admire the most. The people we admire for the sense of gladness, joy, and happiness in their lives are not people who have taken and taken and taken. They are the people who always seem to be able to give themselves away again, again, and again. They are people who are dedicated to a cause. They are dedicated to the kingdom. They are dedicated in some way to serving Jesus Christ. We see them and we think, “Why do they always have that great spirit about them?” It is because they are not aiming at happiness. They are aiming at serving Christ. The reflection of God’s joy in their lives comes out as what everybody else has always been wanting and striving to get.
How many times have we said, or how many times have we heard it said, “Jesus was one of the greatest teachers that ever lived”? Just look at the Parables, the wisdom, the little nuggets that he said. Can you imagine Jesus saying, “Follow me and it will make you happy”? That is not what Jesus is trying to get us to do. Jesus is trying to get us to join our lives with God. Jesus is trying to get us to give ourselves away for the sake of God’s kingdom on earth. When we do that, all those promises about joy come true. There is a difference in where you go first. What is your motive? If you are only doing it to try to be happy, I doubt it is going to work. If we learn the secret of giving ourselves away, it results in the sense of being united with God in God’s work on earth and being united with Christ in Christ’s mission. We find that the gladness overflows.
If we really want our children to be happy, then this is what we have to teach them. This is the way we have to lead them.
I preach this and I have to think of the times I caved in to my girls because I didn’t want them to be unhappy. I know what we want for our children. The key is recognizing how often that fails when we use it as a lifestyle, parenting style or family style. How many times does that fail? Often. But somehow in those families where children are instilled with a sense of dedication to Christ, where they are led by example and taught to participate at a tender age in doing the work for the kingdom, there seems to be something there that was what we always wanted.
Knowing Christ and participating in his work brings the joy and the gladness. Giving ourselves away in God’s name brings the happiness that we always wanted.
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.