The key to managing your emotions is in focusing your thoughts. The following help me do that.
Two Bible insights make good anchors for perspective. The first is the prayer recorded in Psalm 90:12, "Teach me to number my days aright." Limited days cause their value to soar like rockets. The details that fill them became treasures.
The second is Ecclesiastes 12:1, "Remember your creator," which inspires gratitude. I've tried to cultivate a habit of thanking God (with the same gusto that I naturally lament not-so-good circumstances) for creating me and his good gifts. When I do, happiness often steals up on me.
2. Hope for Heaven
This life is not all we get. Jesus is preparing an extravagant future experience—heaven—for us. Now, we get hope for heaven. When I neglect this gift, I court unhappiness.
First, things become too important. I devote time, energy, and money to acquiring and caring for them. I depend on them for happiness—which is fleeting, at best. More often things prompt frustration.
Hope for heaven stills the gnaw I feel to acquire and frees me to live by Jesus' words in Matthew 6:19, "Store up treasures in heaven." I do this by devoting time and energy to activities and attitudes that matter beyond time—like kind, generous, sacrificial acts.
Second, Earth is not my happy place. I go through hard times. Tragedy assails a friend. I read of cataclysmic travesties: people starving, dying in cyclones, dead bodies dumped into rivers. The senseless grief horrifies me. I cope by remembering that heaven provides ultimate healing and comfort. We will meet God, and he will wipe every tear and eliminate death and pain (Revelation 21:3-5). Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian minister, says that we'll find that "all the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup."
Hope for heaven soothes my angst.
3. Engage in Praise
Expressing thanks to God generates happiness. Engaging in praise does even more so. The problem is that true praise is like happiness. I can't manufacture either at will. I can read and reread the Bible's praises, but the phrases are like a stock-report ticker tape that rolls past my mind and doesn't sink in. Yet, I long to engage in true praise that rises from my inner being.
I believe that if I knew God intimately, I would praise spontaneously, exuberantly, and always. Yet praising is like dabbling in an unfamiliar, complicated activity. Right now I must clumsily go through the steps: Think about God. Think about his traits. Praise is an intense consideration of God's exquisite attributes—a dwelling on them and a longing to be like him.
God has designed unique praises for us each to offer. A percussionist adds an intricately timed drum tap, cymbal ping, or chime rustle, which adds interest and beauty to music. Perhaps my praise is that small, exquisite addition to the praise that sounds round the world today. I consider God's attributes, and a delighted response rises from my heart to fit him. Each day I search for at least three delectable praises that I can offer God.
It may seem like praise is a gift I offer God, but unless he reveals himself and places appreciation in my heart, praise does not rise. He is the match and the flint. I ask him to ignite praise in me. Then the dead part of me basks in God's abundance. And a sacred strain of happiness fills me.
4. Seek His Agenda
I'm learning to slow down. Psalm 139:16 says that God writes our days. Is everything you cram into a day written by God? Even Jesus depended on God to write his days. Jesus lived with no agenda of his own—only God's. He freed us to follow his example.
We never know exactly what God will write into a day, but his agenda often includes good works for us to complete (Ephesians 2:10), which God prepared ahead of time, and satisfaction in our work (Ecclesiastes 2:24).
I can't dictate to my heart: Feel happy! anymore than I can demand that Niagara Falls change direction. But when I enjoy God's perspective, hope for heaven, engage in praise, and seek his agenda, happiness creeps up on me. And we don't have to wait for God to give us these gifts. He's already sent them our way. He's simply waiting for us to experience them.
Copyright © 2011 by Christianity Today/ChristianBibleStudies.com. Click here for reprint information.