David Murray, “The Happy Christian”

The author is a transplanted Scot, now a seminary professor and pastor in Grand Rapids, and the book’s secondary title is, “Ten Ways To Be a Joyful Believer in a Gloomy World.”  The book’s ten chapters address  how to achieve greater happiness as a Christian in different contexts, namely:  facts, media, salvation, church, future, world, praise, giving, work, and differences.  (The conceit of a mathematical formula at the beginning of each chapter — for example, “Facts > Feelings = Positive+” for the first one — is a bit hokey and I’m not sure it makes sense to write a formula as A>B=C, but whatever.)  The book is sometimes rather breezy, but the footnotes are serious and, while I can’t say that the book brought me great and everlasting joy, it was worth reading and had some valuable parts, especially those listed below.

I liked this from the chapter on “Happy Facts” (12, boldface added), which can be applied generally when we find ourselves unhappy because of the (all too common, especially among the chronically unhappy) failure to view things in their full perspective:

Step 1. What are the facts? The facts are that I am in a two-mile back-up, and the radio tells me it will take one hour to clear due to a breakdown in the fast lane several  miles ahead.

Step 2. What am I thinking about these facts? I’m thinking about the idiot who broke down in the fast lane. I’m thinking about all that I could have done with this hour. I’m thinking about how my friends will be wondering about why I’m late for the committee meeting.

Step 3. What am I feeling? I’m angry at the guy who broke down, I’m frustrated about the lost time, and I’m worried about what my friends will think about me for being late.

Step 4. Can I change the facts? No, there is no way out of the traffic jam.

Step 5. Can I change my thoughts about the facts? Yes, I can believe that this is God’s plan for this hour of my life. I can be grateful for time to stop and think and pray in the midst of a busy day. I can practice my breathing relaxation techniques. I can listen to a sermon on the radio. I can pray for my friends. I haven’t done that for a long time.

Step 6. What am I feeling now? Slowly I feel peace, tranquility, calm, and trust in God coursing through my heart and body.

I also liked his section at the end of chapter 2 (“Happy Media”) on Christian meditation (42-45; note that it ends by quoting Jonathan Haidt, whom I really like):  https://books.google.com/books?id=pwe2AwAAQBAJ&pg=PA43&lpg=PA43&dq=%22Now+that+I%27ve+motivated+you%22&source=bl&ots=E9Mhs3sOYp&sig=ACfU3U3HrSMd-1g7Atibl8g0oTzLqvMCuQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjL1u6O-ejgAhVGrVkKHStFC64Q6AEwAXoECAUQAQ#v=onepage&q=%22Now%20that%20I’ve%20motivated%20you%22&f=false

But chapter 7 (!) on “Happy Praise” was my favorite.  Near the beginning (124) the author lists and quotes passages from the Bible where God praises people (Genesis 7:1, Job 1:8, Luke 7:9, John 1:47, and Matthew 15:28), and explains in the chapter why and how we should do the same.

Chapter 8 presents an issue with which I struggle, namely the extent to which we have to accept authority when it’s acting unfairly.  Certainly when such authority starts to require immoral actions on our part we can resist; I discuss this issue at greater length in another post here on this blogsite.

In the chapter on “Happy Work,” I liked this passage (183, footnotes omitted):

William Tyndale wrote, “If our desire is to please God, pouring water, washing dishes, cobbling shoes, and preaching the Word ‘is all one.'” And Luther — in his typical earthy style — wrote, “God and the angels smile when a man changes a diaper.”

And this one (186):

We can do so [i.e., be God’s image bearer] by bringing order out of chaotic cupboards, by bringing beauty out of ugly yards, by repairing damaged limbs, by cleaning dirty clothes, by educating ignorant children, by healing sick seniors, and so on.  All make visible the invisible image and character of God.

I also noted the list of questions the author would consider in deciding whether you’re in the right job or not (176-77):

Can I glorify God in this job?

Doe this work help me live a holy life?

Does it compromise my commitments to God, family, and church?

Does it provide for my needs?

Does it help me be a blessing to others?

Does it make a positive contribution to society?

Does it use my God-given talents?

Do I want to do it?

Is there an opportunity to do it?

In the penultimate chapter, on “Happy Differences,” he has a good list of how Jesus broke down many of the barriers that divide people (201):

He smashed national barriers by sending the Gospel to the nations to unite the nations.  He smashed racial barriers by making a Samaritan woman one of His first converts, and a Samaritan man one of His best examples of love.  He smashed gender barriers by making some of them His closest friends and by defending them from abusive men.  He smashed age barriers by welcoming children into His arms of blessing, and by condemning any who hindered or harmed His little ones.  He smashed social barriers by eating and drinking with the worst of sinners. He smashed ceremonial barriers by touching lepers, healing them, and sending them into the temple.  He smashed class barriers by rejecting the rigid caste system of His day, embracing rich and poor, educated and uneducated among His disciples.

Finally, I liked this quote from Admiral Jim Stockdale, the famous Vietnam POW (230):  “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Caveat: I have to say that if the politics of the book are occasionally intrusive, they are also uneven, if that’s any consolation.  The author asserts he has “always leaned right in my politics” (196) and he rejects socialism and the politics of envy (121, 123), but he also quotes Arianna Huffington a couple of times (84-5, 170), and his chapter on diversity has plenty of political correctness.