Everybody wants to be happy. Many consider happiness the goal of life. Yet, our Christian faith calls us to something different: finding meaning in the gospel, regardless of the cost. Research suggests that pursuing meaning in life is often accompanied by happiness. Pastors have an opportunity to use sermons to invite parishioners to pursue meaning in the gospel of Jesus. Happiness in life is never guaranteed, but happiness can often be found in a meaning-filled life.
Pastors can invite parishioners to reflect on their ultimate goal in life. Pastors might highlight ways our culture idolizes happiness or invite the congregation to tell stories of when serving others gave them meaning. Ultimately, pastors can use sermons to proclaim the gospel and invite listeners to find their meaning in the greatest story ever told – the story of Jesus Christ.
“Although we claim that the ‘pursuit of happiness’ is our inalienable right and the primary driver of the human race, we humans do better pursuing fulfillment and meaning—creating lives that generate the feeling that we matter.”
What to Consider
Is happiness an appropriate goal? Why or why not? If not, what would be an appropriate goal for individuals?
Why do you think a meaning-filled life is so often accompanied by happiness, while pursuing happiness is often devoid of meaning?
What stories can you tell that might invite listeners to critically reflect on the places they find meaning in life?
How to Go Deeper
After a worship service, hold a Mission Fair. Invite leaders from congregational ministries and community organizations to share the ways they are serving others. Make sure to have sign-up sheets so that participants can volunteer to serve.
Ask three people to share stories. Have the first person share about a time they pursued happiness and did not find meaning, the second person share a time they pursued meaning and did not find happiness, and the third person share a time they found both meaning and happiness.
Set aside one Sunday to celebrate the lives of Christian martyrs and those who are currently being persecuted for their Christian faith. Read Acts 7:54-60 as well as other accounts of martyrs. Highlight how their lives with filled with meaning in the midst of tough times.
Read 1 Kings 21:1-29 or 2 Samuel 11:26-12:15, two stories of when unchecked pursuit of happiness led to the death of others, personal harm, and a severed relationship with God. Then share this research on pursuing happiness over meaning and make connections to the ways we pursue happiness over meaning, often at the expense of others. Possible connections could include creation care and the exploitation of global resources, relationships with family members, friends, or colleagues, or financial stewardship.
All references in parenthesis refer to Lectionary readings. For more information on what the Lectionary is, please click here. For additional Lectionary resources click here.
Psalm 1 (Year A, Proper 25; Year B, Easter 7; Year B, Proper 20; Year C, Epiphany 6; Year C, Proper 18) Psalm 41 (Year B, Epiphany 7) Psalm 106:1-3 (Year A, Proper 23) Psalm 112 (Year A, Epiphany 5; Year C, Proper 17) Psalm 119 (Year A, Epiphany 6; Year A, Epiphany 7; Year A, Proper 10; Year A, Proper 12; Year A, Proper 18; Year B, Lent 5; Year B, Proper 26; Year C, Lent 5; Year C, Proper 24; Year C, Proper 26) Psalm 128
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Zach is currently a PhD student at Fuller Theological Seminary researching the role of leaders in congregational change. His calling in life is to train and equip pastors to faithfully lead local congregations. When not studying, he'll most likely be watching Sporting Kansas City score goals or hiking with his wife and two kids.