Be Happy

1 Thessalonians 5.16-24

One of the most popular songs recently is a song called ‘Happy’ by Pharrel Williams, who invites us to clap along if we are happy, if we feel like a room without a roof. What a curious thing to be happy about, I doubt whether people in the Philipines who suffered the typhoon would want to sing along to that!  

The other night I was out with some friends and among them was an extraordinarily cheerful Kiwi who seemed to be always smiling. We tried to make her stop smiling and found that her face and mouth were designed in such a way that rendered her physically incapable of not smiling. Normally I would soon find this rather irritating, but not so with this person, who lifted our spirits with her infinite joy.

‘Be happy at all times’ writes St Paul to the Thessalonians. ‘Happy’ is an unfortunate choice of word beloved of the translators of the Jerusalem Bible which they also use to replace ‘blessed’ in the beatitudes.  ‘Be joyful,’ we read in other versions. Happiness like a liquid  soon to evaporate on a hot day is fleeting, whereas joy is much more deeply seated.

To be always joyful would be the greatest of blessings, but a seemingly impossible achievement, and yet in a few brief statements St Paul indicates how that may be achieved.

Pray constantly: not endless recitations, but by being in a prayerful state, with our hearts always open to God in whatever we are doing. Like a sunflower that turns to face the sun, or a satellite dish always facing the same direction, so must our hearts be turned towards God in all that we do and say.

Give thanks for everything: accept it all, the good and the bad, for what has been cannot be changed, but only how we react to it, and how we behave now and in the future. The joy that comes from faith, and our direction towards God, empowers us to be thankful in all circumstances, to hold on to the good and let go of what is bad.

Never try to suppress the Spirit: do not put out the Spirit’s fire. When we are moved by the Spirit to do what we do not want to do, we must not thwart the Holy Spirit for that is to obstruct the work of God.

Do not treat prophets with contempt: those who are fired to speak out must be listened to. We should welcome the critical friend who speaks the truth in love, who corrects us when we make mistakes. We should be grateful for those wise ministrations that tell us when we are behaving foolishly.

Think before you do anything, test everything: we must examine our motives. If we are motivated by love, all will come right in the end. If unsure about what to do, we must seek to discern God’s will in prayer, to ask ourselves what would be the opinion of Jesus about our behaviour. St Benedict said we should commit everything we do to God to bring it to a good conclusion.

Hold on to what is good and avoid every form of evil: when we are laid low, we may feel threatened and besieged, our vision of the world around us may be distorted. But there is still good though we may not see it. The infinite goodness that is God endures and can never disappear.

Bishop Lindsay, the administrator at the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham has been known to preach at length and he sometimes uses an African technique with the youth to keep them listening. When he exclaims in the sermon ‘God is good!’ they must reply ‘all the time!’ And that is so true, God is good, all the time.

We must always shun evil in every form, and aspire to absolute goodness, no lying, no cheating, no stealing, no harsh words in any way that we may justify it, and we must be careful not do what is evil in order to bring about good, for that is a dangerous direction in which to move.  

Holding fast to God will keep us safe, it will give us that blessed assurance that when our lives are lived in accordance with God’s will, we will have security in life. It will not prevent problems coming our way but we will stand firmly on the rock of faith. We will be safe with no cause to blame ourselves and be submerged by guilt. God has called us and will not let us down. Family and friends may abandon and betray us, but God will never fail us.

This is the good news that can mend a broken heart, that can set the captive free. This is the good news that can bring deep joy. God is good, all the time!