David Murray. The Happy Christian: Ten Ways to be a Joyful Believer in a Gloomy World. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015. 256 pp. $16.99.
Church and Ministry
Happiness is elusive. Ralph Venning said: “Though there is nothing more natural to man, than to seek after happiness, yet there is nothing that the nature of man is less able to find out than what will bring him happiness.” If you’re not familiar with Ralph Venning, then let me clue you in; he lived from 1621-1674. So the happiness dilemma is not a post-modern thing; it’s a human thing. Humanity has wrestled with finding purpose, joy, happiness, contentment, and satisfaction since purpose was cursed, joy stolen, happiness afflicted, contentment doubted, and satisfaction found unsatisfying in the garden.
People try all sorts of methods to regain that edenic happiness. Toys, travel, sex, success, children, and careers are common places where we bet our happiness chips. None of these pay out. Many have tried self-help gurus like Norman Vincent Peale or perhaps a more recent iterative like Joel Osteen. Again, not only is there no payout but many become deceived, misled, and, at minimum, disillusioned.
What’s worse is that pressure is bearing down on Americans: financial, political, and cultural pressures, which create a perfect storm for critical spirits and pandemic cynicism. One could say that Americans are becoming increasingly pessimistic and unhappy.
David Murray—a popular blogger (headhearthand.org), professor, and pastor—has read the times, read the Book, and read a lot of corroborating research outside of the sacred huddle in order to offer ten ways to be a joyful believer in a gloomy world. Defining Christian happiness as “a God-centered, God-glorifying, and God-given sense of God’s love that is produced by right relationship to God in Christ and that produces loving service of God and others,” Murray employs a mathematical metaphor of turning the minuses in life into positives (xix). Each of the ten positives that Murray teaches add up for a net total happier living experience. The fruit from these positive approaches reaches beyond personal transformation. Murray writes: “Every pebble of positive faith ripples out to wash over our families, friends, churches, communities, and world” (xxi).
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
I have always enjoyed David Murray’s writing and thought. Murray — writing not just from an academic standpoint but from a vulnerable position — in a sense says, “I needed to figure these things out for myself.” So he did, and then shares the results in a well organized format. Thus, readers receive a transparent account from Murray about his bout over happiness.
Hear directly from him:
“I have the tendency to think in extreme, black-or-white categories. Shades of gray do not exist; it’s all or nothing. For example, maybe my sermon goes so badly one Sunday that I conclude, ‘I was never called to ministry’” (5).
“I sometimes imagine that if only I can get the whole world including God, to orbit around me as the center of the universe, I will be happy, but that’s the way to end up in a black hole” (54).
These are not shallow attempts at self-deprecation in order to feign humility; these are the honest words of one who knows that the battle is real. We are prone to polarity such as either throwing in the towel or making everything spin around us. But happiness is not derived from escape or attention, unless it is escape from sin and attention upon God.
The Happy Christian is not just a collection of statistical research providing scientific data on how to change our attitudes, though it contains those facts in order to corroborate its main line of argument. The fulcrum on which Murray’s argument rests is nothing less than the ineffable Scripture.
For instance, in chapter 2 on “Happy Media” Murray begins by pointing readers to helpful studies that lay out the effect that the media has on users. Murray has a number of go to resources that he uses throughout The Happy Christian: Shawn Achor, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Gretchen Rubin, and Bradley Wright are a few of these sources. Yet, in spite of this hearty collection of scientific evidence, Murray zeroes in on Philippians 4:8 and the biblical principles drawn out of it that instruct us to manage our media happily. Murray maintains this priority of Scripture throughout The Happy Christian, a trait that is commendable about his book.
Much more could be said about The Happy Christian. Its application in pastoral ministry is incalculable. Lay readers will learn to work happily, give happily, and happily rest in the gospel. Furthermore, this book might play a pivotal role in healing marriages, recovering from unemployment, or encouraging diversity within your church and community.
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By
The Happy Christian provides the complete equation for training to rejoice in the triumph of Christ: Read it!