Smiley-faced Christianity?

I have come to a place where I don’t buy into a lot of those smiley-faced notions of the Christian life. Sure, I’ve received many God-given material blessings and enjoyed many wonderful relationships and pleasant activities, but there is a joy of the Spirit that defies all logic. In some of my bleakest times, I’ve been surprised by this joy that rises within me like the living waters Jesus promised (John 7:38), and I’ve had an otherworldly peace within which I could sense that, if nothing else, God was with me, and He was all I really needed, regardless of my circumstances.

On the other hand, my reading of the Scriptures has shown me that those who are serious about God aren’t necessarily happy.

Jesus Himself was known as a “man of sorrows,” and it’s no coincidence that the most concise verse in the Bible is “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). He was despised, rejected, and endured a brutal death before being raised up and seated with His Father in heaven. All of his disciples were persecuted and physically abused, and all but one was killed for his faith. All that sounds like a fair amount of misery to me.

Modern psychologists would probably prescribe medications for many of the prophets. John the Baptist lived in the wilderness, ate bugs, wore rough clothing, refused to drink wine, and called some religious leaders “a brood of vipers”(Matthew 3:7).

In the Old Testament, the prophets were even stranger. Ezekiel used a brick for a scale model of Jerusalem and laid siege to it with little ramps and battering rams (4:1-2). A grown man playing army in the dirt is mighty strange, indeed, but later he lay on his side for more than a year and cooked over dung because God directed him to do so. Hosea married a whore because God told him to do it, and then he took her back after she had done him wrong.

Sometimes God leads us to dark and strange places. Are we willing to follow, or have we made an idol of our own personal happiness?