In life, the good times are often measured by momentary happiness. It’s natural to pursue those things which make us happy, the new sports car, the house in an upscale neighborhood, the European vacation; fill in the blank. But happiness often comes with conditions; a price tag, the specific action or participation of others, or seemingly dumb luck when all the planets line up and for a fleeting moment everything is as it should be.
Unlike happiness, Joy is not dependent on the external; rather it is found in the peace which flows out of our love for God and others. Sometimes joy is an exercise of self discipline, choosing an attitude of contentment which is not rooted in our immediate circumstance. But often Joy is the byproduct of simple obedience.
It’s sometimes easy to envy those we respect or appreciate, without considering the talent, achievement or circumstance we admire took years of hard work, dedication and faithful obedience culminating in the success we hold in such high regard.
I am reminded of the story of the captives in Babylon found in Daniel Chapter 1 of the Bible. In this story we are introduced to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, four of the young Hebrew men, who were taken to Babylon to serve King Nebuchadnezzar. We’re told in verses three and four this group of young men: include[ed] some of the royal family and of the nobles,youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court; Daniel goes on to tell us in the very next text that the chief of the officials was: to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king appointed for them a daily ration from the king’s choice food and from the wine which he drank, and appointed that they should be educated three years, at the end of which they were to enter the king’s personal service.
But Daniel,concerned he would defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine he drank, sought permission from the commander of the officials to eat only vegetables and drink only water. Only after requesting the official test them after ten days and compare the four to the other captives, the official agreed. This was no small concession, for being found in disobedience of the kings orders was a capital offense. However after ten days had passed Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah seemed better and they were fatter than all the youths who had been eating the king’s choice food.So the overseer continued to withhold their choice food and the wine they were to drink, and kept giving them vegetables. (v.15-16)
It is often difficult to deny ourselves the delicacies of our culture. Exchanging nice restaurants, regular shopping sprees, the latest gadgets, late model cars and beautiful houses to live on a budget is not considered “normal”, but in the long run our willingness to eat the vegetables and drink the water of obedience will not only make us healthier, but also provide for us a lasting joy the aforementioned “delicacies” can never deliver.
Just as with Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, obedience begets blessings. At the end of the required training, the commander of the officials presented the Hebrews to Nebuchadnezzar. Upon inspection Nebuchadnezzarfound that in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king consulted them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and conjurers who were in all his realm. (v.20)
Because we often feel societal pressures to conform, I am convinced in so many ways we accept conventional wisdom as normal or correct, and further muddy the waters to the point we make it nearly impossible to differentiate between God’s blessings and the delicacies of the world.
Though happiness is fleeting if not altogether illusive, I have found in my own life the times in which I have chosen the water and vegetables of obedience to not only to hold a greater depth of joy, but a richness of life which is available by no other means.