What is the one desire you and I all share? What is the one thing we want above all else? Happiness. The desire to experience lasting happiness is universal. Almost everything we do as human beings can be traced back to our quest for it—and perhaps no one understands this better than those in the advertising industry.
It is estimated that the average person sees 3,000 advertisements a day in the form of things like product labels, TV ads, and internet ads. Each one of these ads offers you a simple promise: buy this and you will be happy. Whether it is for floor cleaner or a new smartphone, ads feature people living in an artificial world of perfection and bliss. They are always smiling, always satisfied, always having fun.
When we see this seeming joy presented to us, we desire it and the product we are promised will bring it to us. “If I could only own that smart TV, I would be really happy,” we think. And before we realize what has happened, we have grown restless and discontent until we can possess what we believe will satisfy our longing for joy.
Beer, Pizza, and Sex
Let’s face it, advertisers have a pretty low view of men. Most ads targeting men prey on our desire for cheap thrills. What will make us happy? Beer by the gallon. Sex—the more partners and the fewer strings attached the better. And pizza.
Don’t get me wrong, I love pizza, beer, and sex. They are all pretty great. The problem is, these things are presented to us like they will really satisfy us as men. It simply isn’t true.
You see, we humans have a problem. Our thirst for happiness is insatiable. No matter what we do, we can’t seem to satisfy it. Sure, buying a thing may quench our thirst for happiness momentarily, but the pleasure quickly fades, and we are left even more unhappy than we were before. We go in search of the next big thing—the next one night stand, the next car we can’t afford, the next promotion at work. We want our joy to last forever, but nothing on this earth can seem to fill the void.
The Rich Young Man
In the Gospel of Luke chapter 18, Jesus is approached by a zealous young man. Like all of us, this wealthy young man wants to be happy. And really, from a human perspective, he has every reason to be—he’s rich and he’s powerful, the two things that the world promises us will make us happier than anything else. Even better, he’s religious, zealously keeping the Jewish law from his childhood. Yet, despite his wealth and authority and religiosity, you can sense his discontent. He’s sought out Jesus because he’s unhappy. He can tell something is missing.
“What do I have to do to inherit eternal life?” he asks, which is really a way of asking, “What can I do to be happy forever?” Jesus doesn’t answer his question directly. He starts by giving him a quiz of the commandments, which the young man passes with flying colors. Then Jesus gets to the heart of the matter: “Sell all you have and give to the poor.” The young man is aghast. Sell everything? Surely not.
It’s not recorded in scripture, but I can almost picture the young man trying to bargain with Jesus. Can I sell half of my possessions? Can I give up some of my authority? But Jesus won’t budge. He demands everything. The young man hesitates, struggling mightily within himself. Finally he decides. He just can’t do it. And he goes away sad.
Our Hearts are Restless
Do you notice that when Jesus quizzes the young man on the commandments, he only mentions half of them? He doesn’t mention the commandments about idolatry or loving God with all your heart. There’s a reason: If he had, the young man would have failed miserably. The young man wanted Jesus on his own terms, and Jesus knew it. Jesus demanded the one thing that he knew the young man loved more than him—his possessions.
The Gospel of Mark records this same story and includes interesting detail the other writers leave out: “Jesus looked at him and he loved him.” Jesus’ heart went out to this young man. He saw his zeal, his good motives, and he saw his longing for happiness. He knew that he alone could satisfy this young man’s heart, and yet to do so this man would have to let go of his idols and die to himself. Christ’s demand was not made out of cruelty, but out of love. Jesus knows that idols make us unhappy, he knows that they can never satisfy, and if we cling to them, we will go away sad like the young man.
Joy and Life Eternal
The disciples are rather shocked by Jesus’ exchange with the young ruler, and it leaves them questioning. “What about us? We have left everything for you. What do we get in return?”
Jesus’ reply is one full of good news. “Truly, I say to you, there is no man who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive manifold more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” In other words, seek first the kingdom of God, and happiness will be yours.
Perhaps it isn’t money you cling to, maybe it’s the approval of others, or pornography, or junk food, or fast cars, or technology. Whatever it is, Jesus looks at you and he loves you. He says to you, “I know you want to be happy, but your idols will never satisfy you. Give them up and follow me. I will bring you more happiness than you can imagine, but you have to love me above every other worldly good. You must seek me first, and you will find joy unspeakable.”
Men, if you want to be happy, seek Jesus. He is the answer to your heart’s infinite longings, and he alone can bring you happiness. Reject the false promises of the world and give up the pursuit of endless things that will never satisfy you. Seek him, and when you have found him, give yourself to him without reserve, for in return you will find joy in this life, and in the age to come, eternal life.