At Solas we love working with local churches to put on low-key outreach events in their communities, to share the gospel with people who don’t come to church, essentially. We often use neutral venues to do this, sometimes they take place inside church premises too.
Our friends at South Glasgow Church opened their doors, and offered food, a friendly welcome and good hospitality to their neighbours and invited them in. They asked me to speak on a topic they thought would interest people in their community and chose “the pursuit of happiness” for the evening. It’s based on the idea that we look for happiness in all the wrong places.
It’s actually one of my favourite evangelistic topics to speak on because it is so accessible and understandable to people with no background in church, working knowledge of the Bible, or a Christian worldview.
I got the basic framework for this talk from a friend in Canada, and it really is very helpful for people. It’s based on the ideas of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle who suggested that there are four levels of happiness and that true satisfaction in life only comes when all four levels are addressed.
The first level of happiness is ‘animal happiness’. That’s the happiness that comes when our basic needs for things like food and sex are met. However, only pursuing these things leads people into dissatisfaction and unhappiness because of diminishing returns. If you eat a doughnut, it’s great, but if you eat another and then another eventually you feel ill. And of course, our culture encourages us to treat sex the way we treat food and that has just caused chaos. There’s nothing inherently wrong with food and sex either – just that we are clearly designed for more than just those things so if you try and live at that level you end up simply unhappy.
If level one doesn’t satisfy you have to move up to level two. Level two , is the comparison game in which you gain a degree of satisfaction by doing better than somebody else at something -perhaps by winning in a sport, coming top of your university class, or climbing the career ladder. Again, there is nothing wrong with competition per se, in fact healthy competition can be a fun part of life. If it is the only thing you are living for though, you will have a problem because you won’t be at the top for ever. Eventually someone will join the sports team who is faster than you, or someone else will be promoted over you, or be the boss’s favourite and one day you will flunk an exam. It is also exhausting, if you have to justify your miserable existence by constant performing. If you try and gain happiness through the pursuit of level two happiness, you’ll just end up unhappy.
So, if you are unhappy at level two, what do you do? You have to go up to level three happiness! Level three happiness comes from living for others, pouring your life into somebody else. Parenting and charity work are two great examples of very rewarding things that we do, which can produce this kind of happiness. The problem here is that you can’t totally live for others, not least because if you do your job really well, they will no longer need you. ”The Empty Nest Syndrome” is what we call the sadness some parents feel when their job is done and the kids no longer need them. Worse than that, the great atheist philosopher Friedrich Neitzsche pointed out that if you are serving others in order to pursue happiness – you’re not actually doing it for others but in fact being selfish! It’s a very pointed critique, and all means that if you try this you will ultimately end up being unhappy.
The only answer is to find level four happiness. That means finding something truly bigger than you to stake your identity, meaning and happiness on. For Christians that is all about realising that life should ultimately be about worship. That is discovering happiness in loving, knowing, worshipping and being known by the God of the whole universe who created us and designed us for relationship with Him. The great thing about that is that it is not competitive in that you don’t have to earn it God’s love. Also, you can’t outgrow it, and when you have learnt to locate your satisfaction there it liberates you to enjoy other things. Parenthood, charitable work, competition, food and sex – become things that we do desperately trying to justify ourselves – but become good gifts that we can give thanks to God for because they are in their proper place. In contrast I knew a guy who told me that prior to becoming a Christian he had lived at level three. He had placed his family on such a pedestal and idolised them in ways they could never live up to. He said that he almost destroyed his marriage, and drove his kids away before he became a Christian and started to put things the right way round.
It was good to see that there were some non-Christian people who were there for event in South Glasgow. And I have found that with that talk I very rarely get any push-back. It always seems to open up really thoughtful, positive conversations.
If you would be interested in running an evangelistic event for your community along these lines, them have a look at this article entitled, “Taking the Gospel Outside the Four Walls of the Church” : Café Style Evangelism in Six Easy Steps. If you’d like to invite a Solas speaker to help you on the night, please do get in touch. We work all over the country, with churches large and small. We’d love to hear from you.
Jenny Hamill from the church wrote, ” It was great to welcome friends from the local community to our evening with Andy. As we considered ‘the pursuit of happiness’ there was opportunity to listen, question and even debate a little! The message of hope in Jesus was clear – that we experience true joy, whatever our circumstances, when we know Him as our Saviour and friend.”