Happiness at Hillbank!

It was good to be at Hillbank Church in Dundee recently to help them put on an outreach evening where we looked at the topic: “A Better Story of Happiness”. That’s a topic I address regularly, because as you talk to people you realise that everyone wants to be happy in some way. People are always saying things like, “I wish I could just be happy.”

But the question of where we look for happiness is another matter altogether. The contemporary world encourages us to look for happiness in physical things such as food, or sex. Another place people look for happiness is through performance; and enjoying success. Sport is an obvious example of that, but so are performances at school or work, or in academia – these are all arenas in which succeeding is viewed as a route to happiness. Another place people look for happiness is in service, that is pouring our lives into others maybe into our kids, or into charity work.

Now, obviously there is nothing inherently wrong with any of those things. But there is so much evidence that of you make any of those things ‘the centre of everything’, and make that thing the basis of your happiness, you will ultimately be let down. That is because those things run out, you get ‘diminishing returns’. Take food for example, eating doughnuts is pleasurable, but if you keep eating them non-stop it leads not to happiness but to unhappiness! If you seek happiness through performing you can never feel secure because one day someone will join the sport who is better than you, or you lose that prestigious job, or your standard of living drops. Even helping others can run out, people who pour their lives into their kids can feel lost they leave home, or if the people they have helped through a charity no longer needs them. All of those things are insecure.

Also – on the evening at Hillbank I mentioned that the famous atheist Friedrich Nietzsche remarked that if you are only helping other people to feel happy about yourself, then you are not really helping them, but rather selfishly using them in your pursuit of happiness!

So, how can we find a true source of happiness? That is the important question that I delved into in the last part of the talk. The point is that we need to find an ultimate source of true joy and happiness outside of ourselves. True joy and happiness must come to us as a gift. That of course took us right into the gospel itself, which is all about God’s grace coming to us from outside of us. It comes not because we earn it, or achieve, but as a gift. The gospel connects us to God, who is the true source of an eternal happiness that we can taste here.

As usual after the talk, we opened the floor to Q&A and had some great questions on things such as suffering and how we can know joy when life is truly terrible. There was one really interesting question when someone asked about the difference between happiness and joy. We tend to refer to happiness as being something that can be quite up and down depending on circumstances, whereas joy is a deeper thing which transcends circumstances. Another terrific question from a younger member of the audience was, “If I became a Christian would that automatically guarantee that I would always be happy?” And the church has sometimes given the impression that that is the case, I our communication. So I wanted to be very honest and say that it doesn’t. In fact, the first Christians in the New Testament found that being Christian initially brough them more unhappiness because it initially led to immense persecution and difficulty. However, what you have as a Christian is the guarantee that God is with you through those difficult circumstances, the guarantee that your suffering is not meaningless (as it is on atheism), and also the gift of knowing the deeper joy that comes from knowing Christ and being known by Him. That means that even when circumstances are rubbish, there is something deeper beneath them, whereas in atheism there just isn’t.

It was great to work with Hillbank Church in Dundee again and to support them in their great work in consistently sharing the gospel of Christ with the people of their part of the city. Hillbank have been friends of Solas for many years, and have worked with Solas on both evangelism and evangelism-training.

Matty Blakeman from Hillbank:

“First and foremost, we were extremely encouraged by the Solas evening.

In terms of turnout, we really didn’t have a clue what to expect. While we’ve done plenty of different outreach type events in the past, we usually do a meal with it and do gender-specific events because capacity is limited when tables are all put out. This time we opened it up to men and women and took the meal element away so we could have a better number in. Sadly, we learnt nearer the time of the event that quite a few that would usually come to our events were put off by the lack of meal. We also had a comment from one church member that she found hard to invite people or get them to come along without the offer of food beforehand. Getting people to come for JUST the talk wasn’t as big a sell which is food for thought for us (no pun intended!).

So going into the event, we really had no clue how many people to expect. This wasn’t helped by the fact that the rain was torrential on the evening which stopped at least a handful of people who had committed to come from making it (mainly from the other side of the Tay bridge).

As it turned out, 40 people were there which we were really pleased with. Of the 40 there was a mixture of people. We had regular church members, friends of church members including a handful non-Christians who would be completely unchurched, a group of young people/students who might be described as being ‘on the fence’ in terms of a Christian walk. But for us, what was most noticeable was that there was a contingent of people, maybe just a handful again, who are family/friends of those in the church and who used to come regularly but haven’t been for a long time to anything. They have really fallen away from the Christian life and don’t even attend Christmas or Easter services and are very difficult to get any contact with these days – yet to the surprise of many, they came along to this event. What is also notable is that I think each of these people has some kind of battle with mental health (anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts). One of them who is going through a particularly hard time opened up a bit to Andy at the end who prayed for him.

We had refreshments before and after the event and we planned for the event itself to last about an hour with 25 mins or so at the end set aside for Q&A. Andy’s talk was excellent as we knew it would be. I was a bit nervous about the Q&A as folk send to be a bit shy with these things but I didn’t need to be as folk were very forthcoming. There were some really good conversations afterwards too.”