Some years ago we were on vacation and riding home after a dinner out at the beach when my daughter Clara looked at her phone and exclaimed, “Robin Williams has died. He apparently committed suicide.” Such news sparked a spirited family conversation, all of us somewhat bewildered that a man who seemed so full of laughter, a comic genius whose life radiated zest, and one who had access to every possible material pleasure and had won every possible professional acclaim, would have any motivation to end his existence. But shortly thereafter I came across a tribute to Robin Williams from his long-time friend Dick Cavett, the late-night tv host. Cavett shared an incisive glimpse into the irony of Williams’ character when he told of watching Williams doing a stand-up comedy routine at a New York night club and leaving the audience convulsed with riotous laughter. Nevertheless, as Robin Williams slumped in his chair to the sound of thunderous applause, he remarked to Cavett, “Isn’t it amazing that I can bring so much happiness to everyone else, but none to myself?” As a long-time victim of depression, Robin Williams enjoyed almost every conceivable gift and talent, save one — the gift of being able to enjoy and appreciate the gift of his own existence.
That statement of Williams’, “I can bring happiness to everyone else but myself,” caused me to ponder the question, ‘What made Jesus happy? What truly brought joy to Jesus’ heart?’ Obviously, Jesus was extraordinarily talented. He possessed amazing spiritual charisma, evinced astounding healing powers, articulated profound spiritual truths. Without question, Jesus authored a host of actions that inspired wonder in others. And surely he delighted in people’s joy when he restored a man’s sight or cured someone of leprosy, or raised a child from the dead. Surely he found satisfaction in feeding five thousand hungry people with a few loaves and fish. Surely he took at least some satisfaction in telling a story that brought redemptive light into people’s souls. And yet, Jesus could have enjoyed people’s delight in being touched by his power in the same way that Robin Williams enjoyed making people laugh while not experiencing any real happiness in his innermost being. In fact, Jesus could have regarded his transforming spiritual power and his eloquent redemptive wisdom as intolerable burdens rather than sources of joy. Plenty of supremely gifted people come to regard their marvelous talent as a heavy weight rather than a blessing. Yet that was not the case with Jesus. He radiated a genuine joy. So what was the secret to his happiness?
We find the answer in Jesus’ exchange with the Tempter in the desert. Satan offers Jesus every conceivable form of success – universal acclaim, unparalleled glory, incredible material wealth, fawning celebrity — only to have Jesus immediately and instinctively reject every offer. Why? Because in the form the Tempter offered them, Jesus recognized these offers were entirely independent of the will of God. None of the pleasures the Tempter proffered were rooted in Jesus’ sense of God’s purpose for him. As he states forthrightly, “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.” In that answer we find the secret to Jesus’ happiness. His joy roots in his faithfulness to the Father’s will. He is not simply being pious when he says, “We live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Instead, he is stating forthrightly the universal blueprint for a satisfying life. For Jesus, true happiness was found in living obediently to the Father. Jesus found his delight and fulfillment through answering the Father’s call. Moreover, he found happiness in witnessing those who allowed his Father to call them to a new plane of living, whether it was a pagan centurion who trusted Jesus’ power so absolutely that he asked Jesus to perform a long-distance healing, or a contrite woman whose repentance was so profound that anointed Jesus’s feet with a costly nard, or a rich tax collector who was willing to appear ridiculous in climbing a tree to glimpse Jesus more clearly. These extraordinary actions brought Jesus happiness because he delighted in people displaying a radical obedience to God’s call. When people cast aside restrictive boundaries and discarded customary behaviors to answer God’s summons with courageous commitment, Jesus’ heart filled with joy. What made Jesus happy was encountering people who boldly answered God’s invitation to live with absolute commitment to the divine will. That’s why Jesus said plainly, “There is more joy among the angels of God over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous folks who don’t need any repentance.”
Naturally, the question, ‘What makes Jesus happy?’ leads to the question, ‘What makes us happy?’ or rather, ‘What should make us happy?’ Let’s be honest. There is a part of us that thinks that if we possessed all the advantages that Robin Williams enjoyed, we would be incredibly content. We assure ourselves that if we had Robin Williams’ talent, his fame, his money, his celebrity, we would be satisfied. Yet, in reality, we know better. Jesus reminds us that it is possible to gain the whole world but lose your soul. It is possible to thrill millions, but have no contentment in your own personality. It is possible to be praised by everyone yet feel like a fraud inside. All the material wealth in the world cannot buy a contented spirit. That’s why Jesus maintained that happiness truly comes in living obediently to the will of our heavenly Father. Only when we live with a sense of daily conversation with God’s summons, and live with a sense of obedience to that summons, only then do we find real fulfillment and an enduring sense of contentment.
On this World Communion Sunday, when millions of believers around the globe are gathered around the Lord’s Table, we focus upon a conversation that Jesus had with his inner circle of disciples. He said to them, in essence, ‘I am answering my Father’s summons, though it leads to a cross on Golgotha – and that is a hard path. Yet, hard though it is, it is the only path that leads to fulfillment for me and for the entire world.’ Jesus says, You want to know my formula for happiness? Then pray, “Not my will but Thine be done” — and mean it. When we can pray each day — and really mean in the depths of our being – “Lord, not my will, but Thine be done,” then we have committed ourselves to a pathway toward lasting spiritual contentment and given our lives a purpose that ends in eternal bliss. Obedience to God is what will ultimately make us happy, and it is with that thought in mind that we engage in this act of communion with God and with each other.