The Happy Christian – A Review

I try to be a positive Christian with a positive outlook on life.  Generally speaking, I look on the bright side and press on in the Christian life with hopefulness because Christ is on the throne.  But sometimes I fall into a rut of gloom, cynicism, and I think the cup is “half empty,” so to speak.  From time to time I can identify with Christians who are always gloomy, pessimistic, and critical.  The question is, how can we get out of the rut of gloom?  We should want to, since the Christian faith is not one of gloom, doom, and extreme cynicism!

David Murray answers this question in his new book, The Happy Christian.   In ten chapters, Murray tackles gloom armed first with Scripture and secondly with some helpful scientific studies and insights about pessimism and optimism.  If I can make a generalization, Murray is basically calling God’s people to a Christian optimism, or a biblical optimism based on the truths of Scripture.  The book is just over 260 pages.

The chapters go like this: To gain a more positive outlook on life 1) focus on facts more than feelings, 2) avoid so much bad news and focus on good news, 3) focus on the fact that Christ’s work of salvation is finished, 4) focus on the strengths of other Christians instead of their weaknesses, 5) focus on the blessed future we have in Christ rather than the past, 6) Find God’s common grace in the world instead of sin and evil, 7) Find things to praise people for instead of critique them, 8) give money and things away instead of hoarding, 9) View your work as a calling instead of a job, 10) be around people of different ethnicities instead of one ethnicity.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and much of it made perfect sense.  I appreciated Murray’s call to focus on the facts rather than be led by feelings (I’ve learned that over the years!), and I appreciated his emphasis on the gospel (chapter 3), which leads us to joyful freedom and service instead of a constant negative guilt for sin.  I also appreciated Murray’s call to stay away from so much news/media, since the news tends to focus on the negative and then makes us negative (I agree; I quit following the news years ago and it has helped me be more optimistic).  Murray was also dead-on when he encouraged churches to aim for joy, grace, and a spotlight on the Good News.  His chapter on praising others was also a good reminder for me to work harder to encourage and bless people with my words.

There were a few things in the book about which I was less enthusiastic.  First, Scripture citations are endnotes rather than written in the text or as footnotes (minor,  I know, but endnotes kill my reading optimism!).  Second, there was a ton of information covered in this book.  I was almost overwhelmed at times, since Murray did quite a few bullet point type lists/paragraphs.  For one example, in his discussion on the benefits of Christian hope (p. 95ff), Murray lists twelve benefits followed by eight ways to grow in hope.  The notes were good, but it was almost an information overload for me since there were many lists/paragraphs like this (e.g. ten parts of constructive criticism, ten ways of learning to praise others, nine ways to give biblically, eight ways to pursue diversity personally, ten ways for a church to pursue diversity, five truths about giving in leadership positions, etc.).  I realize all readers are different, so perhaps this is subjective, but those lists sort of bogged me down in the reading.

One other question I had about the book is the chapter on diversity.  I fully agree with Murray’s emphasis on breaking racial barriers down, since Scripture calls us to love others and since Jesus died for people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.  However, I didn’t quite see exactly how diversity increases joy; does this mean that the less ethnic diversity there is in a person’s life, the less joy he or she has?  Many house churches in China can’t really be diverse; the same can be said about a church in a tribal jungle location or in some rural parts of other countries.  Also, if I have a handful of good Christian friends, can’t they increase my joy no matter what ethnicity they are?  Maybe I’m missing something; and I am honestly open to correction here!  And again, I agree that Scripture does call us away from racism and it calls us to love others based on the gospel and God’s love for all sorts of people.

In summary, I’m glad I read this book, The Happy Christian.  The church for sure does need more emphasis on the true, the beautiful, and the good since she usually talks too much about what is wrong with the world.  I’m going to incorporate some parts of this book into my own actions, conversation, and Christian teaching.  It’s always a good thing for me to be pointed in the right way of Christian optimism, since Jesus does reign!  God treats us, his people, like sons and daughters, therefore “lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees (Heb. 12:7, 12)!”

[As a side, it was neat to learn that David Murray is a Reformed pastor and seminary professor.  I’m thankful he put so much time and energy into this helpful resource!]

David Murray, The Happy Christian (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2015).

((I received this book from the Booklook blogging program; per FCC rules, I need to note that I was not compelled to write a positive review.))

shane lems
hammond, wi



The Marrow of Theology In The Marrow of Theology, William Ames (d. 1633) has an outstanding biblical treatment of Christian hope.  Here are a few excerpts.  (Note: the promises Ames speaks of are the promises of the covenant of grace.)

“Hope is a virtue which leads us to expect things which God has promised us (Rom. 8:25).”

“Hope looks toward God in these ways.  FIRST, as the object which it expects, for the principal object of hope is God himself and those acts by which he is joined to us (1 Pet. 1:21).  All those things which lead to God like steps and means are less principal objects (1 Pet. 1:13).  Thus God himself is called the Hope of Israel (Jer. 14:8), and the God of hope (Rom. 15:13).  This is not so much because he is the author and giver of hope as because it is he for whom we hope.  SECOND, hope looks to God as the author and giver of all the good it expects (Ps. 37:5-6).  As it turns toward God for the attainment of good, so it looks toward obtaining it by his own grace (Jer. 17:7).”

“Like faith, hope in God looks to the grace of God and Christ as the only sources of good to be bestowed (1 Pet. 1:13, Col. 1:27).  [God] always promises the greatest good which shall not come about without his help, but by virtue of his promise they will not only probably but surely come to pass.”

“Since faith apprehends the promise and hope expects what is promised, the difference between faith and hope is the difference between what is present and what is to come.”

“The natural fruit of hope is joy and delight in God (Heb. 3:6, 1 Pet. 1:3, 6).”

“Hope is strengthened and increased by all evidences which assure us that the good hoped for belongs to us (Rom. 5:4).”

William Ames, The Marrow of Theology, II.VI.

rev shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond WI

Joy and God’s Omniscience

Product Details Here’s an excerpt from a daily devotional book containing various writings of James Montgomery Boice.  This is a commentary of sorts on John 21:15, where Peter says to Jesus, You know that I love you!

“There is joy in an awareness of God’s omniscience – for two reasons.”

“First, God knows the worst about us and loves us anyway.  If God did not know all things, we might fear that someday something evil in us would spring up and startle God and turn his affection from us.  He would say, ‘Oh, look at that horrible sin!  I didn’t know that was there.  How terrible!  That changes everything.  I won’t have anything to do with that person anymore.’  If God were not omniscient, that might well happen.  But God knows all things.  He knows the worst about us and loves us anyway.  The Bible teaches that it was ‘while we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Rom. 5:8).”

“Second, since God knows all things, he also knows the best about us, though others do not.  The disciples might have been startled by Peter’s defection.  They might have said, ‘If Peter is capable of denying Jesus like that, who knows what other sins are lurking within him.  He might even be a false disciple.’  But Jesus knew better.  He knew Peter’s heart and love.  It is not surprising in view of this knowledge that Peter appeals to him.”

“Never say, ‘I can do it, Lord.  I know I can, I know my heart.’  Say rather, ‘Lord, you know what is there.  You put it there.  You know what love I have for you.  Take it and make it into something that will abound to your glory.’”

James Montgomery Boice, Come to the Waters, devotional from Sept. 15.

rev shane lems

That Your Joy May Be Complete (Anselm)

Here’s a great prayer from Anselm in his Proslogion, which he wrote in 1077-1078.

“I pray, O God, that I may know You and love You, so that I may rejoice in You.  And if I cannot do so fully in this life may I progress gradually until it comes to fullness.  Let the knowledge of You grow in me here, and there [in heaven] be made complete; let Your love grow in me here and there be made complete, so that here my joy may be great in hope, and there be complete in reality.  Lord, by Your Son You command, or rather, counsel us to ask and you promise that we shall receive so that our ‘joy may be complete’ [John 16:24].  I ask, Lord, as You counsel through our admirable counselor.  May I receive what You promise through Your truth so that my ‘joy may be complete’ [ibid.].  God of truth, I ask that I may receive so that my ‘joy may be complete’ [ibid.].  Until then let my mind meditate on it, let my tongue speak of it, let my heart love it, let my mouth preach it.  Let my soul hunger for it, let my flesh thirst for it, my whole being desire it, until I enter into the ‘joy of the Lord’ [Matt. 25:21], who is God, Three in One, ‘blessed forever.  Amen’ [Rom 9:5].”

This quote, and the entire Proslogion, is found in Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works ed.  Brian Davies and G. R. Evans (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), among other places.

shane lems

I Would Have Fallen Away…

  One of my favorite phrases in the Canons of Dort is found in the last section which deals with the perseverance/preservation of the saints.  I’ll quote the entire article here (V.8).  Notice the bold phrase.

…It is not in consequence of their [the saints’] own merits or strength, but of God’s free mercy, that they neither totally fall from faith and grace nor continue and perish finally in their backslidings; which, with respect to themselves is not only possible, but would undoubtedly happen; but with respect to God, it is utterly impossible, since His counsel cannot be changed nor His promise fail; neither can the call according to His purpose be revoked, nor the merit, intercession, and preservation of Christ be rendered ineffectual, nor the sealing of the Holy Spirit be frustrated or obliterated.

What a great statement!  Even as I grow in the Christian faith, I’m sadly shocked at the times I still either wander from the path or consider wandering from it.  I think I can safely say that I wouldn’t be a Christian tomorrow if it depended upon my own fortitude and strength.  Thankfully God preserves his people (Ps. 37:28)!

The Canons of Dort go on to say that assurance of salvation is possible for believers despite their ongoing struggles with sin.  The key to assurance is neither our piety nor our faith itself but the object of our faith: the triune God.  Since the Father’s promises cannot fail, since the Son’s saving work is finished, and since the Spirit is sovereignly working in us, we can be sure that nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ.  Not even our grievous sins!  I would either be living in terrible evil or in dark despair were it not for this truth of the gospel.

Richard Phillips said it well.

“Perhaps you are burdened with troubles and trials.  Many Christians are.  Yet you still have every reason to rejoice, for you are chosen of God, blood-bought by the Son, and sealed by the Spirit for an eternity of glory.  ‘Rejoice in the Lord always,’ Paul therefore concludes.  ‘Again I will say, Rejoice’ (Phil. 4:4).  Perhaps you are poor, yet in Christ you can know that a glorious inheritance is laid up for you (1 Peter 1:4).  Perhaps you are sick or even dying.  But you can know that ‘What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable’ (1 Cor. 15:42).  The salvation God has begun in you, He will complete!  Those whom God has caused to be born again, He will bring to glorious perfection!  Knowing and rejoicing in God’s preserving, completing, and perfecting grace will enable you to lay down your head in peace at night and rise up energized to live for God in joy each day.”

Indeed, the doctrine of the perseverance/preservation of the saints is practical and it leads to deep joy.

shane lems

No Gospel, No Church

No gospel, no church:

“The greatest need in the church today is the gospel.  The gospel is not only news for a perishing world, it is the message that forms, sustains, and animates the church.  Apart from the gospel, the church has nothing to say – that is, nothing to say that cannot be said by some other human agency.  The gospel distinguishes the church from the world, defines her message and mission in the world, and steels her people against the fiery darts of the evil one and the false allurements of sin.  The gospel is absolutely vital to a vibrant, joyous, persevering, hopeful, and healthy Christian and Christian church.”

Thabiti Anyabwile, What is a Healthy Church Member (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 39.

shane lems

Victorinus, Augustine, and Monica

 As most of you know, Augustine’s Confessions are indescribably amazing.  No matter how many times you’ve read them, each time you open the book and start to read you feel like Lucy did when she saw Narnia for the first time. 

One thing that sticks out for me is how Augustine brilliantly sets up his mother Monica’s joy over his conversion.  Before writing of Monica’s joy and his own conversion, Augustine discusses the conversion of Victorinus (4th C. AD). 

Victorinus was a big time Greek philosopher who was swimming deeply in the cults of the Greco-Roman empire.  Since Victorinus read everything, of course he read the Bible.  After reading the Scriptures, he appreciated them, and went to a bishop named Simplicianus and said, “Did you know that I am already a Christian?”  Simplicianus said, “I shall not believe that or count you among the Christians untill I see you in the Church of Christ.”  Victorinus laughed, saying, “Then do walls make Christians?”  He and Simplicianus would go back and forth this way for quite a long time.  Victorinus at first was afraid of what his pagan friends would say about him being a Christian, but then slowly he was convicted by Luke 12.9, that he needed to publicly profess faith in Christ.

One day he went to Simplicianus and said, “Let us go to the Church; I want to become a Christian.”  They did, and to  make a long story short, the joy of the local church was amazing as she received him.  “He proclaimed his unfeigned faith with ringing assurance.  All of them wanted to clasp him to their hearts, and the hands with which they embraced him were their love and their joy.” 

Later, after recounting his own conversion (“A light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart.”), he writes of his mother’s joy.  “She was filled with joy…she saw that You had granted her far more than she had long been praying for in her unhappy and tearful groans…. You changed her grief into joy (Ps 29.12) far more abundantly than she desired.”

This is a powerful section of the Confessions.  It is fascinating to see how much these Christians valued the church – Simplicianus said essentially what Cyprian before and Calvin after said: outside of the church there is no salvation.  I’m also deeply amazed by the literary genius of Augustine as he ends the section with Monica’s joy – the church receiving Victorinus in joy is how Monica receives Augstine in joy (which reflects Luke 15.10).  Simply brilliant.  Go read it – you can find it in book VIII of Confessions.

shane lems

sunnyside wa