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Surprising Steps to True Happiness

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Matthew 5:1–6; Luke 6:17–21

Genuine happiness, or blessedness, in life comes, not from pursuing it as a goal, but as a result of humbly recognizing our need for God and selflessly and passionately seeking to honor Him. This is the lesson of Jesus’ Beatitudes.


We are about to listen in on the most famous sermon of all time. It is called the Sermon on the Mount. Luke 6:17 tells us “[Jesus] stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people.”

Though the location is uncertain, it has long been identified with a hillside on the north end of the Sea of Galilee. I have stood there myself on that hillside that provided a beautiful, grass-covered, natural amphitheater. Thousands of people could sit there and easily hear the Lord preach.

Now the most detailed account of Jesus’ sermon is recorded in Matthew chapters 5 through 7. The Lord begins by delivering what we call the Beatitudes—that is Latin for bliss or blessedness, or genuine happiness. He grabs the attention of the crowd by telling them how they can find that elusive element of life mankind has been chasing throughout history—true happiness.

But it must stun this multitude when Jesus’ first point, here in Matthew 5:3 is this: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Now these people had been hearing from their rabbis for generations, “Blessed are the perfect in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” But Jesus says, “No, no. Blessed are those who recognize they are not perfect in spirit.”

Now just what does “poor in spirit” mean? The word translated “poor” describes people who are so deeply poverty stricken that they have to depend entirely upon someone else.[1] Poverty of spirit, then, is an awareness that we are completely and utterly dependent upon Christ.

You could paraphrase Jesus as saying, “Happy are the helpless—they are the ones who trust their eternal future to Christ alone.”

Here is Jesus’ second path to true happiness: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (verse 4). There’s a progression in these Beatitudes. Once we discover the bankruptcy of our heart in verse 3, we are led to mourn over our sin in verse 4, which ultimately brings forgiveness and comfort from the Lord.

In Jesus’ pathway to happiness, He is talking here about weeping over sin. In fact, He uses the strongest Greek word for mourning. He is describing the same level of grief you feel as you mourn the loss of a loved one.

Jesus is telling us that mourners discover true happiness because they are the only ones who are grieving over their sins and their sinfulness. And in so doing, they come to the Savior for forgiveness—and receive it by faith.

You could paraphrase Jesus’ words here this way: “Blessed are the brokenhearted.” Blessing comes to those who confess their sin to Christ. The Lord changes their status forever––from rebellious sinner to redeemed saint (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Now let me point out that this verb “to mourn” is talking about continuous action. In other words, just because you are redeemed, you never get past the need for God’s forgiveness. In fact, the older you get, the more you realize how much you sin. I think the mature Christian is not necessarily someone who sins less—although we want that—but someone who confesses more quickly. So, how quick are you today to mourn over and confess that sinful thought or deed? That attitude of quickly confessing is the pathway that continually leads to genuine happiness.

Jesus is saying in this passage, “Do you know who the truly happy people are? They are the ones who bring their sins to Me; they are the moment-by-moment confessors. Blessed are the brokenhearted for they shall be comforted—not only now but forever in heaven one day.”

Now Jesus goes on to surprise his audience again with another stepping stone to happiness. He says in verse 5, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

Really? The meek get run over on earth; they don’t inherit the earth! This reminds me of the little boy who was pushed around by the school bully. Every day, this bully demanded the boy hand over his lunch money—a dollar a day, $5.00 a week. He just was not strong enough to do anything about it.

But then, this boy saw an advertisement for karate lessons and knew that was what he needed to stand up to this bully. He was so excited until he found out the lessons would cost $5.00 a week. So, he just went back to paying the bully.

We think of meekness as weakness, don’t we? The meek lose their lunch money. They do not inherit the earth; they get ground into the earth.

Well, we need to understand that even though English dictionaries define meekness as some form of cowardice, in the Bible, meekness is not weakness; it is power under control. The word for “meek” here is used of a horse being ridden with a bridle.[2] Meekness is strength under control; it is being strong enough to strike back but choosing not to get even.

Jesus says that the meek “shall inherit the earth.” “Inherit” is a future-tense verb. He is saying that you are not in charge now, but one day you, the redeemed, will literally rule planet earth; you are going to co-reign with Christ in His coming kingdom, according to Revelation 20:4.

Now here in Matthew 5:6, Jesus delivers yet another shocking statement: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

Is the Lord referring in this verse to an objective righteousness—the righteousness that God credited to our account when we were saved? Well, that can’t be it, because we now possess the righteousness of Christ as a gift from God through faith in His Son (Romans 3:21-22). We have already been declared righteous—or right with God.

So, the Lord is not talking about becoming right with God, He’s talking about living right for God. Hungering and thirsting after righteousness refers to a passionate longing to be pleasing to God by the way we live for Him.

Beloved, understand this: the happiest person on the planet is not the richest person or the healthiest person; it is the person who hungers to know the Lord and please Him. So, the question is this: What are you hungry for today?

I have read that Socrates was once approached by a young student of his who asked him, “How can I have the wisdom you have?” Socrates said, “Follow me” and he led him down to the sea and then waded right in. The young man hesitated and then followed him; Socrates suddenly turned around and grabbed this young man, pushing his head underwater; he held him under as he thrashed about, desperate to breathe.

At the last moment Socrates pulled him up and asked him, “When I held your head under water, what did you want more than anything?” The young man sputtered, “Air, sir, air!” Socrates told him, “When you want wisdom as badly as you wanted air, you will find it.”

So, how hungry are you today to live a life that pleases the Lord? Ask the average Christian, “Do you want to please God with your life?” and the answer probably will be, “Sure ––but I also want God to please me, with this or that.”

Many, many Christians just are not quite hungry enough for holy living. And this lack of hunger becomes their greatest obstacle to finding true happiness.

So, let’s pray like this today: “Lord, give me a hunger to hunger after You; give me a thirst that’s thirsty for You. Make me hungry and thirsty for a life that’s pleasing to You.”

That is the path to happiness. And Jesus promised it here: Blessed, happy, are those who are hungry and thirsty to be right with God, for they shall be satisfied.

[1] R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount (Crossway, 2001), 19.

[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, Meet Your King (Victor Books, 1980), 34.

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