Joy In The Coming Of Our Lord

Joy In The Coming Of Our Lord
A Sermon by Rev. David C. Roth

Image result for lords advent

“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen
His star in the east and have come to worship Him …. And when they
saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy” (Matthew 2:2,10).
How often have we been in the same position as the wise men, or
maybe the same situation as the shepherds? We are in a position
similar to theirs when we are told of the Lord and the message of His
Word. As He did for the wise men and the shepherds, the Lord has
made Himself known to each of us in different ways, and now it is up to
us to respond. Both the shepherds and the wise men were told in
different ways about the coming of the Lord and then given guidance to
that special place where the Lord chose to be born. Although both were
present to see the newborn Savior, they received the message of the
Lord’s birth in different ways.

Most likely each of us has a favorite story in relation to the Lord’s birth.
We may even ask ourselves whether it was the wise men or the
shepherds who responded in a more favorable way to the
announcement of the Lord’s advent. But this question is not really very
important when we realize that the essential observation is the one that
points to the fact that both the wise men and the shepherds did
respond. They both heeded the Lord’s call, but in different ways, each
according to his own state – different states, yet states which were
acceptable to the Lord. How can we then apply the responses of the
wise men and shepherds to our own lives on this Christmas day? As we
examine the stories of the shepherds and the wise men, the spiritual
sense shows us clearly of their application to our lives.

The first thing, however, that we must understand is the importance of
the Lord’s birth. Without His coming we could not be in freedom to be
regenerated by Him. His coming has redeemed mankind; that is, He put
the hells back where they belonged, put the heavens in order so that
they could be safe from the attack of the hells, and began a new church
where people could love the Lord and their neighbors (see TCR 86). By
His birth and fulfilled life here on earth the Lord is now present with us
fully and powerfully in His Word; we are not left alone. It was this
message involving all this wonderful work to be done by the Lord which
the shepherds were told of, and which the wise men sought to see
fulfilled. As the angel of the Lord proclaimed to the shepherds, “Fear
not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all
people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is
Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10,11). The message was clearly one to pay
attention to, one to be happy about. A Savior had come, of whose
kingdom there would be no end.

When we consider the call of the shepherds we see a unique response.
The shepherds at this time of the year lived out in the fields with their
sheep day and night, always keeping a watchful eye on their tender
flocks. Perhaps we envision it being cold and dark, with the shepherds
staying close to keep themselves warm. This is illustrative of the type of
world into which the Lord was born – cold from the lack of charity and
love, and dark because of the false understanding in which the world
had engulfed its minds. Yet even in all this cold and darkness there
were a few who possessed an innocence and a willingness to be led
and taught by the Word. We can see this in the story of the shepherds.
A shepherd represents one who teaches the truths and goods of faith. A
good shepherd, that is, one that guards and protects his flock, shows us
a picture of someone who is learning, protecting and storing up goods
and truths. This is a picture of a basically good person, yet one who
believes that life is his own, and that most power is from himself. He has
been working hard to learn the truths of the Lord’s Word; however, he
remains in a state of darkness as to how it all applies to his life, and how
it leads him closer to the Lord and away from self. But with this learning
of truth and innocent willingness the Lord is able to come to us and be
born in our hearts.

The first thing which the appearing angel said to the shepherds was,
“Fear not.” This represents a renewal of life, meaning that the Lord will
create a new heart within us, a heart that acknowledges the Lord as our
Savior and not ourselves. This actually can be a real cause for fear. We
read, “For all who come suddenly from self-life into any spiritual life are
at first afraid, but their life is renewed by the Lord” (AC 80). It can be a
difficult and scary thing to give our life over to the care of the Lord when
we feel so strongly that life is our own and that we have the power
ourselves to conquer evil. When the Lord draws near, the result is
temptation, and if we are good we will fear for the loss of good and truth.
His nearer presence makes it feel as if we are losing what good and
truth we have. But it is when we do follow the Lord, when we listen to
the angel’s good tidings, that He can truly care for us. The manger in
which the shepherds found the Lord represents spiritual nourishment. It
is here in the presence of the Lord that we are nourished and instructed.
The Lord does not lead us to Himself and then starve us; He will fill us
to overflowing. The Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes means first
truths, truths of innocence from the Lord’s Divine Love. When we come
to the Lord He nourishes and instructs us in those things which will
make us ready for His kingdom, a kingdom of innocence, love, and use.
After seeing the Babe, “the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising
God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them”
(Luke 2:20). This response by the shepherds signifies a true confession
and worship, which comes when we acknowledge in our hearts that
there is nothing of good in ourselves, and that we can do nothing of
ourselves – and, on the other hand, that all good is from the Lord, and
that the Lord can do all things (see AC 1210). The Heavenly Doctrines
say further of this response, “When man is in this acknowledgment he
puts aside what is his own, which belongs to the love of self, and opens
all things of his mind, and thus gives room for the Divine to flow in with
good and with power” (AC 1210). The shepherds heard the Lord’s call
and followed it. We can be like the shepherds ourselves when we make
the same sort of acknowledgment regarding the power of the Lord. He
will call us in His Word, but if we are looking to ourselves for strength we
will not hear Him. We may celebrate the Lord’s advent, but not with the
same conviction for the Lord as we would if we humbled ourselves and
gave glory to the King of Glory.

From this beautiful picture of innocence as seen in the story of the
shepherds we now turn to a different scenario: one of wisdom and
perseverance – the story of the wise men. The wise men seemed to
have a special quality about them. They knew about the advent of the
Lord because they had a knowledge of the Word and its prophecies. We
read concerning them, “The knowledge of correspondences survived
among a number of the Orientals, even until the Lord’s Advent, as is
evident from the wise men of the east who came to the Lord at His birth”
(SS 23), “and that they knew of His Advent by a star which appeared to
them in the east” (AC 10177).

It is interesting to think of the fact that those who were of the Jewish
faith who had the Old Testament Word and who should have known that
the Lord was to be born had no idea of it. When the wise men came and
asked Herod, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” he
had no answer but called the chief priests and scribes together to help.
We can imagine that perhaps Herod was a bit embarrassed that he, the
king, did not know this, as well as being jealous of this newborn King.
The Word says that ” … he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. ”
Whatever the nature of the response, again it was quite indicative of the
state of the Jewish Church at the time. Not only was their knowledge of
the Word lacking and false but many, like Herod, had an all-out hatred
for the Lord. This is plainly shown in Herod’s plot to kill the infant Lord, a
plot which resulted in the slaying of thousands of innocent children in
Bethlehem.

The Jews at this time, it seems, were not looking for the Lord. And when
they did find out that He had come, there was no room in their hearts
nor their inns to greet Him. Yet, as with the shepherds, we see in the
story of the wise men others who were ready for the Lord. But we
observe a difference in their response to the Lord’s coming, the main
difference being that the wise men were actively seeking out the Lord.
They had seen His star in the east and had come to worship Him. They
traveled a long distance to see the star that had come out of Jacob, the
Scepter that had risen out of Israel, He who was to be born King of the
Jews.

In the spiritual sense, the east represents love, and the star that went
before them signifies knowledge from heaven (see AC 3762, SS 23).
The wise men traveling eastward to the land of the east was
representative of those who in their life are moving toward the good of
faith. This, the Writings teach, is nothing else than charity toward the
neighbor, or a life according to the Lord’s commandments (see AC
3249). In this spiritual picture we can see that it is the knowledges of
good and truth found in the Lord’s Word, represented by the star, which
guide us to a life of charity or love, that is, which guide us to the Lord
Himself. This paints a beautiful picture for each of us. We see that it is
through the learning of the Lord’s truths and commands that we can be
led to Him.

Still, the most beautiful aspect of the wise men’s response to the Lord’s
Advent is seen when they departed from Herod for Bethlehem and the
star reappeared before them. “And behold the star which they had seen
in the east went before them, til it came and stood over where the young
Child was. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding
great joy.” Exceeding great joy! What kind of a feeling did they have? It
must have been an overwhelming feeling of excitement and internal
peace over having embarked upon the last leg of the journey to their
Savior, the star’s reappearing to assure them that the Lord was with
them as they continued their trek. Can we ever have such feelings of
great joy in our religious life? We certainly can, and we must! Talking to
a person who has recently become aware of the wisdom and love found
in the Heavenly Doctrines can certainly emanate exceeding great joy.
Or a newly engaged or married couple show it to a certain degree.
Perhaps we can even relate it to the expression a young child shows on
Christmas morning. However, if we are raised in the New Church, do we
lose this excitement, or never let it show? If we do, how can we regain
this feeling or bring it out so that others can share it? One answer is to
be like the wise men, to seek out the Lord in His Word and then come to
Him when we see the star, that is, the knowledges from heaven
contained in the Word. We may not find the Lord right away. Even the
wise men thought they would find the Lord in Jerusalem, but He wasn’t
there. They could have given up, but they asked others where He could
be found. It is essential to talk to others about our beliefs and our quest
for the Lord. They can add to our understanding and love for the Lord,
and perhaps our picture then becomes clearer for us, which can
eventually lead us to Him. Notice, the star showed itself again until it
came and stood over where the young Child was. It led the wise men
right to the Lord. We need the truths and goods represented by the star
to lead us, and to keep leading us throughout life.

It is important to realize that truth will lead us to the Lord and make us
happy, but the real joy for us in our spiritual lives will be when we come
to the Lord offering gifts to Him, as the wise men did. These gifts of
gold, frankincense, and myrrh were more than just earthly treasures.
They represented testifications of the heart or will, the heart found in a
person that is truly thankful for all that the Lord has done for him, and
shows it by following His Word. These gifts represented things pleasing
to God, because their origin is in love and faith toward Him – the love
represented by gold, and our faith by the frankincense, and by myrrh is
represented our love and faith grounded in things external, which is a
life in obedience and love to the Lord and to our neighbor. These are
the gifts which the Lord is asking us to bear on Christmas day and
beyond. But more importantly to know, they are the gifts which He gives
us and wills to give each of us when we respond to His coming. So on
this Christmas day let us ask ourselves the following question with the
earnest desire to find the answer: “Where is He who has been born King
of the Jews?” Let us then search diligently for His star in the east and
come to worship Him, that is, live a life of charity and faith in Him,
because it is in this kind of a life where we too can share the vision of
the shepherds and the excitement of the wise men. “Where is He who
has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east
and have come to worship Him … And when they saw the star, they
rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” Amen.
Lessons: Luke 2:1-20; Matthew 2:1-12; AE 661

https://newchurch.org/

DAILY INSPIRATION

“The peace that reigns in heaven is like spring on earth, or like the dawn.”

Arcana Coelestia 5662

We should live ‘As if of ourselves’

God is Love

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
[John 15:5 ESV]

In him we live and move and have our being.
[Acts 17:28 ESV]

Are we conscious that, as Jesus puts it, apart from me you can do nothing? Do we feel that, as Paul states, in [God] we live and move and have our being? Most people would probably answer that we do not have such a direct experience.

On the contrary all the evidence of our senses and everyday life is that we act in all things from our life within us.

We can see this very early on in the life of a new born baby. Initially the baby is completely helpless and totally reliant on those around. But gradually its sense of the outside world develops and then an awareness of itself. The baby learns to move, just small motions of eyes, head and limbs. Then the ability to reach out and touch comes into play and from sitting up crawling and then walking soon develops. And then as language begins miraculously to appear the small child starts to separate the people around into different people. However they refer to themselves they know they are a person in their own right. Our development from infancy through to mature adulthood is only achieved because we have a clear sense of who we are and an ability to direct our daily life as we wish.

But if we accept that there is only ONE life, the Divine life, and this is the source of all life and everything that is involved in living then none of us and nothing in the created world has a life of its own. Rather, we are all simply receivers of life. A simple analogy may illustrate this concept (or principle). Think of a light bulb which when working properly and connected to the mains glows brightly. We are all so familiar with how a light bulb works that it is hard to imagine how someone would view it from say 300 years ago. They would probably see it as a wonderful source of light that somehow existed entirely within the light bulb. To them the light bulb would seem to have light in itself. Yet we know that the light bulb is merely a receptacle and receiver of the power of electricity designed in such a way as to produce light.

We can see ourselves then as people created by God to be receivers of the Divine life but able to live in a way where we are not conscious of that fact. But suppose it was different. What if, instead of feeling that our life was our own, we were really aware at all times that it was God’s life within us from which we lived and moved and had our being?

We can perhaps glimpse what this might be like from our own experiences of growing up. As a child we are totally dependent on our parents for our food, clothing and a place to live as well as direction in what we should or should not do and ambitions for our future. In many ways we become an extension of our parent’s lives until the point comes in teenage years when we desperately feel the need to break free and establish ourselves as separate individuals. It is a painful process, but it is vital for our development. If we could really feel God’s life within us wouldn’t it be like a teenager yearning and fighting to be free, a puppet on a string unable to cut the parental cords? How could we develop our unique potential in such circumstances?

It appears that we have a life of our own despite the reality that our life is from God alone. It is because of this appearance that we are able to grow and develop and regenerate as spiritual beings.

Emanuel Swedenborg wrote extensively about the appearance that we live as if of ourselves. Here is a quotation from Divine Providence 156:

To say that we are led and taught by the Lord alone is to say that the Lord is the only source of our life, since it is the intentions of our life that are led and the intelligence of our life that is taught. This is not the way it seems, though. It appears to us as if we live on our own, when the truth is that the Lord is the source of our life and we are not. As long as we are living in this world, we cannot be given a palpable sense that our life is coming from the Lord alone. We are not deprived of our sense of living on our own, because that is what makes us human.

Every one of us is perfectly free to stay in this appearance and live thinking our life is our own. But this is not what Jesus calls us to do. He says: I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing [John 15:5 ESV].

Our Lord Jesus Christ longs for us to acknowledge that our life is from him and that, really, without him we can do nothing. Why? Not because he wants or needs our adulation. No. It’s because he wants us to abide in him so that he can give us his joy, not because we are forced to but because we want to return to him, the source of our life.

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
[John 15:11 ESV]

We should live ‘as if of ourselves’, but at the same time fully acknowledge that our life is from the Lord alone.

 

http://www.god-is-love.org.uk/twelve-key-teachings/as-if-from-ourselves/

The peace and joy of heaven is available to us

by Rev. Amos Glenn

And Jehovah spoke to Moses, saying, “I have heard the complaints of the children of Israel. Speak to them, saying, ‘At evening you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. And you shall know that I am Jehovah your God.’”

So it was that quails came up at evening and covered the camp, and in the morning the dew lay all around the camp. And when the layer of dew lifted, there, on the surface of the wilderness, was a tiny round substance, as fine as frost on the ground.

And Moses said to them, “This is the bread which Jehovah has given you to eat.” “This is the thing which Jehovah has commanded: ‘Let every man gather it according to each one’s need.’”

Every man had gathered according to each one’s need. And Moses said, “Let no one leave any of it till morning.” Notwithstanding they did not heed Moses. But some of them left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them. So they gathered it morning by morning, every man according to his need.

(Excerpted from Exodus 16:9-36)

The Lord wants us to have the peace and joy of heaven. Everything He does leads us away from misery and toward happiness. A willingness to follow the Lord’s instructions doesn’t come naturally to most of us, so we are unhappy at times. The children of Israel complained about their suffering in the wilderness because they trusted neither Moses nor Jehovah to take care of even their needs. Ironically, this very mistrust was the source of their misery.

Just as He cared for the Children of Israel, the Lord responds to our unhappy grumblings by sending two types of happiness: natural (meant by quail) and spiritual (meant by bread). The flavorful quail corresponds to the natural feelings of pleasure that come from doing a good deed—­sometimes for selfish reasons. The Lord provides these positive feelings to motivate us, even when we aren’t feeling loving, to sustain us during times of struggle.

While sustaining us with feelings of happiness (quail), the Lord also offers bread, corresponding to unselfish, spiritual happiness. Tasting the bread corresponds to genuinely enjoying serving the neighbor, authentic good feelings not mixed with self-gratification. The bread is satisfying and nutritious; quail was tasty, but the bread was life-giving. The bread corresponds to the happiness of heaven, which the Lord provides each of us.

Here is the catch: you cannot generate these simple, good ideas yourself. The bread was impossible to store and it is impossible to provide ourselves with heavenly life. The test for the children of Israel was to collect only as much as was needed for the day and to trust that the Lord would feed them again tomorrow. Bread stored overnight became putrid and full of worms. This is a picture of what happens when we lack trust in the Lord and His Providence.

Happiness comes from the daily journey. We are filled with heavenly happiness when we gather true ideas from the Lord’s Word and make them part of who we are, when we do what the Lord teaches because we acknowledge Him as God. The Lord understands there are times when the bread is difficult to eat, when it seems tasteless, dry and unpleasant. In those times, the lower delights, represented by the quail, serve to motivate us to continue acting in a good way. These actions form a container into which the Lord can rain down the bread of life and its heavenly happiness.

https://newchurch.org/

DAILY INSPIRATION

“Whatever spiritual qualities a person acquires in the world remain with him or her after death.”

Heaven and Hell

Happy life – Does this require affluence?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

happyWho wouldn’t be happy to have more money? To pay off the credit card or buy that needed furniture. Yet, the huge wealth of the ‘fat cats’ who run large companies in the UK has astonished us. By October 2011 the pay packages of directors of FTSE 100 companies had increased by 49% in a single year. The average figure had then become £2,697,644.

The total rewards of the chief executives of these companies were even higher. Forbes Magazine reported that the ratio of their income to that of the average UK employee rose from 45:1 in 1998 to 120:1 in 2010.

Some might wish them well in their good fortune. Who wouldn’t enjoy having a large yacht, a smart place to live, fast car, and no money worries?  But is it right to assume the happy life requires affluence? That having lots of money is the solution to common frustrations and stress?

Self-awarded rewards and the question of a happy life

In Britain politicians voting themselves high salary increases caused public disquiet. This soon turned to outrage when we discovered that many of them had been collaring small fortunes in expenses for themselves. All at a time when average living standards were being severely squeezed.

This desire for wealth is shown by a stitch up in the boardrooms as directors have awarded their own pay rises succumbing to the temptations of wealth.

We all thought that the shareholders own the company and determine who gets paid what. Also that the executives manage it to develop a more successful venture on a stable footing. But this seems to have changed. Companies have grown. Shareholders are now spread widely. Consequently, there has become a lack of external check on the pay of top managers.

happy‘The actual controllers of the company would cream off the profits into their own pockets, direct profitable business into other companies controlled by themselves, as well as award themselves magnificent salaries.’  (Ferdinand Mount, political commentator)

What has shocked us is the shameless way the top managers in numerous incidents have abused their power. They have taken more out of the company even when its performance has been at best mediocre. The same thing has happened in the large public bodies.

Pursuing an illusion of a happy life?

Grabbing huge pay rises, despite resulting social approbation, indicates a strong belief that wealth will make one happy. It is a common enough attitude. However, is seeking affluence actually the pursuit of an illusion? It would seem so. Study after study by psychologists has shown no association between wealth and happiness. The exceptions are where housing costs are a large proportion of income necessitating long working hours and cases of poverty when extra income does relieve hunger and suffering.

More startling still is research showing the pursuit of money is not only a mistake but also a dangerous one. Psychology professor Tim Kasser discovered that extremely rich people are not significantly happier than people on average income, and suffer from higher levels of depression.

Carolyn Gregoire, writing in The Huffington Post, quotes research that found that where both partners are materialistic, couples have a poorer quality of marital relationship. Also there are findings that students with higher materialistic values tend to have lower-quality relationships and feel less connected to others.

What then does lead to a happy life?

Researchers in positive psychology discovered that a real sense of personal well-being comes from good relationships, meaningful and challenging activities, and a sense of connection to something bigger than us – such as a religion, a political or social cause or a sense of mission.

All of us can hanker after money. According to transpersonal psychologist Steve Taylor, hardship does not drive the appetite for wealth and material goods. Instead, our inner discontent causes it. I would say a self-orientated inner state of mind creates this discontent. In other words what makes one happy is something non-materialistic- deep within one’s being.

Angelic state and the happy life

In his books, mystical writer Emanuel Swedenborg tries to put into words some of his limited experience of the happiness of what he terms an ‘angelic state’ of peace, contentment and joy. He says to be deeply happy involves several things.

  • A loving attitude towards other people. The highest form this takes is wanting to give what is one’s own to others.

Those who are moved by mutual love are constantly approaching the spring-time of their youth….. This process continues for ever, constantly bringing increases in joy and happiness.‘ (Emanuel Swedenborg)

  • Mindful involvement in the present moment. Neither being concerned about the past nor the future leads to happiness. In other words having genuine concern for someone draws us away from our bodily and worldly interests and lifts our mind to heaven and so we are pulled away from things that belong to time.
  • Freedom from feeling self-centered. Instead, of being led by one’s own wishes, happiness comes from identifying with one’s true Self. This means innocently trusting in something beyond one’s false self. It involves following thoughts in line with our image of what is supremely good. Swedenborg points out that this can only come from not falling for the illusion that one is separate and self-contained.

In line with this third point, I believe my good intentions and perceptive insights are not my own. Instead their spiritual Source inspires them into my heart and head..

Copyright 2017 Stephen Russell-Lacy Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

http://www.spiritualquestions.org.uk/

Posted on 22nd March 2017 Categories Latest post, Meaning of life, Other aspects of meaning Tags , , , , , ,

What a Bad Apple Can Teach You About Happiness

Swedenborg Foundation

by Hanna HyattNot much is worse than a bad batch of fruit. An apple can look all delightful and ready to be eaten on the outside, but on the inside it can be a mealy and squishy surprise. An avocado can look like it’s going to be the best thing to happen to the world of guacamole, but on the inside it can be all brown and rotten.

. . . bad apples . . .

. . . bad avocados . . .

What makes these things so bad? Sure, a fruity disappointment is one thing, but human beings are so quick to describe something as bad. From a theological standpoint, what makes something “bad”?

Everyone has ideas about the difference between a bad thing and a good thing. Emanuel Swedenborg discusses this often in his theological works, where he talks about the impact of God’s love and how people can feel heavenly happiness in their own lives. But before things can go from bad to good, he says, we have to understand what makes those two things different from a spiritual perspective.

Can an Apple Be Bad?

blog_badapples

To be truly “bad,” Swedenborg says that beings must be free and able to choose rationally between things that will make them happy in good ways or bad ways. In this scenario, “bad” refers to things that are harmful to those around us (in Swedenborg’s theology, this is what evil means), but that we choose anyhow because it benefits us personally: selfishness, greed, riches—any love that serves the self more than other people.

Objects, however, can’t make that choice. A knife is great while it’s serving a constructive purpose. But when it’s used to harm someone, it is an awful weapon. Swedenborg says that objects cannot be inherently good or bad—they are good or bad depending on how people use them. People are the only things that can be good or bad, depending on the choices they make freely. Someone must decide, without being forced one way or another, to use something for good or bad ends—to either serve selfish loves or serve heavenly and neighbor-loving ones.

“Why, then, ‘tis none to you, for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” — William Shakespeare, Hamlet

“Bad Dog!” — Can Dogs be Bad?

Anyone who comes into contact with dogs knows that they make their own decisions—what their owner wants is not always as important as their own instincts. They see a squirrel, and they choose to either run after it and risk their fate to an owner-enforced consequence, or stay and miss the chance to catch that darn squirrel.

However, when a dog jumps up on the counter to eat some fresh-from-the-oven chicken pot pies (or twelve chocolate cupcakes, from personal experience), it’s hard to blame the cute little beast that just had a hankering for some food. Why is it so hard to blame them? Swedenborg writes that in order for one to truly be free to make a choice, they must also be rational.

Rationality is an important concept—it means that people are able to weigh decisions, looking at cost vs. benefit, taking in long-term effects, looking at impact on other areas of life, and being able to be more objective and look at the whole picture rather than just a snapshot. This is why some teenagers seem to make bad decisions. (“Don’t they ever think about the consequences of their decisions?!” says every parent in the history of teenagers.) People have to grow into their ability to consider options objectively and make decisions rationally. This is also why it’s hard to blame dogs for their decisions—they don’t have that rational, considerate type of brain.

Swedenborg asserts that human adults are the only beings that can look at situations and make entirely free and rational decisions. And even adults aren’t always reliable in the rational decisions department—look at most reality TV shows, where the rational brain tends to take a backseat to emotional outbursts. People are only human—prone to mistakes and assumptions. Dogs are not only not human, but tend to be prone to decisions that hurt the people (or squirrels) around them. They aren’t “bad,” just accident-prone, because they lack the rationality to make clear decisions.

“He’s the Bad Guy!” — What about People?

Humans: This is the hardest part, because it involves freedom, rationality, self-awareness, choice, and perspective.

To figure out if a choice is working toward bad things or good things, Swedenborg says that human beings must look at the effects of a decision on their life and the lives of the individuals around them. This means that if someone’s goal is to get their own way in everything, their version of happiness would be to control or manipulate others, to advance their careers at the expense of others, to make money without worrying about the effects their business decisions will have on others. Swedenborg would call these hellish types of happiness.

Now, Swedenborg recommends personal goals that lead toward heaven, as the negative goals lead more toward separation from God and heavenly joy. If someone’s goal is to be “good,” they have to look at the decisions they make and see if the effects are good—does the decision make other people happy? Does it make people happy in good ways, positive ways that lead toward that heavenly happiness we talked about earlier? Does it add positive things to life, or does it tear down positive things?

Whether we chose the negative ends or the positive ones, the cycle is a never-ending one of regeneration—looking for truth, bringing that truth into our life, deciding what our goals are, and making decisions that lead toward those goals. This involves lots of rational ideas, like self-examination and looking at the true happiness of the people around us. No easy task!

However, Swedenborg states again and again that this hard process has the potential for so much love and happiness. People are able to be much happier because they can choose with freedom and rationality and continue to build on their choices to grow closer and closer to God. They can grow to have more and more heavenly happiness (or evil delight), which means they have the potential to be united with the Lord.

Looking back, it’s easy to see that:

  1. Apples can’t be happy. They have no choice.
  2. Dogs can be happy, but they can’t rationally choose it. Happiness is a thing that happens to them, not a thing they create.
  3. People create happiness through freedom and rational decisions, leading them on a path towards their goals.
Apples don’t have the happiness that dogs have. Dogs, as great as they are, don’t have the same happiness that people have. People have the ability to be good or bad because they can choose it, freely and rationally.

Live with less anxiety and more joy

WORRY CAN’T CHANGE OUR PAST OR FUTURE, BUT IT CAN RUIN THE PRESENT.

We choose the lenses with which we view the world. To correct our lens, though, we have to take steps to change:

Reflect on our attitude or perspective about a situation. When we see a negative pattern, take responsibility for avoiding that mindset. Realize that we have no power on our own. Pray to the Lord for His strength. Try to stop worrying. We have the ability, with the Lord’s strength, to meet any challenge. Use every opportunity to practice using this new lens. Remember that the kingdom of heaven is not out there, but within us.


When we learn to love and accept the situation we’re in, we find the power to change–not the situation–but our perspective.

Worry

During stressful times, when unpaid taxes still lie on the table, the children argue upstairs, and images of war flash across the news, hope and patience seem hard to come by. Worry seems inevitable. But how much can we really gain from our furrowed brow? Consider this quote: “Worry is like a good rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.” Another way to think of the futility of worry is to imagine someone carrying around a suitcase of old junk that he doesn’t use. If he complained to you about his aching back, wouldn’t you suggest he drop the suitcase?

But we tend to do the same thing, feeling troubled, tired, and pulled off-balance. We hang on to our burden because (we think) something bad might happen if we let it go. But the answer is so easy. If we simply let go—if we trust in the Lord—we suddenly feel lighter.

We hear this same message from the Lord’s own mouth when He says to His disciples, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them…. Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” (Luke 12:22–24).

If we try to take the Lord’s command seriously, and avoid the habit of worrying, we can make a distinct difference in our inner nature. In the Heavenly Doctrines given through Emanuel Swedenborg, the book Secrets of Heaven 8474 describes the type of people who worry about the future: “They are not content with their lot, do not trust in God but in themselves, and have solely worldly and earthly things in view, not heavenly ones. These people are ruled completely by anxiety for the future….”

The passage goes on to describe, on the other hand, the kind of people who trust in the Lord: “Those who trust in the Divine are altogether different…in that they are not anxious, let alone worried, when they give thought to the morrow… They know that for those who trust in the Divine all things are moving toward an everlasting state of happiness….”

Impatience

Whenever worry enters our minds, another emotion tends to tag along with it: impatience. Often we grow impatient by worrying that life won’t turn out the way we think it should. We may unconsciously say to ourselves, “The Lord can’t handle it, so I’m going to worry for Him.”

Consider the following Biblical story, where King Saul becomes impatient with the Lord’s command, and relies on his own judgment instead. The setting is this: the Philistines have accumulated a huge army, and Saul is waiting for Samuel to offer sacrifices so he can go into battle with the Lord as his ally. “[Saul] waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people were scattering from him. So Saul said, ‘Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the peace offerings.’” As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came” (I Samuel 13:8–11). When Samuel shows up, he’s not happy with Saul. He says, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. . . .now your kingdom shall not continue” (I Samuel 13:8–11, 13–14).

Just as Saul—when facing his enemies—worries about the risk of patiently following the Lord’s orders, we tend to feel the same way when we’re under pressure. We worry that if we follow the Lord’s way, it won’t turn out the way we want it to. Because of this impatience, worry, and lack of trust, Saul lost his kingdom. We also may lose out when we become impatient. Specifically, we lose:

Enjoyment of the situation. We think about being somewhere else or being with someone else, so we lose the delight of that moment. Infidelity thrives on this notion. Consider this quote: “A happy marriage is not about finding the right person. It’s about being the right person in the relationship.”

Forward spiritual progress. If we aren’t thinking about the present, we’re either worrying about the past or the future. We get concerned with time, and this skews our perception. We think physical, lower thoughts, and we forget higher matters. Worry can’t change our past or future, but it can ruin the present. When we dwell on the past or future, we lack motivation to make progress now.

Trust in the Lord. We begin to think the Lord isn’t managing the universe very well. Just as Saul lost the kingdom because he trusted his own agenda, when we trust in our own ideas, we make poor decisions. Scholar Christopher Syn wrote, “Anxiety springs from the desire that things should happen as we wish rather than as God wills.” This causes us to lose the kingdom—the happiness—the Lord wants us all to have.

So how can we achieve real patience, and gain back these things we’ve lost? First, we can make an effort to find contentment with what we have, and focus on being that person who is kind and loving rather than looking for that person elsewhere. Second, we can strive to make the best of our present situation, looking for opportunities to use our talents and reach out to others. And, finally, we can trust the Lord to bring good out of every situation, believing that what He says in His Word is true.

In his work, Secrets of Heaven (3827), Swedenborg explains how we can rise above impatience to an angelic state of love and acceptance, where time no longer matters: “When you are in a state of love…you are in an angelic state, that is to say, as if not in time…. For impatience is a bodily affection, and insofar as you are in it, so far you are in time…. By the affection of genuine love, we are withdrawn from bodily and worldly things, for our mind is elevated toward heaven and thus is withdrawn from things of time.”

In other words, if we focus on the fact that we’re not enjoying something, it becomes tedious. A student squirming in a class believes there’s somewhere else he needs to be. As soon as that bell rings, his whole world seems to change. But has it? We live in the world of our mind, our heart, our thoughts. A bell doesn’t change that world, but what we attach to that bell—our attitude—can change. Patience comes from being withdrawn from worldly things. When we learn to love and accept the situation we’re in, we find the power to change—not the situation—but our perspective. Because when we love something, we’re not paying attention to time.

Life is often compared to a journey. We can shuffle our feet and mope about the path we’re taking, but anxiety and impatience don’t change our speed or route. Instead, we can enjoy the scenery, confident that the direction of the stream of Divine Providence will steer us toward a more beautiful vista. So don’t waste today worrying. Cast your burden on the Lord. Take a glance at the flowers, or listen to the birds, and remember that the Lord is taking perfect care of each one of us, in every single moment.

By Rev. David Roth, pastor of the New Church of Boulder Valley in Colorado

This website contains a wealth of information about the New Church, and a practical, spiritual path to happiness. Read more about the beliefs of the New Church.

https://newchurch.org/

Full issue

Happiness – What do you think makes you happy?

happinessHappiness is a fuzzy concept and can mean different things to many people. It can mean for example a state of fulfilment, enjoyment of pleasure, or a sense of well-being.

Not everyone is born with a sunny disposition, but commentators tend to suggest we can all learn how to bring more meaning and satisfaction into our lives. From an academic perspective you have some control over your own emotions because personal choice, genetics and life circumstances all interact. It seems to be generally agreed that as long as one’s basic financial needs are met, any increase in wealth is not an important factor in making you happy.

“Money can’t buy happiness, but it can make you awfully comfortable while you’re being miserable.” (Clare Boothe Luce)

So what does make us happy?

Praise and happiness

Who doesn’t like being well thought of by others. Take this to the extreme and you find vain people basking in the praise of others. For example there is the celebrity who craves the public gaze for the pleasure of being admired. There are those who are happiest when their ego is massaged in ways you might find objectionable like the inner-city gang leader who is pleased when followers show  “respect” by kow-tow-ing and giving subservience.

“If your happiness depends on what somebody else does, I guess you do have a problem.” (Richard Bach)

Other people in the limelight recognise they need the esteem of others if they are to be successful: like film actors who are cast in productions because of their reputation and popularity. For some of them, the praise they get may simply be a means to an end, rather than an end in itself.

Power and happiness

There are people who enjoy getting their own way and, in whatever walk of life they happen to find themselves, strive for a position of power over others. History is full of tyrants who have taken delight in being cruel, expressing contempt or getting revenge towards those who oppose them.

Yet, are there not also some politicians and leaders of industry who enjoy the power they wield mainly for the sake of getting useful things done?

“The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.” (Mahatma Gandhi)

Bodily pleasure and happiness

Who does not enjoy good food and drink, sexual pleasure, rest and comfort? However an addiction to these pleasures can mean they no longer provide relaxation and refreshment for living one’s life to the full in valued roles. The enjoyment of the addict only lasts until the next fix.

The spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg comments that a deeper happiness that lasts does not come from external pleasures of the world which of themselves are lifeless and soon dull the senses. Instead it comes from doing something useful for oneself and for others. Unless this is part of one’s life, pleasurable leisure alone becomes empty and wearisome.

“True happiness… is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” (Helen Keller)

Swedenborg goes on to point out that what makes us happy depends on what we most love – what we most want in life. In line with his writing, I would suggest there are four main types of motivation which can be thought of in terms of:

1. attachment to the physical side of life,

2. self-centred love,

3. concern for others

4. love of the Divine spirit of what is good and true.

Attachment to the physical side of life

By this Swedenborg means being worldly: setting one’s heart on wealth, excessive consumption, and neglecting loving commitment in favour of the pleasures of sexual infidelity, and sacrificing moderation in favour of greed. In Buddhism, ultimate happiness is only achieved by overcoming craving in all forms.

Self-centred love

We might think we can be happy by thinking first about oneself: asking “What’s in it for me”. This might mean not caring about anyone unless they are your ally: not really being concerned about the business at hand except in terms of what one wants for oneself: helping others solely for the sake of one’s own reputation: and through self-pride failing to recognise the useful contributions of others.

Concern for others

A Harvard Business School study found that “spending money on others actually makes us happier than spending it on ourselves”. However, Swedenborg’s idea of concern for others is more general than giving to charity and also includes an interest in doing what is good and useful to the community for its own sake.

Love of the Spirit of good and truth

I would suggest that insofar as we are doing things for the sake of what is good and right for our community then we are being led by the Divine spirit. From the perspective of a religious person, the source of all that is human happiness is a God of love. And so such a person is interested in being led by God’s spirit rather than in being led by his own or her own inclinations. We might wonder if this is the reason why research shows that happier people are more likely to be religious.

My conclusions

I do believe that we cannot of ourselves create the kind of deep happiness that will endure all the hardships and difficulties of ordinary living. Happiness has to flow into us from its Divine source. But to receive it we have to face the right direction.

Happiness for the self-centered and worldly-minded person is a pale reflection of happiness experienced by the person who is concerned for others and is willing to be led by the divine spirit of good and truth.

My recommendation is that we face away from what we each  know in our hearts is bad. In so doing we will be facing the right direction to receive the inspiration of creativity, hope, and discernment and thus the spiritual gifts of peace, contentment and joy.

Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems