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The pope’s top 10 rules for happiness

Dr. Jim Denison is the CEO of Denison Forum.
His Daily Article and podcast globally reach over 160,000 subscribers. Dr. Denison guides readers to discern today’s news—biblically. He is the author of multiple books and has taught on the philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia. He holds a Ph.D and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Janet, live in Dallas, Texas. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

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Pope Francis waves as he arrives to lead his weekly general audience at St. Peter's Square at the Vatican June 4, 2014 (Credit: Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi)

Pope Francis recently spoke to a reporter in his native Argentina about the secret to happiness.  Here are his Top 10 tips for bringing greater joy to life, along with my comments on each.

Rule #1: “Live and let live.”  The pope believes everyone should be guided by this principle, akin to an expression in Rome, “Move forward and let others do the same.”  He is right, of course—none of us can make life’s decisions for others.  It took me years to discover that human words cannot change human hearts.  Only the Holy Spirit can convict of sin, save souls, and transform lives.  We are each responsible for our own relationship with our Lord and with others.  We can pray for others, but we must then trust them to God.

Rule #2: “Be giving of yourself to others.”  The pope wants us to be open and generous toward others, because “if you withdraw into yourself, you run the risk of becoming egocentric.  And stagnant water becomes putrid.”  We must give out to take in.  A clenched fist cannot receive.  Everything God does in us, he wants to do through us.  We can ask of every circumstance in life, How can I use this to benefit others?

Rule #3: “Proceed calmly” in life.  The pope, who used to teach high school literature, used an image from an Argentine novel in which the protagonist “says that in his youth he was a stream full of rocks that he carried with him; as an adult, a rushing river; and in old age, he was still moving, but slowly, like a pool.”  Francis commended this image of a pool of water in which we have “the ability to move with kindness and humility, a calmness in life.”  Our Father calls us to “be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).  We find peace in the Prince of Peace.

Rule #4: “A healthy sense of leisure.”  The pope warns that “consumerism has brought us anxiety” and stress.  Our time is so “swallowed up” that we cannot share it with others.  He wants parents to make time for their children, and families to turn off the television when they sit down to eat.  While TV helps us keep up with the news, he said, it doesn’t allow us to communicate with each other.  The pope’s admonition brings to mind John Wesley’s maxim: “Though I am always in haste, I am never in a hurry, because I never take on more than I can do with calmness of spirit.”  

Rule #5: “Sunday is for family.”  Francis believes that workers should have Sundays off so they can spend them with their families.  While the Jewish Sabbath was on Saturday, the principle of a sabbath applies to us all.  John Stott, the great Anglican pastor and theologian, spent an hour a day alone with God, a day a week, and a week a year.  We all need time to focus on our Father and our family.

Rule #6: Find ways to create dignified jobs for young people.  The pope noted, “We need to be creative with young people.  If they have no opportunities they will get into drugs” and be more vulnerable to suicide.  “It’s not enough to give them food.  Dignity is given to you when you can bring food home” from your own labor.  I agree: this is an area where churches could be especially helpful.  Job fairs, mentoring, work programs, and training classes could demonstrate the practical grace of God through his people to our culture.

Rule #7: Respect and care for nature.  Francis called environmental degradation “one of the biggest challenges we have.”  He added: “I think a question that we’re not asking ourselves is: ‘Isn’t humanity committing suicide with this indiscriminate and tyrannical use of nature?'”  In Genesis 2 humanity was given responsibility for God’s creation, “to work it and keep it” (v. 15).  The Hebrew words describe a person who nurtures and protects.  We are but stewards of God’s creation, responsible to our Master for our use of his possessions.

Rule #8: Stop being negative.  Pope Francis: “Needing to talk badly about others indicates low self-esteem.  That means, ‘I feel so low that instead of picking myself up I have to cut others down.'”  He believes that “letting go of negative things quickly is healthy.”  Scripture teaches us: “Do not let the sun go down on your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26).  Rather, we are to “encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

Rule #9: Respect the beliefs of others.  Francis: “We can inspire others through witness so that one grows together in communicating.  But the worst thing of all is religious proselytism, which paralyzes: ‘I am talking with you in order to persuade you.’  No.  Each person dialogues, starting with his and her own identity.  The church grows by attraction, not proselytizing.”

Here I must respectfully disagree.  I believe that the church grows both by attraction and by evangelism.  Paul sought to persuade others to follow Jesus: “Though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them” (1 Corinthians 9:19).  I agree that our evangelistic efforts must be done with relational integrity and personal commitment to the person, however they respond to God’s word.  But our witness involves both attraction and verbal sharing of the gospel.

Rule #10: Work for peace.  The pope noted that “we are living in a time of many wars,” and “the call for peace must be shouted.  Peace sometimes gives the impression of being quiet, but it is never quiet, peace is always proactive.”  Francis is exactly right: Christians must work actively to bring the gospel and peace of Christ to the world.  We are commissioned to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).  Salt is no good in the saltshaker.  When we bring Christ to our culture we share the only hope for peace and joy in our broken world.

Pope Francis is making a remarkable difference in our world.  As the face of the Catholic Church, he is showing non-Christians the gracious, joyful face of Jesus.  I pray for him and am honored to be his partner in the gospel and brother in Christ.

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