Studies show that Americans are some of the most unhappy people in the world. Why is that?
Many people get up in the mornings, look themselves in the mirror, and don’t like what they see. I’m not talking about physical appearance; I’m talking about character. Many people are dissatisfied with the kind of person they are. They have not lived according to the principles they know in their heart are right. That leads to unhappiness.
Jesus talked about often in the Gospels against hypocrisy. A hypocrite is someone whose behavior contradicts what one claims to believe.
Some people are public hypocrites. An example is someone who makes a big deal out of saying they believe drinking alcohol is a sin, but if you open their refrigerator, there’s a six pack of beer in there.
Nobody likes hypocrites like that. But actually, I think there are very few of those around. I’ve known very few hypocrites like that. But I’ve known many private hypocrites. These are people who know they don’t live according to the principles they know in their hearts are right. They know they don’t follow their principles.
A principle is a basic, fundamental belief about what’s right and wrong. Principles are the basic, most fundamental values we know, deep in our heart, are right.
One reason so many people are unhappy is that they know they have not lived their lives according to the basic, fundamental values they know are right. It’s not that they’re what most people would call a bad person. From all appearances, they’ve led “moral,” respectable lives. However, they know in their hearts they have not lived according to the most basic, fundamental principles they know are right.
That’s why they look themselves in the mirror in the morning and don’t like what they see. Their first impulse is to try to rationalize it, to think, “I had to do it to get ahead. Sometimes you have to ‘go along to get along.’”
But, they know deep in their hearts it wasn’t worth it. The rewards for “going along to get along” weren’t worth it, and now they have to live with the knowledge that they’ve sold out.
The New Testament talks about our conscience. Conscience is defined as an inner feeling that tells us the rightness or wrongness of our behavior. It’s something that’s ingrained within us, something we are born with. It’s that not-quite-right feeling we get when we do something we know is wrong.
When we live opposite to what we know is right, we have a guilty conscience. A lot of people live with guilty consciences from knowing they’ve lived their lives opposite from the principles they know are right.
I’ll give you some examples. I knew a man who was one of the best Christian ministers I’ve ever known, one of the best preachers I’ve ever known. He knew the Gospel; he preached the Gospel; he knew what was right. But when the time came that standing with his principles would have possibly endangered his job and the lifestyle that came with it, he let his principles go and went along to get along. He backed off from what he knew was right, and he did it to protect his income and his position. He turned his back on the principles he knew deep in his heart were right.
It wasn’t long before it began to eat away at him. He had spent his entire adult life proclaiming “this is the way to live,” but yet when push came to shove and actually living according to that could have cost him dearly, he was unwilling to pay the price. In the end, he had to look in the mirror and see a man who was no different from the people he had so criticized in the past. Over a period of time, it ate on him and ate on him to the point where he literally had a breakdown.
He recovered a little but soon died of cancer. From a medical standpoint, he may have had cancer, but what really ate him from the inside was the knowledge that, when push came to shove and it would have cost him something, he backed off from the principles he knew were right and had preached for 30 years.
In contrast to that, I know another man. This man was also a minister of a church. Years ago, early in his career, he felt that the denomination he was a part of was moving in directions he was convinced were wrong. For a while he tried to ignore it and rationalize it. But he couldn’t. He reached the point where he could no longer in good conscience remain associated with that denomination. And so he left.
His brother was also a minister in that denomination, and although his brother shared his conviction that the denomination was fast moving in wrong directions, his brother rationalized it and ignored it, and he stayed as a minister in that denomination.
About 10 years ago, I had a conversation with the man who left. He was telling me all this, about how all that had happened years ago, about how he had left but how his brother had stayed. He said, “Now my brother is retired as a minister from that denomination with a hefty pension and all kinds of benefits, and I have nothing. But I don’t regret what I did for a minute, because I had to stand where I believed.”
I may or may not have agreed with this man on the specific issues he left his denomination over, but that’s not the point. The point is that I have the highest respect for him because he was willing to stand for what he believed was right even though it cost him. He could have gone along to get along, and today he and his wife could be traveling the United States in a motor home or whatever they wanted to do. But he didn’t. He stood for what he believed, even when it cost him dearly. His principles were more important than getting ahead, and he stood with his principles even though it meant sacrificing getting ahead.
From politics to business to religion, to whatever area of life you can think of, the thing we lack most in this country is people who will stand on their principles, even when it costs them. We have very few of those people. Instead, we have people who go along to get along. By so doing, they may get ahead. But was it worth it?
A person may get ahead and achieve much by going along to get along, but beneath the gilded exterior is a person who knows that they sold their soul. They have no self-respect. A person without self-respect cannot have happiness.
The New Testament talks a lot about suffering for your faith. We might think that was only applicable back in ancient times, when being a Christian could get you arrested or killed.
But there’s a deeper meaning to the idea of suffering for your faith. If you live according to principles and refuse to go along to get along, you’ll have to pay a price.
You may not get ahead; you may not achieve what you could have. That’s suffering for your faith. You will have to make sacrifices in order to live according to the principles you know are right.
You face a choice. Are you going to sacrifice your principles in order to get ahead? Or are you going to sacrifice getting ahead in order to live according to your principles?
You’re going to have to sacrifice something; don’t kid yourself about that. There will be a price to pay for living according to your principles. But there will also be a price to pay for going along to get along.
Which do you think will be the larger price in the long run?