Happiness or Holiness? – Only One Path Leads to Ultimate Satisfaction 


By Bethany Riehl 

What is the point of it all anyway? 

It’s the question we face at my church every Sunday, more or less, as our pastor walks us through the book of Ecclesiastes. 

“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher. “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” (Ecc. 1:2) 

Thankfully, we started this book by looking ahead to the end. Spoiler alert, it’s not life that’s vanity; it’s the life lived for our own pleasure or gain that has no purpose. But a life lived in pursuit of holiness? That’s lasting, eternal, abundant. 

And that’s easy to talk about here, with you. Me, behind this computer and you, sitting there with a moment to yourself for whatever reason. But when I close this computer and you set down this magazine and we walk through our daily lives, what does this look like in practice? 

Recently, I realized that I have…how you say…a touch of road crankiness. I refuse to say road rage because I don’t curse or yell or gesture. I just…grumble. Or make sarcastic suggestions to other drivers. You know how it goes:  “Oh, sure, come on over. I don’t need my front fender. Oh, and by all means, go slower…” 

You get the idea. 

Anyway. It could be seen as harmless, this habit of mine. After all, they can’t hear me. But my passengers sure do. They hear my heart and it’s not pretty. 

In an effort to change the behavior, I gave my kids a code phrase to use to get my attention if they hear me being snotty to other drivers. When they say, “Citizen’s Arrest!” (we’ll be besties forever if you know why we chose that phrase), it’s my reminder to repent of my bad attitude. 

I’m not going to lie – it grates on the ol’ nerves most of the time to hear that phrase from a child, and I often have to fight a new set of temptations in my heart when I do. But my holiness, by God’s power and for His glory, is what I’m after, so we continue on with it. 

This is a small and insignificant example compared to many other hard and heavy ways that the Lord shapes us to be holy more than happy. What about laying down our life – our wants, opinions, tastes, etc. – for someone else? 

When we really live out the verse, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves…” (Philippians 2:3) it grates. 

It can be treating a stranger with respect, even when they’re rude, or it can be actively loving and serving someone that you know might not appreciate it – or worse, look on your sacrifice with contempt. 

It can be as simple as finishing a task you’ve lost interest in or as difficult as staying committed in a lonely marriage. It’s doing all for the glory of God regardless of the reward or lack thereof on earth. And, friends, it.is.tough. 

Our goal is in every way to be more like Christ. 

Christ, who when faced with the goal that He’d come to earth to accomplish – the salvation of all who would put their faith in Him – asked the Father to let the cup pass from Him if possible. While I am certain that Jesus was dreading the crucifixion, I believe it was the wrath of God He was going to endure that had Him literally sweating blood. 

“…My father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” (Matthew 26:39b) 

Where would we be if, “yet not as I will, but as You will,” had not been Jesus’ ultimate aim? 

I’ll tell you. Doomed. Hopeless. Helpless. 

But praise be to God, Jesus chose holiness over happiness. Obedience over His own desire in that moment. He walked forward on the path He’d laid out and rescued us – His eyes on pleasing the Father, no matter the cost. If we claim to be His, we can do no less. 

“Then Jesus said, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me’.” (Matthew 16:24) 

If we live life with the goal of happiness, we’ll always find ourselves on a path that ends in dissatisfaction and emptiness. No matter how many new paths we carve out, if this is our aim, they all end up in the same way: a dead end. No house, no job, no relationship, no degree, no toy, no political figure, no (insert greatest desire here) will satisfy. Only a life lived for God and striving after holiness can. 

Take it from the wisest man in all history, who followed every path his heart desired and this is where it led: 

“The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgement, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13,14) 


Bethany Riehl lives in the Treasure Valley with her husband, three kids, and one super chill dog. She writes articles and fictional novels when she can, and her one desire is to point others to the love and sufficiency of Jesus Christ. Her books can be found on Amazon or at your local library…after you request them to be in stock, of course. 

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