Every day for the past couple of years the state of the economy has been front-page news. It still dominates all political debates. Not only is it discussed on chat-shows but you hear people talking about the recession on buses, in pubs and at dinner-parties. The economy is central. And I understand that. I appreciate that money is important to our lives. Whilst I’m not in any way an economist, I have an A level in the subject and understand the two vantage points of macro and microeconomics and the basics of supply and demand. I know it’s helpful to have a stable economy. And yet all the research, all the surveys and all the anecdotal evidence – year after year – consistently show that whilst money is important to us, it is not the central thing that makes humans happy.
You see that particularly when travelling. Visit a poorer country and you often find people who are happy and contented – often more so than we in the affluent west. I find that interesting.
I was reading Philippians 4:11 a few days ago, where St Paul says, ‘I have learned to be content in all circumstances’ and it reminded me that happiness/contentment is actually an attitude that comes from something greater than our immediate needs – be they economic or otherwise. St Paul is happy because he is deeply rooted in Jesus Christ – and I am convinced (with him) that knowing Christ is actually the true secret of contentment – as I hope is every Christian leader and indeed every follower of Jesus. But simply to tell people around us that they should take their mind off money and become a Christian can sound naive and overly-pious, and doesn’t offer an alternative to the economy as the central focus for a happy life. So what should we do?
A better life
What we need is a different focus. After all, we know money in itself doesn’t make us happy, so why not focus on something else? Something bigger. Something grander. Something more holistic. I want to propose that the focus should be life itself – in fact, the best life. Because that’s what most people want. A better life. They desire the best that they can have, given the circumstances around them. So the question is: what should we be concentrating on in order to find a better life? Well, I want to offer a vision for a better life that is not so much my own, but found in an ancient text that has influenced generations of people across the world. It is the text of Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament section of the bible. In Malachi people are challenged to change and aim for a better life. In Malachi we are presented with a compact but comprehensive vision not just for individuals or households, but for society in general. In Malachi we are told to aim for God’s best.
The Focus of Malachi
Later in 2012 I will be speaking at The Belfrey on the 6 areas highlighted by Malachi for a better life. In summary, they are:
1. Best worship, with a focus on quality
2. Best leadership, with a focus on integrity
3. Best relationships, with a focus on faithfulness
4. Best community, with a focus on truthfulness
5. Best economy, with a focus on generosity
6. Best values, with a focus on serving
Get these right and life will be better. Not perfect. We’ll never get that, not this side of heaven. But they are 6 key areas for a better life. For a better family life. For a better society – in the North of England as much as anywhere. Get our worship, leadership, relationships, community, economy and values right, and life will be so much better.
Malachi is on to something here. Observing his society with God-given insight he longs for people to discover a greater quality of life. He does not seek to patronise but to help. And that should be our attitude too. Desiring a better life – even the best life – is a good thing. It is right to aim high. And the source of inspiration for such a life is not hidden but has been left for us in his wise word by a God who wants good things for us. This is the God who, in Jesus Christ brings us a message (Jer 29:11) that is of great hope to each one in these testing economic days: ‘I know the plans I have for you’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’
So look out for more on Malachi in 2012 and let’s aim high. Let’s reach for a better life. In fact for the best life. That is the life our loving God longs for us to help others to live. After all, Jesus Christ told us to pray for just that thing (Mt 6:10) – that God’s kingdom would come and his will be done right here on earth, as it is in heaven.