The Key to Authentic Happiness

Topical Scripture: Matthew 5:14–16

Would you choose to stay at a vacation home with no WiFi, TV, or clock? The nearest bathroom is an outhouse down four flights of outdoor stairs. It’s closed the entire month of August because it might burn down in a wildfire.

Yet three hundred people are on the waiting list to stay at Summit Prairie, a vacation home atop a tower deep in the Oregon wilderness. The Wall Street Journal tells us that Summit Prairie is not the only such option in high-priced escapism. An internet-free home in Alaska’s Denali National Park rents for $3,150 per person per night.

Or you could sample a “kudhva,” an architectural shelter perched on tripod stilts in North Cornwall, England.

Americans are on a quest for happiness. Studies indicate that our happiness has been in a steady decline for at least the last twenty years. The rebound from the Great Recession did not produce a rebound in happiness.

What is the antidote?

Martin E. P. Seligman is a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. His bestseller, Authentic Happiness, is a fascinating answer to our question.

Dr. Seligman describes three kinds of “work orientation”: a job, a career, and a calling. A job earns you a paycheck and nothing more. A career entails a deeper personal investment in your work. But a calling is a passionate commitment to work for its own sake. According to Dr. Seligman, finding your “calling” is the key to authentic happiness.

So, what is your calling?

Know who you are

In our text, Jesus tells us: “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). “You” is plural, including everyone who follows Jesus. “You are”—present tense, right now. Not you will be, but you are today.

You are “the light of the world.” This is a spectacular compliment. Not because of who we are, but whose we are. You see, Jesus is the true light of the world.

He said so: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). And later, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5).

Now that he is no longer in the world, he has called us to reflect his light, as the moon reflects the sun.

The Bible says, “There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light” (John 1:6–8 NIV).

This is true of each of us: “You are all children of the light” (1 Thessalonians 5:5). We exist to show our Father’s light. To be his mirror. To reflect his light to our dark world. To be the moon to his sun. This is Jesus’ high and holy calling for each of us.

Know that the world needs your light

But why is this calling so significant? Why is being the “light of the world” so important and crucial that it will give our lives deep and satisfying meaning? For this simple reason: you have the only answer to the greatest need in all of humanity.

Would your life be significant and satisfying if you cured cancer or AIDS? If you found the solution to all war, abuse, neglect? If you discovered a way to end all hunger and poverty? Would you then consider your life fulfilling? We could do all this and more, but the world would still suffer in spiritual darkness. And this darkness would be its greatest problem, its worst disease, its most horrific malady.

God says so: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12 NIV, emphasis added).

God describes humanity this way: “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more” (Ephesians 4:18–19 NIV).

This darkness is Satanic: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

What is the answer to his deception and darkness? You are “the” light of the world. Not just “a” light—the only light.

The Bible is very clear on this subject. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Scripture adds: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 NIV).

Because you share his faith and bear his light, you are “the” light of the world. Its only light. Your faith is our world’s only hope of eternal life through a personal relationship with our Creator and Lord.

What calling could give your life greater significance? And thus greater fulfillment, satisfaction, and “authentic happiness”?

Choose to shine for God

Here’s the catch: your light must be visible. Otherwise it does nobody any good, including yourself. Consider these facts.

You are already a witness. Jesus said, “A city on a hill cannot be hid.” “Hill” is literally mountain. Houses in Israel then and now are whitewashed. With their lights at night, a city on a mountain cannot be hidden.

Neither can your life. People see you. They know whether or not you live what you believe, whether you will say what you believe. You are a witness. Is your witness good or bad?

Your light is intended for others. “Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket” (Matthew 5:15a). Their lamps were small clay bowls filled with olive oil, with a floating wick. They were very hard to light. So once they were lit, at night they were covered with a basket which allowed them air while shielding their light. Jesus’ point is clear: no one lights a lamp so they can hide its light.

“But on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house” (v. 15b). People in Jesus’ day lived in one-room homes, with one small window. So they built a clay or stone ledge into one wall, and there they placed their lamps. For this was their purpose.

“In the same way, let your light shine before others” (v. 16a). “Others,” wherever they are. You are the light of the world, not of the church. Wherever you go, whatever you do. With whomever you meet. Your light was given to you, to be given to them.

Your life is your light. “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (v. 16). How?

Be godly: “The night is nearly over, the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Romans 13:12–14 NIV). Do others see godliness in you? There you are the light of the world.

Care about hurting people: “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday” (Isaiah 58:9–10 NIV). Whose need are you meeting? There you are the light of the world.

Love your brother: “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him” (1 John 2:9–11 NIV). Are you wrong with someone today? Where you love your brother, you are the light of the world.

Share your faith: “…that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life.” (Philippians 2:15–16). Who has heard of Jesus through you? There you are the light of the world.

With this result: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12). When we live as the light of the world, God uses us for his glory. It’s that simple.


You are the light of the world—its only light, right now. Shine that light by being godly, by caring for hurting people, by loving your brother, by sharing your faith.

This always works. Jesus was definite: “so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16b) is better translated, “For the purpose of showing them your good works so they will glorify your Father in heaven.”

The darker the room, the more obvious and powerful the light. And the more people are drawn to it.

I’m convinced that the sacred/secular division is one of Satan’s greatest lies. The idea that we should separate Sunday from Monday and religion from the “real world” keeps our light under a basket instead of out where the world can see it. But when we live large and bold, powerfully and courageously serving God and others, the world must see our light. And God will be glorified as a result.

John Geddie was the first Presbyterian missionary sent from Canada. He and his wife, Charlotte, and their children set sail from Nova Scotia in 1846 bound for Polynesia.

What they found was horrific. The natives lived in squalor and ignorance. When one of them died, they ate his body and then killed his wives.

John worked for three years, learning their language and sharing the gospel with them. But few were interested. When he traveled in their forests, the natives threw stones, clubs, and spears at him. But he and his family persisted.

In 1851, everything changed. Several chiefs came to faith in Christ. The churches began to overflow. His island began sending missionaries to other islands.

John died in 1872. A plaque in his memory said, “When he landed in 1848, there were no Christians here. When he left in 1872, there were no heathen.”

Authentic happiness is fulfilling your calling. Your calling is to be the light of the world.

How happy will you be this week?