Posted in theology

“Don’t worry, be happy”

By Elizabeth Prata

In 1988 Bobby McFerrin released his soon-to-be hit song Don’t Worry, Be Happy. I remember the fervor back then around that song. Legitimately, it was a good song. It was the first a cappella song to get to a number one position on the top 40 singles on the Billboard chart. Don’t Worry Be Happy stayed there for 2 weeks, bumping out Guns N Roses’ Sweet Child O’ Mine.

People were also amazed that McFerrin did all the vocals himself. The “instruments” in the a cappella song are all overdubbed voice parts and other mouth sounds made by McFerrin, using no instruments at all; says Wikipedia. Pretty neat.

I was cooking the other day and turned on my Pandora to my Paul Simon channel. McFerrin’s song came on. It’s amazing how being in Christ gives you a totally different perspective. I was 28 years old when Don’t Worry Be Happy came out. I would not come to Christ for another 15 years. And I’ve gone on for almost 20 more years beyond that. I can’t detect how my sanctification is going in the short term, day after day, but looking back over the long term I can see progress.

The song begins this way,

Here’s a little song I wrote
You might want to sing it note for note
Don’t worry, be happy
In every life we have some trouble
But when you worry you make it double

This is a truism. Worrying never solved anything. But when you are outside of Christ, worry is your idol. They worry because they have nothing else to hold on to. They do not know the future, they have no context in which to place the worrisome situation. So they worry, they can’t help it. I used to worry greatly. I was a recently divorced young teacher trying to hold on to my house on a skim salary, working three jobs, and wondering if this was all there was to life. I worried.

The song continues,

Ain’t got no place to lay your head
Somebody came and took your bed
Don’t worry, be happy

If I was outside of Christ I SURE would be worried if I did not have a place to lay my head! It would be THE consuming issue of my day. I can’t NOT worry about it, just because Bobby McFerrin says not to. Making the mortgage each month was a victory. I desperately wanted to keep the place where I lay my head.

McFerrin goes on with another problem or two that is common to people, and offers the same advice, don’t worry and be happy.

It is a good idea to nurture and practice a positive mindset, that is true. Actress and comedian Betty White also practiced a positive mindset, all her long life. She didn’t worry. She was happy.

Then she died.

And went to hell (probably). She is no longer happy.

The mindset that Jesus gives us is an eternal one. Now that I’m on this side of the cross, I understand worry is a sin and joy is our permanent status quo. With that context, life’s daily problems seem small. He provides for us and always will. Knowing that removes the worry. He gave us forgiveness of sins, and offers us daily grace. This gives us joy. It is easier to be joyful when we have a perfect Father to go to in order to cast all our cares upon Him. When we have been freed from the power of sin and someday will dwell outside the existence of sin at all.

I still have the same slim salary and I’m still trying to hang on to the place where I lay my head, but my joy isn’t diminished by my circumstances, because that joy is outside of me, from Christ and being In Christ. I don’t worry (or when I do I take it to Christ) because I have the God of all Universe on His throne as my Father.

Before I was saved I tried to have a positive mindset, and I tried not to worry. It would work for a while. Then a problem would come. I’d solve it. Feeling satisfied with my problem-solving abilities, I’d be happy again with no worries. And another problem would scoot down the highway of life and crash into me. The cycle repeats. Underneath all that is the business of suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, battling my conscience, and performing sins every day, while expending energy to convince myself that I was ‘a good person.’

For the unsaved, it’s a lot.

Life’s ups and downs are blessedly minimized when we gain the eternal perspective of seeing eternity through Jesus. Seeing time in the looooong term reduces those mountainous ups and downs to minimal bumps.

Being in Christ makes all the difference for life now and eternity then. But do we show it? Are we unworried and happy? Do we exhibit the joy of Christ, the peace that passes all understanding?

I pray that I exhibit the peace that passes understanding, the joy that adorns the countenance, the conviction to live a grace-filled life. I don’t always. But it is a goal. We have that ‘don’t worry, be happy’ ability – thanks to the Holy Spirit in us.

John wrote in his Gospel of Jesus that Jesus promised,

If you remain in Me, and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I also have loved you; remain in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will remain in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and remain in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. John 15:7-11.

There is a difference between happiness and joy. Prior to salvation, my happiness faded as fast as smoke from a lit candle when adversity reared its head. Even when adversity remained at bay, my happiness came and went, inexplicably.

Joy though. Joy! That is an internal state, less dependent on circumstances. You can have daily ups and downs but the thread remaining is joy in Christ. He is our foundation, our anchor, or stay. Don’t worry yes, because worry is a sin. But be happy? OK. But better to be joyous.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23).

What is the first of the fruit mentioned? Joy. Barnes Notes says

It is not without design, evidently, that the apostle uses the word “Spirit” here, as denoting that these things do not flow from our own nature. The vices above enumerated are the proper “works” or result of the operations of the human heart; the virtues which he enumerates are produced by a foreign influence – the agency of the Holy Spirit. Hence, Paul does not trace them to our own hearts, even when renewed. 

Therein lay the difference. Happiness is external. Joy is internal. It is also eternal. Don’t worry. Be happy- IN CHRIST.

EPrata photo


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.

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