To this day he is the happiest man I know. He is not flashy or boisterous. If you passed him on the street, you might not notice him. But on the campus where I studied, he was hard to miss.
Clothing styles change, but his did not. He would often walk into class wearing a 1970’s polyester suit, accented with a tie tied in a knot so big you can see it from miles away. The sight of him made many people giggle, but he was still the happiest man I know.
He has a funny voice, one that is both high pitched and rushed. When he talks, he sounds like a middle school boy excited and exhausted at the same time. As he lectured, information flowed out with such velocity you could barely keep up. But when you did, you were both challenged and chuckling. Nevertheless, he still to this day is the happiest man I know.
His name is Dr. John Hammett, and it was my honor to study under him for four years. During those years, I learned more than I ever thought I could, and most importantly, I learned part of his secret to happiness.
I gathered my first clue one day as I talked with his secretary. As I waited for my appointment, she said, “He is a great man, isn’t he?” I nodded my head to signal I agreed, but before words could come from my mouth, she shared a story.
She told me about the time she was distressed, because one of her friends had a son who was sick. Trying to make him feel better, the family scrapped up money to buy him a bicycle. She described the bike in exquisite detail. It was red with black strips. It had a horn on the right handle bar. Quickly it became the child’s treasured possession.
But, as we all know, someone’s treasure is another’s target. So, under the cover of night, someone stole this boy’s bike. And the next day this secretary was upset.
A few days later, Dr. Hammett came to work, but on this day, he was more noticeable than usual. Yes, he still wore his polyester suit. Yes, he still wore his tie with the gigantic knot. What he added this day, however, was a bright red bike—just like the one his secretary explained.
You see, Dr. Hammett listened to her sad story, but he was determined to do more than listen. He gathered his small group at church and rallied them to the cause, no doubt putting the first dollars in himself. A few days later, this sick boy had a new bike, and Dr. Hammett was his normal happy self.
I saw countless examples of this same type of generosity over the years. He shared with me one time how his family totaled up ever dollar they intended to spend on Christmas presents and gave that much plus ten percent to foreign missions. After all, he reasoned, the birthday boy should get the biggest present.
This generosity also went beyond money; it extended to time as well. Unlike any professor I have seen, he wanted to know his students. So, he worked late in the night grading papers so he would have time during the day for appointments.
As I watched, I saw his joy grow with every sacrifice. I saw him become happier and happier even when people thought he was stranger and stranger.
His secret is explained in the words of Jesus who said, “It is more blessed (happy) to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
This time of year is supposed to be a happy time, but it doesn’t seem that way. Hurried shoppers try to keep up the pace, but they look more like rats in some undefined race. What would happen if we took to heart, simply and sacrificially, the words of Jesus? What would Christmas be like if we heeded the call of Christ and not that of our consumer culture?
Maybe we would be like the happiest man I know, living out the teaching of Christ, all the while learning, it really is more blessed to give than to receive.