THE DISCIPLE AND A CHEERFUL HEART
Imanuel G. Christian
The Word of God is very practical. It deals with the natural human emotions that we all experience in our daily lives. The word encourages us to develop and cultivate good emotions like joy, contentment, etc., and gradually weed out the emotions that are harmful to our lives like hatred, bitterness, anger, etc.
One of the good emotions that Solomon advocates in the Book of Proverbs is cheerfulness--a joyful heart. That includes not just a momentary burst of cheer or laughter, but a cheerful and positive outlook on life, seeing life as a glass half full, rather than half empty. Listen to what Solomon says, "A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit." "All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast." "A cheerful look brings joy to the heart." "A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones" (Pro.15:13, 15,30; 17:22).
Read those verses again! Note what the opposite of a cheerful heart is. It is heartache, a crushed spirit, being emotionally oppressed and wretched, or dried up bones! Who would want that? We all want a cheerful face, a continual feast, a joyful heart, and a medicine that heals our inner being and nourishes the bones.
How can we have that kind of cheerful heart? I think it is a gradual process which is the direct outcome of our relationship to, and time with, the Lord. Moses was in the presence of God for forty days and forty nights. When he came down from the mountain, "his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord" (Exo.34: 28-29). Similarly in the New Testament, "When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realised that they were uneducated, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus" (Acts.4:13). That was after the resurrection when they had been with Jesus over a period of forty days (Acts.1:3).
For us, of course, it is not being in the visible and, in some sense, physical presence of God. We can be in His presence by being in His Word. It was the Word that was God that became flesh, and when we spend time in the written Word, we are spending time with the Living Word.
Isaiah describes in beautiful poetry what happens when a person spends time in the Word of God diligently and carefully, and God’s intended result is accomplished. "You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands" (Isa.55:12). In the previous verses, the Word is compared to the rain and the snow that successfully produce grain. But it is not just the rain, but the hard work of the farmer along with the rain that produces the grain. Similarly, it is daily personal time and diligent study of the Word that produces the joy and peace. It takes commitment. It takes effort. It takes time.
Now the second question. How do we display a cheerful heart? Actually, a cheerful heart is a by-product of a good and pure heart, which is the result of a regular time in the Word. True cheerfulness of heart is not just seen by a smile on the face, but by the goodness of the heart. Cheerfulness comes from inner goodness. I say this because, surprisingly, in Proverbs 15:13, 15, the Hebrew words for ‘cheerful’ are tob and yatab, which mean good, moral goodness. So when Solomon says, "The cheerful heart has a continual feast" (15:13), he is saying, a heart that is morally good is always filled with joy.
The opposite is also true as David says from his own experience, "When I kept silent (about my sin), my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. ...my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer" (Psa.32:3-4). So cheerfulness is first of all displayed in our good, upright and moral character. Without that our cheerfulness would be only on the surface.
Secondly, cheerfulness of heart is displayed in our attitude of gratitude even in difficult and unpleasant circumstances. A positive attitude towards life is what makes the heart cheerful even when going through difficult circumstances. That positive attitude is developed by having faith that comes from a consistent time in the Word. Paul, while himself in a difficult situation, commands, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" And, "...with thanksgiving present your requests to God. And the peace of God... will guard your hearts and minds" (Phil.4:4-7). A cheerful heart means being thankful, rather than bitter and complaining. Thirdly, cheerfulness of heart will be displayed in our relationship with others. Not only will we always be in a cheerful mood brightening the atmosphere around us wherever we are, but we will also have a positive outlook towards others. We will be building them up instead of tearing them down. We will be affirming them, instead of criticising them. We will be understanding, instead of finding fault.
Hebrews brings this out clearly in 10:19-24, using ‘let us’ three times. "Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart" (v.22); that is personal moral purity. "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess" (v.23); that is faith that does not waver in difficult circumstances. And, "Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds" (v.24); that is loving and building up others. And we can do all these three things because we have a relationship with the Lord and have entered into the presence of God (vv.19-21).
So remember, "A cheerful heart is good (yatab) medicine" (causes good healing), not only to yourself, but also to others around you. Not only our own "...with thanksgiving present your requests to God. And the peace of God... will guard your hearts and minds" (Phil.4:4-7). A cheerful heart means being thankful, rather than bitter and complaining. joy, happiness and health depend on it, but also our testimony and impact as believers depend on it. And remember, a cheerful heart is a result of our consistent and diligent time with the Lord in His Word.
The banner of a believer should be a good, happy and joyful demeanour, and a broad happy smile on his or her face! Don’t let anyone see you without a smile, that is the product of the goodness of the heart. And always give your smile especially to someone who does not have one! Let your cheerfulness be good medicine for someone else.
The Psalmist says in 126:2-3, "Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. (Are they?) Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them!’ (What a testimony!) The Lord has done great things for us (Hasn’t He?), and we are filled with joy." (Are you?)