A Cheerful Heart

I simply can’t pass up the opportunity to share a short devotion I read this morning titled “A Cheerful Heart” by Dr. Charles Swindoll in his devotional book, Day by Day”(Word Publishing, Thomas Nelson, 2000, p. 123). The opening sentence could be taken from the pages of today’s newspaper:

“Earthquakes! Prison riots! Economic pressures! Divorce! No jobs! Drugs! Disease! Death! Pretty serious scene, isn’t it? Yet that is the emotional environment in which we live. No wonder someone has dubbed this the ‘aspirin age.’ Small wonder more of us are not throwing in the towel.

“In spite of these bleak surrounding–or perhaps because of–I firmly believe we need a good dose of Solomon’s counsel. Listen to David’s wisest son: ‘A joyful heart makes a cheerful face, but when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken . . . . All the days of the afflicted are bad, but a cheerful heart has a continual feast . . . . A joyful heart is good medicine [the Hebrew says, ’causes good healing’], but a broken spirit dries up the bones’ (Prov. 15:13, 15; 17:22).

“Have you begun to shrivel into a bitter, impatient, critical Christian? The Lord tells us that the solution is simple: ‘A joyful heart’ is what we need . . . and if ever we needed it, it is now.

“By a sense of humor I mean that necessary ingredient of wit: those humorous, enjoyable, and delightful expressions or thoughts that lift our spirits and lighten our day. When we lose our ability to laugh–I mean really laugh–life’s oppressive assaults confine us to the dark dungeon of defeat.

“Personally, I think a healthy sense of humor is determined by at least four abilities:

**The ability to laugh at our own mistakes.
**The ability to accept justified criticism–and get over it!
**The ability to interject (or at least enjoy) wholesome humor when surrounded by a tense, heated situation.
**The ability to control those statements that would be unfit–even though they may be funny.

“James M. Gray and William Houghton were two great, godly men of the Word. Dr. Houghton writers of an occasion when he and Dr. Gray were praying together. Dr. Gray, though getting up in years, was still interested in being an effective witness and expositor. He concluded his prayer by saying: ‘And, Lord, keep me cheerful. Keep me from becoming a cranky, old man!'”

Let’s ask our understanding Father to remind us frequently of the necessity of a
cheerful spirit and to give us an appreciation for laughter.

The scripture reading included with this devotion is Ecclesiastes 3:1-13–a passage that is widely known by Christians and non-Christians alike:

“There is a time  for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.

“What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction  in all his toil—this is the gift of God.”

In the heated situations that come up in everyday life, so often we become so embroiled that we fail to see beyond the criticism, the harsh words, that back-stabbing actions of others–and even our own mistakes–and we become harsh and unbending–indeed, unyielding–to anything outside of our control. Fact is, we control very little in this life especially when we are up against the actions and attitudes of others. The only real thing we control is our attitude towards those persons and situations. Granted, not all criticisms thrown at us are justified (and there are plenty of people out there who are playing by their own rules), but when they are warranted we need to step back and consider the criticism, and then, as Dr. Swindoll has stated above, “get over it!”

If you find yourself becoming bitter, impatient, and critical regardless of the circumstances that come your way, it’s time for a heart checkup. A broken spirit really does dry up the bones, and the only one it really damages is you. When I think of the seven months I spent in the job I was fired from over three years ago, I could have let the actions and attitudes of others affect my reaction to them in a negative way, but I refused to do that. Instead, I tried to be as helpful to others as possible regardless of their motives, and I treated everyone, even those who treated me poorly (which were, fortunately, few), with kindness, right up through my last day at that job. And when I drove out of the parking lot for the last time, I knew in my heart I had done the best I could do in a bad situation, and even in spite of the fact that it has left me unemployed for over three years now.

There’s a quote that goes something like this: “You can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle tangled Christmas tree lights,” and it’s also true about the very bad situations we find ourselves in in life. Nobody escapes trials and sometimes really severe and long lasting trials. However, we can control how we react to those trials–and maintaining a cheerful heart has a lot to do with keeping your reaction positive.

And if you are a Christian, remember Who you belong to . . . it’s not yourself. Every trial and temptation we face is a test. As James 1:2-8 clearly states: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.”

As Dr. Swindoll stated above, “When we lose our ability to laugh–I mean really laugh–life’s oppressive assaults confine us to the dark dungeon of defeat.” So where do you want to live–in a dark dungeon of defeat or with a joyful heart knowing that God is sovereign and has everything under His control–even the really bad stuff–and He knows what He is doing.

So, cheer up! “A cheerful heart brings a smile to your face; a sad heart makes it hard to get through the day.” (Prov 15:13 MSG). God is still in control. That fact alone should put a smile on your face even during the darkest of days and the longest of trials.

And I’m saying that to remind myself, too!

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