Life is hard. Difficult things happen to us. Serious matters—Heaven, Hell, eternity, sin—weigh on us. Yet in some places I see a long-faced Christianity—the long face worn almost as a badge of godliness.
Sometimes the retort is given, "We are never told of Jesus laughing, but often told of his weeping. He was 'a Man of Sorrows'." And this is true, and if we were bearing the burden of the sins of the world on our shoulders, and facing the wrath of the Judge of all the earth, we would be justified in being men and women of sorrows.
But we have received "glad tidings of great joy" and are to be so marked by hope that people will ask us to explain our inexplicable expectations.
Yes, we will weep; times will be hard, but what marks our demeanour? As we age, what story do the lines on our face tell? When people read between the lines, do they read a deep-seated joy?
In a doom-laden world this matters. We call people to come follow a saviour who promises unburdening (Matt 11:28), feasting (Luke 15) and joy (Gal 5:22). We call lonely and unloved people to come into a fellowship of people marked by togetherness, love and gladness.
This ought to be seen in us, not simply as individuals, but as we gather as congregations. True, we will weep with those who weep, but ***the default mode of our fellowship should be a deep joy. ***
I was wondering if this thinking of mine was a modern phenomenon—a result of living in the fluff and feathers of the 21st century. So I was surprised to read the 17th century Thomas Watson echoing these thoughts:
“We glorify God by walking cheerfully… The uncheerful lives of the godly bring a scandal on the gospel.” (A Body of Divinity)
And then this past week in my devotions I was reading Charles Bridges (19th Century) on Proverbs 17:22 and he writes:
“If then—Christian—you believe the gospel to be "glad tidings," shew that you believe it, by lighting up your face with a smile; not by "bowing down the head as a bulrush," and as it were "spreading sackcloth and ashes under you."
Shew that it is the day-light of your soul; that you really find its ways to be "pleasantness and peace" (Chap. iii. 17); that you believe their joys, not because you have read and heard of them, but because you have tasted them.
If they are happy, be happy in them. "Lie not against the truth," by suffering your countenance to induce the belief, that religion is a habit of inveterate and incurable gloom.
Joy is indeed a forbidden fruit to the ungodly. But let it be the adorning of thy profession. It is a sin against thy God to be without it. The gloom of the servant reflects unjustly upon the Master, as if thou "knewest him, that he was an hard man."
Resist then all sorrow, that suggests such dishonourable thoughts of him. Disparage not his heavenly comfort, by laying unduly to heart his counter-balancing afflictions. No cloud can cover you, but the "bow may be seen in the cloud." And in all this world's afflictions, one beam of his love might scatter all the clouds, and fill the heart with "joy unspeakable and full of glory."
He giveth liberty to be cheerful, ground to be cheerful, and he will give thee an heart to be cheerful with animated gladness.
After all, however, let each be careful to cultivate a just and even balance. Liveliness needs a guard, lest it should degenerate into levity… Christian joy is a deeply serious thing. The froth and lightness that passes for it deserves not the name…
Yet on the other, a grave temperament must be resisted, lest it should sink into morbid depression. Gloom is not the portion, and ought not to stamp the character, of the children of God. It may often be a conflict with a man's own self, either in body or mind. But yet a little while, and, instead of the broken spirit which drieth up the bones, our spirits will be so high, that another body must be formed to contain them.”
A godly believer I know who has been through much was once asked by someone who wasn’t a Christian, “I’ve been watching you for 20 years, how is it that you are so cheerful?”
May a deep joy etch itself on our faces and manner so that the world asks us to give a reason for the hope we have, that people might see that we joy to go to the house of God, so that in the doom of this world we would be lighthouses of hope and joy.