A doctor friend of mine used to cry on my shoulder occasionally. One day he said to me, “You know what’s wrong with this world? I’ll tell you what’s wrong–people expect me to solve their problems with pills. All you can do is relieve the symptoms, but the problems are still there.” Then he added, “If people would just live right, they’d feel better.” His statement reminded me of something Solomon wrote in the Book of Proverbs: “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine” (17:22). Have you ever thought about the healing power of happiness?
There is a joy from God that heals. All of us know from experience that bad news makes us feel sick, but good news makes us feel pleasant all over. All of us have friends who refresh us and make us feel better for having been with them. And, sad to say, all of us know people who seem to live in the shadows, who always bring a minor note of gloom into the symphony of life.
To be sure, there is a note of sadness in the world because sin is in the world. But there is also a note of gladness. The bird sings the loudest in the storm. There is beauty and peace even in a winter landscape. No matter how dark the day, God gives us joy; and no matter how lonely the night, God gives us a song. Christians have every reason to cultivate a merry heart. Our sins have been foregiven. Christ has written our names down in heaven. He is preparing us a home in heaven. He has promised to come to receive us and take us to glory. Of all people, we Christians ought to have a merry heart.
I suppose that temperament does have something to do with a person’s outlook on life, and perhaps there are physical causes as well. But I sincerely believe that God wants us to have a merry heart, an optimistic outlook on life. Now, I’m not talking about foolish jesting or worldly humor; I’m talking about that overflowing joy within that is the birthright of every Christian.
Some Christians may not know the difference between being sober and being somber. All Christians should be sober and take like seriously; but I don’t believe God wants us to be somber–to have a gloomy, dismal attitude. In fact, Jesus condemned this kind of attitude when He saw it in the lives of the Pharisees. He warned us in the Sermon on the Mount not to have a long face, a sad countenance, just so people will think we are spiritual. Nothing will drive people away from Christ fater than a church full of sad looking people.
No, the Lord wants us to have joy. Paul reminded Timothy that God gives us “richly all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). When the prodigal son came home and was forgiven, the father gave him a feast. The Bible says, “They began to be merry.” There is joy in heaven when even one sinner repents, and certainly God’s will should be done on earth as it is in heaven. Solomon was right–“A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” Not the artificial, worked-up, foolish laughter of this world, but the sincere, spiritual joy that we have in Christ because our sins have been forgiven. The best way to stay spiritually healthy is to take the right medicine, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”
Jesus is known as “The Man of Sorrows”; yet I submit to you that nobody ever experienced deeper joy than He did. We have in the New Testament records of at least three instances when Jesus wept; we have no record that He laughted, but I am sure He did. Jesus went through all the normal experiences of life so that He could be my sympathetic and understanding high priest; and I simply cannot conceive of Jesus never laughing.
In fact, as you read His sermons and parables in the Gospels, you detect a keen sense of humor. A father was conducting family devotions one day and was reading from Matthew 23, Jesus’ denunciation of the Pharisees. At one point his son laughed out loud. The father was upset. “There’s nothing funny about this,” he said to his son. “But there is, daddy,” said the boy. “Just think how funny it is to strain out gnats and swallow camels!” and at that the whole family broke out laughing.
Of course, the humor in the Bible is not like our Western humor. Oriental people laugh at the ridiculous, at constrasts that are so obvious they are simply funny. I’m sure the crowd that listened to the Sermon on the Mount must have chuckled when Jesus described the man with a log in his eye who was trying to get a speck out of his brother’s eye. And when Jesus compared the stern, religious Pharisees to white-washed tombs, the crowd must have laughed out loud. Certainly the Bible is not a joke book, but it does use humor to get its message across. And the Bible recommends a merry heart as the medicine to heal the spiritual illnesses of life.
To begin with, we must learn to laugh at ourselves. It’s possible to take ourselves too seriously. More than once I have seen innocent laughter relieve tension and open the way toward solving problems. As a pastor, I have sometimes made suggestions in committee meetings and discovered that the suggestions were ill-timed. The temperature began to go down and the atmosphere became tense. At those times I have had sense enough to laugh at myself and admit my mistake; and the laughter has always come like medicine to heal whatever wounds were caused.
A missionary executive once told me that he would never appoint a missionary who didn’t have a sense of humor. “It’s just too hard out there on the field,” he told me. “The workers who can laugh at themselves are the ones who last.”
“A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” But what is the secret of a merry heart?
Aren’t some people born with a pessimistic outlook on life? Possibly so, but when a person is born again, a new nature comes in and with it comes a new outlook on life. I think the reason many people do not have a merry heart is because they have never been born again–they don’t look at life through the eyes of faith.
Wherever Jesus looked, He saw the hand of God. The lilies reminded Him that God clothes us; so we don’t have to worry about that. When He saw the sparrows, He remembered that God feeds us, too. Jesus lived each day in the realization that His heavenly Father was taking care of Him. This is one of the secrets of a merry heart–the wonderful truth that God is on the throne watching over His children. As long as we are doing His will, everything in the universe is working for us. When you know this, you can face each new day and say to your heart, “This is the day which the Lord hath made, we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps. 118:24).
The second truth that makes for a merry heart is this: joy comes from serving others. You don’t get a merry heart by going out looking for it, because happiness is a by-product of service. The most miserable people I know are those who think only of themselves. The happiest people I know are those who think of others. Selfishness always smothers happiness. IT’s one of the killjoys of life. But sacrifice and service open the springs of God’s happiness and flood our hearts with joy.
When I find that my own supply of joy is rather low, I take time to read the Bible and pray. Fellowship with God is sure to give me a merry heart. Jesus said, “Abide in me…that your joy may be full” (John 15:10-11).
Of course, a merry heart is not something we keep to ourselves. Like any medicine, it must be applied. We must share our joy with others. Some people are like poison and some are like medicine. Some bring you a feeling of death and others bring the excitement of life. When a Christian is filled with God’s Spirit, he radiates love and joy and peace. His heart is joyful in the Lord, and that joy is medicine to your heart. No matter what kind of disposition we were born with, the Hly Spirit can creat within us a new heart and a joyful spirit. I don’t know about you, but I would rather go through life with a merry heart, sharing with others the joy of the Lord, than anything else I can think of. Our world is filled with so much sorrow and pain. Why not ask God to give you a merry heart so that you, too, can make life easier and happier for others?
Copyright, Warren W. Wiersbe
This material originally appeared in Songs in the Night.
Not to be reproduced or copied without permission of 2ProphetU.
Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).