Saturday, 8 April 2017

Are you a miseryguts?

A cheerful heart is good medicine... Proverbs 17:22

A happy heart makes the face cheerful... Proverbs 15:13

I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. Psalm 146:2

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Philippians 4:4

Are you essentially a cheerful person? Or perhaps (pardon the slightly vulgar Sedgwick-family-speak) a bit of a miseryguts?

A friend of mine was walking past the local shops one day when he met a man he knew just a bit. Being a friendly sort of chap he greeted him: “Morning, how are you today?” To which came the never-to-be-forgotten answer, “What’s it got to do with you?” (Oh well, I suppose it’s no bad thing to know where you stand with a person...) If ever there was a miseryguts that man was it. But surely he didn’t have to be that way?

The Bible suggests that, to some extent at least, it’s possible to choose our moods. That might seem quite a startling idea - choosing your mood!? But it comes across in the verses I have quoted - and, believe me, there’s plenty more where they came from. I’m sure it’s not the whole truth, but I’m sure too there’s a strong element of truth in it.

I read about a Christian man who had quite a hard life, but who was always positive and cheerful. Someone asked him how he managed it - what was his secret? He replied: “Well, every time I wake up in the morning I realise that I have got to make a decision: am I going to be happy today or am I going to be miserable? So I choose to be happy.” Which meant, among other things, that he spread happiness to others too.

As I said, this is certainly not the whole truth. The Bible doesn’t want us to paste onto our faces a false, plastic smile and pretend to be other than we are. Those verses are not the kind that we should ever quote glibly to people passing through times of real distress - with a child sick in hospital, perhaps, or a disintegrating marriage, or crippling money worries. Thank God that the Bible also has plenty to say about sadness and tears!

We shouldn’t forget, too, that natural temperament comes into this. Some people are blessed, quite apart from any “religious” factor, with a sunny disposition. I know someone who, as far as I am aware, is not a Christian or in any way religious, but who is unremittingly cheerful in spite of some pretty hard knocks. Just being in his company for five minutes makes you feel better. (In fact, it strikes me that in this respect he probably puts many of us Christians to shame.)

But having said all that, the basic “default mode” of the Christian, if I can put it that way, is a trust in God as our heavenly Father, and a resulting determination to confront even the trials of life with an optimistic spirit. Have you ever thought about the fact that in Paul’s list of “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23) the second quality mentioned, immediately after love, is joy: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace...”?

Trust in God, then, is the key. We’re not talking here about “Always look on the bright side of life” or “Every cloud has a silver lining” or even “the power of positive thinking” (though no doubt there’s good in that), or other trite clich├ęs. We’re talking about an attitude to life in which we have to school ourselves as we reflect on the fatherly love of God. Yes, we can teach ourselves, little by little, day by day, to be positive.

As I look back over my Christian life, now more than fifty years, I can’t help but notice that many of the finest Christians I have known have had this hall-mark of a cheerful trust in God. And they haven’t always had it easy - not by any means. Some of them have suffered a lot.

How grateful I am for them! How much good they have done me! What light and hope they have brought into my life!
Oh to be more like them!

Lord, please help me to rejoice in you always; please give me a happy heart and a cheerful face. But please help me too never to forget those for whom happiness seems an empty and cruel illusion. Amen.

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