Saturday, 3 November 2018

Can you decide to be cheerful?

Serve the Lord with gladness. Psalm100:2

A cheerful heart is good medicine. Proverbs 17:22

God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7

My wife and I reckon to go swimming every week, she twice and I once (the other time I play table-tennis - just in case you think I’m slacking).

When people discover this they sometimes say, “So you enjoy swimming, do you?” I’m never quite sure how to answer, so I usually end up saying, “Well, I wouldn’t exactly say I enjoy swimming - but I do enjoy having swum.” A big difference there, no?

Swimming has several not-so-good aspects... You have to travel to the leisure centre. You have the hassle of getting changed. You have to get wet (eek! - why doesn’t somebody invent dry swimming?). You have to get into water. Cold water. (I’m an inch-at-a-time man; so given that I’m over six feet tall, it’s a pretty lengthy operation.) The swimming itself is hard work. And, to be honest (I’m whispering now), it’s actually quite boring.

The moment I get into the water my only thought is “How long before I can complete my half-mile-and-a-bit (I hope you’re impressed?) and head for the luxury of a hot shower?”

Oh dear. That’s me, I’m afraid.

But of course many things we routinely do in life are similar - they are, if you like, duties (whether or not self-imposed) and you just have to get on with them. Getting up in the morning isn’t a bad example. Brushing your teeth. Putting in a good shift at work. Changing the baby’s nappy. The satisfaction comes afterwards.

This even applies to living out the Christian life. I’m not sure it should really be that way - if we truly love God and have a deep relationship with him, shouldn’t we want nothing more than to be in his presence and to do his will? But we might as well be realistic. After all, we aren’t quite perfect yet...

How often would we pray if we didn’t view it, partly at least, as a duty? How often do we go to church without really feeling like it, but knowing we ought to? Do we always find it a joy to give up time, effort and convenience to do some Christlike act of kindness? To prepare that Sunday School lesson? (Somebody tell me, please, that this isn’t just me!)

Thinking about this, and trying to be honest with myself, is one reason I find myself turning to that little line in Psalm 100:2: “Serve the Lord with gladness.”

Those words imply that it is possible to serve the Lord without gladness - ie, grudgingly, or resentfully. So when it comes to serving the Lord, we have a choice to make: a choice about our own attitude.

Have you ever sat in a church meeting where a volunteer is being sought for a particular task? And let’s just say that people aren’t exactly rushing to form an orderly queue to offer themselves... No: they seem to have developed a sudden interest in their shoes or their finger-nails.

But then a voice is heard. This is - well, let’s call him Mike the Martyr. He heaves a big, deep sigh; and then: “Well, I suppose if nobody else is prepared to take this on (heavy emphasis here), I could perhaps just about manage to fit it in...” Another big, deep sigh. Everybody is relieved and grateful, though perhaps also a touch guilty and troubled in mind.

All credit to Mike the Martyr of course; but perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad idea if he reflected on the words of this psalm, or of Paul in 2 Corinthians 9:7, “God loves a cheerful giver”, and grasped that giving applies to a lot more than just money.

Sometimes, of course, the voice you hear isn’t Mike the Martyr but Sue the Saint: “Yes, that’s something I’d be glad to do; leave it with me.” And this time it’s you breathing a sigh and thinking, “Bless you, Sue!”

“Cheerfulness” is a very ordinary word - but isn’t it also a lovely word? What a difference the cheerful person makes! He or she lights up a room and transforms a mood.

And being determined to be cheerful doesn’t only do others good, but also yourself: as Proverbs 17:22 puts it, it’s “good medicine”. Charles Dickens went so far as to say that “Cheerfulness and content are great beautifiers (!), and are famous preservers of good looks.” (I read somewhere, in fact, that if you smile, even when you’re not particularly feeling like it, you quickly feel a boost.)

I’ve talked about what we call “duties” and what we call “joys”. What these Bible verses suggest is that we have it in our own power to turn duties into joys. It’s all a question of attitude.

Why don’t we try it and see if it works?

Father, thank you that, even in the routine things of life, a glad and cheerful spirit can turn duties into joys. Help me to learn to do it better! Amen.

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