I have a swag of favourite Bible verses and they keep me company all the time. The one I love the most is: “The joy of the Lord is your strength,” (Ne 8:10). In my mind, this verse goes with the greatest Proverb ever: “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones,” (Pr 17:22).
It would be easy to say I ponder on these verses when I am down or in times of trouble, but the truth is, I just ponder on them all the time. They are great! They remind me that as a Christian I am commanded to be happy, and that inside this happiness is a real strength, a way of facing the hard things of the world.
Enduring with joy
While I am no Pollyanna, and I do recognise the troubles around me, as a Christian I know that there is a solution to trouble. I know that: “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song,” (Ps 28:7). I also know that, “No temptation has seized [me] except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let [me] be tempted beyond what [I] can bear. But when [I am] tempted, he will also provide a way out so that [I] can stand up under it,” (1 Co 10:13). I don’t suffer just because I am Christian and I am never alone in my challenges. I suffer just the same way as others suffer, except, as a Christian, I suffer with the promise that there will always be a way out. I can endure.
And, as the verse from Nehemiah shows me, I can endure with joy.
We have the power!
Knowing this is important, because sorrow and violence are contagious; despair can be caught like a virus. It is possible to justify any emotional state. Look around you and make a list of ten good things you see and ten rotten things you see. If you concentrate on the rotten things, you will become cranky or sad. If you concentrate on the good things, you will feel yourself cheer up. You may even become excited. Too often our emotions sway us like the ship adrift on a stormy sea. Our state of being, our very well being, is something that we let external forces control.
But as Christians, we can direct our attitudes. This is what Paul meant when he wrote, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry,” (Php 4:12). As my kids would say, “We have the power!” This is what it means to be free of the burden of sin and death (Ro 6-7). Christ has given us the authority to direct our emotional states, to live our own joy.
What’s more, there are heaps of good ways of turning the dial from sorrow to joy. Try out some of these . . .
1. Go to a mirror and smile at yourself. Better still, laugh! Smiling and laughter make you happy because they increase your dopamine levels. Dopamine is God’s very own happy pill, and he made it a natural part of us.
2. Go for a walk, with your posture as upright as you can make it, and breathe in deep breaths of good clean air. Your body likes this. It will give you more dopamine.
3. Check your diet. Are you eating healthy food? Are you eating enough fruit and vegies?
4. Sleep. Let your body rest when it is tired.
5. Catch the attitude of gratitude. Let yourself feel the joys that you have. Make a list of what’s good and ponder it.
6. Praise God often. Let the Word change negative thought patterns to patterns of hope.
7. Lastly, my most powerful piece of wisdom is this: if you really want to be happy, you have to trust. Trust God that he knows what he is doing. Trust that he has given you the authority to find the right solution for your life. And, if prayer doesn’t manifest the miracle you want, trust the fact that you can endure; that this too shall pass. Sorrow ends and joy returns. We move from abundance to scarcity, from tribulation to celebration. This is the cycle of life. Yet, as Christians, we can become like Paul and learn to be content with every situation in which we find ourselves, because a merry heart really does do good like a medicine.