Note On Cheerfulness
Cheerfulness. Is it an
emotional high like excitement, frenzy? Or
is it an act of the will like determination, resolve?
Emotional highs we may have from time to time but we shouldn’t expect
to have them most of the time. After
all, no one can live at a constant, emotional high.
On the other hand, if being cheerful is an act of the will, an
intensified act of the will (like determination), then we may have it from time
to time but we shouldn’t expect to have it most of the time.
After all, no one can live at a constant intensity of will.
The truth is, cheerfulness is neither an unusual emotional high nor an
unusual intensity of will. Cheerfulness
is a settled disposition. Cheerfulness
is a settled outlook on life and settled input into life.
Of course we have bad days,
and will continue to have them. Nonetheless,
it’s the settled disposition that counts.
It’s the backdrop against which our life is lived.
Cheerfulness is the atmosphere we live out of ourselves and the
atmosphere we breathe out on other people.
Cheerfulness is crucial. We
have to be cheerful if we are going to be life-affirming.
Mental health experts tell us that the major symptom of low-grade
depression isn’t feeling sad. (Many
depressed people don’t feel sad.) The major symptom of low-grade depression is
what psychiatrists call “psycho-motor retardation”, or what we’d more
commonly “dragginess”. Someone
tells us he doesn’t have any energy, can’t seem to get going, can’t seem
to get interested, is always weary -- because he had the ‘flu five times last
winter. But nobody gets the ‘flu
five times per winter. He’s not
‘flu-ridden; he’s depressed. Without
cheerfulness we can’t be life-affirming.
You must have noticed that cheerless people are an emotional dead weight.
They strike us as being dead but somehow unable to fall over.
Not only are they emotionally inert themselves, they are an emotional
drain on others. If we are around
cheerless people for any time at all we feel our own vitality being bled away.
Soon everyone is left feeling anaemic.
The cheerless person debilitates. Then
plainly cheerfulness is important. Scripture
mentions it again and again. It’s
obviously part and parcel of the Christian life.
But why would anyone be cheerful, then or now?
We read the newspaper, contemplate world-occurrence, ponder our own
struggles -- and we aren’t moved to much cheerfulness.
The truth is, no apostle ever pretended that we are made cheerful by
looking around us. When the apostles
looked out around them they saw an army of occupation.
They saw grinding poverty. They
saw betrayal at the hands of political leaders and religious leaders alike.
They saw unfairness, disease, suffering, and untimely death.
Martin Luther maintained that when the Christian looks out upon the world
what she sees contradicts the gospel, contradicts the truth that God loves each
one of us more than he loves himself. (Didn’t
he give up his Son for us?) Yet
Luther was anything but cheerless. Luther,
you see, distinguished carefully between eye and ear.
What we all see with the eye contradicts what “hear” with the
“ear” (i.e., hear with the ear of the heart.)
What we hear – the gospel – persuades us of God’s truth: we are
loved in a way that world-occurrence can never confirm but can only deny.
Luther then, and the apostles first, insist that all disciples of Jesus
Christ may and must be cheerful. They
insist as well that such cheerfulness isn’t rooted in what’s going on around
them; rather it is rooted in the call they have heard, in the response they have
made to that call, and in the reception their response has been accorded.
Blind Bartimaeus isn’t merely one blind man.
Blind Bartimaeus is included in the gospel story because he’s every man
and every woman. One day Bartimaeus
is sitting around in his customary semi-depressed dragginess – perfectly
understandable, in view of the fact that he’s blind -- when a neighbour says,
“Be of good cheer. Jesus is
A woman who has suffered from an embarrassing complaint lasting
twelve years one day finds herself adjacent to Jesus.
She responds to his tacit invitation by reaching out and touching him.
As she responds he says to her, “Daughter, be of good cheer.
Your faith has made you well”.
A son comes home to his waiting father, Jesus tell us in that parable
which everyone knows, and the reception the son receives is a reception he never
expected. His father doesn’t
listlessly pussyfoot around, “Well, son, we had better wait and see.
For now, you’re on probation”. Instead
the father exclaims four times over in a few verses, “Let’s make merry.”
The ground of our cheerfulness is never what’s going on around us.
The ground of our cheerfulness is something else.
It’s the call -- to live in the company of Jesus Christ.
It’s the response his call has freed us to make.
It’s the reception our response has been accorded.
This is where our cheerfulness is rooted.
His call has quickened our response; and our response has met with a
reception characterized by merriment. Now
we know why and how we can be cheerful.
But cheerfulness doesn’t mean much when we are hassle-free or relaxing
in the bathtub. Cheerfulness
does mean a great deal, however, when we are being harassed.
Knowing this, Jesus said something profound when he looked his followers
in the eye and said, “In the world you will have tribulation.
But be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”
It’s easy to believe the first half of our Lord’s pronouncement:
“In the world you will have tribulation.”
Affliction? We can’t get
away from it. When I was very young
and my mother was feeling overwhelmed she would sigh heavily and remark,
“There’s always something.” Yes
there is. And the fact that there is
“always something” puts the acid test to our cheerfulness.
It’s easy to believe the first half of Christ’s pronouncement “in
the world you will have tribulation”. What
does the world offer besides tribulation?
Our Lord found it easy to believe this concerning himself.
His parents didn’t understand him.
His mother found him to be an embarrassment.
His brothers and sisters thought him deranged.
His disciples disappointed him. (One
betrayed him, while the others forsook him.)
Church authorities molested him. The
crowds turned on him. The shadow of
the cross fell upon him, as John Calvin reminds, throughout his life, at all
times and in all circumstances.
Like him, you and I meet with resistance; we meet with a resistance which
afflicts us as soon as we attempt to accomplish anything worthwhile, to do
anything of real human help and healing. We
feel like a hockey player who is trying to score: the closer he gets to the
goal, the greater the resistance he meets. The
closer he gets to the goal, the greater the hammering he takes from opponents.
The hockey player who parks himself in front of the goal where he can
deflect the puck for a sure score takes a terrific beating.
(Look for it the next time you see a game “live”.)
When he’s a hundred feet from the goal nobody’s bothering him.
But where he is likely to score he is hammered incessantly.
In life we shall be harassed very little as long as we have a “don’t
care” attitude, as long as we “go with the flow”, not
caring where we drift. But as soon
as we take a stand; as soon as we aspire after something worthwhile and pursue
it; as soon as we attempt to move towards a goal we meet resistance.
If you exercise any leadership or responsibility at work, at church, in a
school, a service club, an organization of any sort, you will survive longest,
and survive longest scar-free, by doing nothing, planning nothing, saying
nothing, being nothing -- just drifting. But
as soon as you recognize the goal and begin moving yourself and others toward
it, the hammering starts. Now you
have to contend with the dead weight of the lethargic ones; as well as with the
jealousy of those who envy your leadership; as well as with the hostility of
those who resent your visibility. As
soon as you attempt to do anything of genuine kingdom significance you learn a
great deal about tribulation. If
Jesus had merely sawn a few boards and patted a few children on the back of the
head he too would have been hassle-free. But
instead he says and does what he knows he must be about.
At the same time as he asks as much from you and me he states, “In the
world you are going to have tribulation”.
Does he need to remind us?
Certainly he needs to remind us of the second half: Nevertheless, be of
good cheer, for I have overcome the world”.
Even as we are resisted and harassed we can be cheerful, and we must be
-- for our Lord has overcome everything which harasses us, and he now shares his
triumph with us.
“Be of good cheer.” Is it
a pipedream? Romantic exaggeration?
Or is he pressing something genuine upon us, something which will be
hidden from most people but known to us in our innermost heart and confirmed in
our day-to-day experience? There is
only one way to find out. We have to
immerse ourselves in those situations where we are hassled.
In looking to him there, and stepping forward with him there, we shall be
surprised by our very good cheer, for he does include us in his overcoming of
During the last war military fliers were instructed in the technical
details of their parachute. No doubt
the flier understood adequately the words which described how parachutes
function. But one day he would find
himself in the midst of a “tribulation” when he had to move beyond
understanding the instructions and step out into thin air, seemingly.
The test was upon him; namely, was he going to trust that his parachute
was as effective as the manufacturer had said it was -- or was he going to
“Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.”, says our Lord.
When we are harassed the test
is upon us. Now we have to step out,
step forward, entrusting ourselves to him whose promise we have understood up to
this point, but whose promise we now have occasion to prove.
And like the flier, we shall find that we are gently saved.
We shall find ourselves marvelling at the good cheer which has stolen
upon us. We shall confirm our
Lord’s promise in our own experience: he has overcome the world, and we can be
of good cheer. Therefore we shall
persist in doing what we know we should be doing.
Cheerfulness is necessary for a second reason.
Cheerfulness is necessary if that kingdom-good we endeavour to do is
going to be life-giving, profoundly life-imparting, life-enhancing, humanly
upbuilding. Imagine someone standing
at your door one evening. He has a
face as long as a horse’s. He
tells you, miserably, that he is collecting on behalf of the Canadian Diabetic
Association, or the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
It’s obvious that he would rather be doing something else.
But he has “virtuously” given up an evening to go out and “do
good”. One look at his
horse-length face and you would say, “Brother, the diabetics don’t need you
”. Of course the fellow can pick
up a few dollars in the short run. But
in the long run what real, human helpfulness and healing is going to come out of
a cheerless do-goodism? Now you
understand why Paul writes to the Roman Christians, “If you are doing acts of
mercy, be sure to do them cheerfully.” A
cheerless act of mercy may appear merciful, but the very cheerlessness of it
contradicts the appearance and makes it -- an “act of mercy” -- an act of
In his letter to the church in
When Paul writes, “God loves a cheerful giver” the Greek word he uses
for cheerful is HILAROS. It means a
joyful readiness that is eager and prompt to do something.
The Greek word HILAROS gives us the English word “hilarity” and
“hilarity” suggests a party atmosphere.
Cheerfulness is necessary if what we do is really going to contribute to
the healing of minds and spirits. Without
cheerfulness we have only a do-goodism that is humanly demeaning and is resented
by those who are supposed to benefit from it.
But with cheerfulness we have an act of mercy that can raise the dead.
began today by noting that the cheerless person leaves us all feeling drained.
We noted too that the cheerfulness of Christians isn’t rooted in our
surroundings but is rooted rather in Christ’s winsome call to us, our
self-abandoning response to him, and the joyous reception he accords our
response. Rooted in this
cheerfulness we shall find our Lord’s word confirmed in us as he tells us
again and again to be of good cheer just because he has overcome our turbulent
world. And we shall know with the
apostle that what is offered to God and given to our neighbour our hilarious
cheerfulness renders a life-bestowing act of mercy.