Thursday, July 27, 2017

Daily Watching for Life and Joy

Proverbs 15:13
A glad heart makes a cheerful face,
    but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.

"True Christians have two advantages over the men of the world: they are happier now, and safer at last."[1]  Believers have "a glad heart," because we are in Christ.  Union and communion with Christ makes for a healthy soul.  H. A. Ironside put it like this:
"The happy man is the one who has a heart at rest, and who can therefore rejoice at all times.  Such a one is the soul who has found in Christ not only a Savior, but a daily portion."[2]

An important truth taught by today's proverb is this: "We are controlled from the inside out, rather than from the outside in."[3]  The world's philosophy is often just the opposite.  "Put on a happy face," we are told.  "Whistle while you work."  There's a modicum of truth in such superficialities, but nothing that will make up for the absence of the Spirit of Christ within us, for whom we were made!  Our hearts and bodies were made to be filled with the Lord's glory and presence.  "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?" (1 Corinthians 6:19).  It is hard to see how putting on a glib exterior can make up for the absence of the One for whom we are made.

When Christ our Lord has taken up residence within us through his Spirit, it brings us joy.  We mislead the unbelieving world if we walk around with unhappy faces, "for the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17).  Nevertheless, living in Christ's joy means we must seek him daily.  In Proverbs 8, Christ our Lord addresses us via Woman Wisdom, and says:

            Blessed is the one who listens to me,
                watching daily at my gates,
                waiting beside my doors.
            For whoever finds me finds life
                and obtains favor from the Lord,
            but he who fails to find me injures himself;
                all who hate me love death.  (34-36)

Spiritual laziness hinders our joy when we fail to spend time with our Lord on a daily basis.  Each day we must seek him through his Word and prayer.  Just as we wash and put on clothes each day, so we must wash ourselves in Christ each day through the waters of our baptism, putting off the old man, and putting on the new. 

Our baptism teaches us how to live each day of our lives.  Spending time with our Lord and our Father should be as much a daily ritual as bathing and putting on our clothes.  Isn't it interesting that the New Testament likens baptism to both washing and putting on new clothes:

            Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name. (Acts 22:16)

            For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:27)

But who washes just once?  Yes, Jesus teaches us that in Christ we are fully forgiven and are clean.  But he also taught us our need of daily cleansing when he washed our feet (John 13).  Similarly with our clothes.  Putting off our sinful nature, and putting on Christ, is a daily exercise (e.g., Colossians 3:1-17).

The second line of Proverbs 15:13 points to a bitterness of heart that leads to gloom and despair.  We often forget that the Lord is sovereign, not just over our external circumstances, but also over our inward joy or misery.  There is only one Source of joy and blessing in the universe and that is our Lord who is ever blessed.  Paul calls God, "the blessed and only Sovereign" (1 Timothy 6:15).  To be separated from the triune God, who alone possesses the fullness of joy, must mean that, sooner or later, those without the Lord will experience the eternal darkness of gloom and unhappiness, while his own will experience eternal bliss.

There is no doubt that externally, those who are in Christ Jesus, will experience much suffering and tribulation.  Jesus himself taught us, "In the world you will have tribulation" (John 16:33).  And our Lord's apostle, Paul, taught that "through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22).  Externally, life as a believer can be quite difficult, and this can affect our emotions for a season.  Paul himself experienced more persecution and suffering than we will ever face.  But as his own life taught us, there can be a joy in the midst of even trying circumstances.

On one such occasion, we read about Paul and Silas:  "And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely.  Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks" (Acts 16:23-24).  But the next verse is remarkable.  Did these horrific circumstances cause Paul and Silas to despair?  No, instead we read, "About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them" (v. 25).

Maybe you find an objection to what I am saying, even though you are a believer.  Maybe I am unaware of the despair and gloom with which some believers are afflicted.  Nevertheless, no matter the tribulations the Lord has sent your way, I hope we can give our amen to these closing verses from Psalm 84:

            For a day in your courts is better
                than a thousand elsewhere.
            I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
                than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
            For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
                the Lord bestows favor and honor.
            No good thing does he withhold
                from those who walk uprightly.
            O Lord of hosts,
               blessed is the one who trusts in you!


[1] Arnot, Proverbs, 323.
[2] Ironside, Proverbs, 180.
[3] Kitchen, Proverbs, 333.

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