We read in the Bible, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.” (James 5:13; ESV)
In suffering or cheer, in times both good and bad, the proper response to your situation is always the same: draw closer to God.
This is an axiom oft mentioned in the context of suffering and sorrow. Despair can drive people away from God, if they allow it, but as James reminds us, the better course of action is to draw near to God in prayer. Place your sorrows and cares in His hands and allow Him to be your guide and shield.
If this is true of times of sorrow, though, it is equally true in times of joy. We sometimes forget the truth that good times are just as capable of pulling people away from being spiritual as bad. Both situations have their temptations. Which might be why one prayer, found in the Bible asks of God, “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” (Proverbs 30:8-9; ESV) As the writer notes, there is a danger in having too many riches, in that one forgets God. At least, when one is suffering, we know we have needs. Sometimes in prosperity, we allow ourselves the illusion that we don’t actually need God.
Nonetheless, in each life there is going to be times of sorrow, but also times of cheer. And, in our country, one of the most prosperous in the history of mankind, we certainly have our share of riches. Even the poor amongst us have food and luxuries. The temptation to forget our need for God is quite strong.
We must also confess, if we are to be honest with ourselves, that when we are cheerful, and caught up in being cheerful, we don’t always think about God. It is very easy to get caught up in “fun” activities and lose sight of our spiritual needs. It is also easy to forget the source of true joy. We are so busy being happy that we don’t take the time to properly thank the one who allows us to be happy.
The Bible tells us that “every good and every perfect gift comes down from the Father of lights.” (James 1:17) Jesus, in speaking of God’s goodness reminded His followers: “For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45; ESV) Sunshine and rain are both blessings of God, and He gives them to all of us. If we have food, shelter and clothing, the Scriptures direct us to be properly thankful to God for His blessings. Even more, if you are a Christian, and have been saved through the blood of Christ, you have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places through and in Christ. (cf. Ephesians 1:3) Thus the command: “Rejoice in the Lord always!” (Philippians 4:4)
When we have cause to be thankful, and in Christ there is always cause, it is appropriate to express this thankfulness to God. And what better way than song? Singing is most definitely the vehicle God commands as an expression of our joy and thankfulness. In fact, the command to sing is just as forceful and authoritative as the command to pray. The one is just as important as the other, and just as necessary. Prayer and song also serve similar functions.
One of the purposes of prayer, when one is sad, is to remind ourselves of God’s presence. Understanding this, we can see a similar usefulness in hymns and psalms – the vehicle the Bible commands as an expression of our joy and thankfulness (cf. Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:18-20). If we are singing about God,o we are certainly going to be reminded that He is there. If we sing about His power, His goodness and His love, then these truths will be at the forefront of our thoughts. Just as it is hard to pray to God and not be thinking about God, so too it is difficult to sing to and about God and not be cognizant of His presence.
So, to put it simply: if you are cheerful, remind yourself that God is the source of your cheer and happiness, and do this through the avenue of song. It doesn’t matter how good or bad a singer you are. God is listening to the heart, not the voice (cf. Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19). And God, we might suggest, loves a cheerful heart.
The church of Christ invites you to study God’s word with us, and worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. If you have any questions, including subjects you might like to see addressed, please share them with us through our website: chapelhillchurchofchrist.org
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.