There’s a lot of sobering news around.
I could make a list for you to read, but you’re ahead of me. You know as well as I do that watching the news online, on TV or in the papers is an exercise in discouragement and sadness.
The psalmists, good poets that they were, had a good description for that kind of feeling. “My spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed.”
Those same psalmists also knew the antidote for a crushed spirit, a heavy heart and a mind trying hard to see beyond the world’s mess. “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.”
That’s what we need, some joy and a spirit willing to get on with life whatever the limitations.
One of the most frequently used words in the Psalms is gladness. So, when were you last glad?
To help you pinpoint such an occasion here’s the dictionary definition: glad – feelings of pleasure, pleased and delighted, characterized by cheerfulness.
So, when was the last time others could say you were “characterized by cheerfulness”? When were you last genuinely glad?
Here is how I might answer: “Oh, I think it wasn’t that long ago – when geese flew overhead, honking all the way to Loch Skene, when I ate a crème brûlée, when my friend Zoomed me from Alabama. But I admit, gladness is scarcer than it used to be.”
This past year, it’s been hard to be characterized by cheerfulness.
Gladness can’t be manufactured out of thin air. None of us can just talk ourselves into feeling glad and cheerful. There has to be a reason for gladness just as there is usually a reason for sadness.
And that’s where the Psalms can help us. The psalmists are very clear about the causes of gladness and characteristic cheerfulness.
As you would expect, it all comes back to what we think about God, how we see the world and what is happening in our own life story as we live the life that is God’s gift every single day.
Here are a few hints about where gladness comes from:
Psalm 31:7: “I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul.” The one constant, dependable, unchangeable circumstance in our lives is the love of God. We are not alone in this. Be glad about that.
Psalm 92:4: “You make me glad by your deeds, O Lord, I sing for joy at the work of your hands.” This is still a wonderful world, the Creator’s masterpiece gifted to us. The birds we feed, the technology we use, the glory of sunset. Be glad about beauty and the fruitfulness of God’s creation and human labor.
Psalm 97:1: “The Lord reigns; let the earth be glad.” At a time when even the best world leaders struggle with complex problems and life-or-death decisions, the Lord God reigns, and God’s purposes will be fulfilled. When I watch the news, it is all about political division, COVID-19, Brexit, the economy and recession. I’m glad “the Lord reigns,” and this is still a God-loved world.
Psalm 118:24: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” You wake up, you’re still here, the gift of another day. Time is God’s gift, not to be wasted in morose wishing it could be otherwise, but to be enjoyed and lived gratefully, creatively, and yes, gladly.
Put all that together, as a recipe for gladness, especially when we don’t feel like it.
We are glad God loves us and sees how hard life sometimes is.
We are glad because all around us, if we look for it, is the beauty and fruitfulness of God’s creation.
We are glad because in a world as broken as ours, we affirm as a resurrection people who worship the God of hope, the Lord reigns.
We are glad because today we are alive, this day is God’s gift, and God has work for us to do.
With all that in mind, here is one of my favorite prayers, which I often say at the start of the day. “May we accept this day at your hand, O Lord, as a gift to be treasured, a life to be enjoyed, a trust to be kept and a hope to be fulfilled – and all for your glory. Amen.”
During these long days of restriction and loss, go looking for reasons to be glad – even if you don’t feel like it.
God’s love to us in Jesus, God’s beautiful creation, God’s providence and reign over the earth and each day when we wake up still with a life to live – “Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory unto God. Hallelujah, for the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.”
Part-time minister of Montrose Baptist Church in Angus, Scotland, and the former principal of the Scottish Baptist College. He is on the advisory board of the Centre for Ministry Studies, University of Aberdeen, and is honorary lecturer in the School of Divinity, History and Philosophy.