This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. — Psalm 118:24
I love that verse. There is a lot of suffering and doubt in Psalms, but there is a lot of hope, too. People who know me here that verse a lot from me. For one thing, I love it because it tells me that a) God made this day and everything I’ll experience in it and b) he wants me to be happy about it and trust Him. Also, I take it as a command: Be happy.
Now, there are some of you, like the Grinch over there, who say: “Why should I rejoice? What do my feelings have to do with anything?” Or maybe you think that your emotions are something that comes and goes, but it’s your duty and sense of responsibility that really matter. Oh really? Does the Bible back you up? Does God really command how we should feel?
John Piper addresses just such a thing in a sermon on Romans 12:9-13:
(There) is a deeply defective way of seeing God and of understanding your own emotions. The truth is that God does have a right to command that we feel anything we ought to feel. If we ought to feel joy in the Lord, he commands, “Rejoice in the Lord” (Philippians 4:4). If we ought to feel the sorrow of sympathy, he commands, “Weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). If we ought to feel gratitude for a great gift, he commands, “Be thankful” (Colossians 3:15). If we should feel remorse for our sin, he commands, “Be miserable and mourn and weep” (James 4:9). If we should feel fear of sin, he commands, “Fear the one who after he has killed has the power to cast into hell” (Luke 12:5). And so on.
The fact that our hearts are so distorted by sin that we don’t feel what we ought to feel does not mean that God cannot command what is right and good and fitting for us to feel. We are responsible to feel what God commands us to feel. So I plead with you, be more serious when you read these commands than you might be if you thought God has no right to tell you what you should feel toward others, and that you have no accountability for your emotions.
So, back to the beginning: How do we do something we don’t feel? Again, Piper helps us here by giving us 15 things we can do to “Fight for joy” and not be a Grinch:
1. Realize that authentic joy in God is a gift.
2. Realize that joy must be fought for relentlessly.
3. Resolve to attack all known sin in your life.
4. Learn the secret of gutsy guilt – how to fight like a justified sinner.
5. Realize that the battle is primarily a fight to see God for who he is.
6. Meditate on the Word of God day and night.
7. Pray earnestly and continually for open heart-eyes and an inclination for God.
8. Learn to preach to yourself rather than listen to yourself.
9. Spend time with God-saturated people who help you see God and fight the fight.
10. Be patient in the night of God’s seeming absence.
11. Get the rest and exercise proper diet that your body was designed by God to have.
12. Make a proper use of God’s revelation in nature.
13. Read great books about God and biographies of great saints.
14. Do the hard and loving thing for the sake of others (witness and mercy).
15. Get a global vision for the cause of Christ and pour yourself out for the unreached.
It is not good that there are unhappy people anywhere. For some, it may be a medical issue that they have no control over and for them we must extend grace and help them. But there is hope. God does not command what he won’t help us to do. Seek God. Go with God.
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