Being Glad in a Sad World
For the choir director: A psalm of David, to be accompanied by stringed instruments. Answer me when I call to you, O God who declares me innocent. Free me from my troubles. Have mercy on me and hear my prayer. How long will you people ruin my reputation? How long will you make groundless accusations? How long will you continue your lies? You can be sure of this: The Lord set apart the godly for himself. The Lord will answer when I call to him. Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Think about it overnight and remain silent. – Psalm 4:1-4 NLT*
by Barry C. Black, Chaplain, United States Senate
I sought to cultivate a strategy that would enable me to be glad in a sad world. I first began by striving to apply the golden rule in Matthew 7:12. It states, “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” I became convinced that I’d found the cliff notes of the entire Holy Bible. What I didn’t want done to me, I simply would not do to someone else. This strategy provided me with a lamp and light for my path, contributing to my gladness even during disappointing seasons.
Then I found a second strategy to supplement the first. In 1 Corinthians 10:31 it states: “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” This was a rule that seemed easy to apply, particularly when faced with right versus right conundrums. I simply needed to ask the question, “Which choice would bring the greater glory to God?” I felt a rush of gladness even during moments of depression when I thought about the simple goal of living for God’s glory.
Finally, I discovered a third strategy in Psalm 4:5 which declares, “Offer sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord.” Adding this third piece to my gladness puzzle seemed to provide a completeness to my efforts to experience gladness in a sad world.
Suddenly I found myself applying this third strategy on a daily basis. I’d walk by a restaurant each day knowing about the delicious food that could be found inside. In the past I would have rationalized entering the restaurant just to look at the menu. Inevitably, I found myself ordering something that I didn’t need to eat as I told myself that a little snack couldn’t do much harm. With my new strategy of offering God sacrifices of righteousness, I’ve been able to pass by restaurants without testing my will power by going in.
The Power of a Contrite Heart
We should offer God sacrifices of righteousness because we know from Scripture that He honors a broken and contrite heart. Psalm 51:17 puts it this way, “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” We see how a broken and contrite heart can move the arms of God in the 51st Psalm. David had committed the dual sins of hot-blooded adultery and cold-blooded murder and still, he cried out to God. The Psalmist prayed: “Cast me not away from your presence” (Psalm 51:11). He pleaded with God, “Restore unto me the joy of my salvation” (Psalm 51:12). Earlier, he seemed to be begging as he said to God, “Create in me a clean heart O God and renew a right spirit within me.” God was moved by David’s broken and contrite heart, for this king was offering to God a sacrifice of righteousness.
Doing What God Desires
We should offer unto God a sacrifice of righteousness because God desires us to do righteousness and justice. Proverbs 21:3 tells us that the Lord is more pleased when we do what is right and just than when we bring Him a lamb for sacrifice. And Micah 6:8 reminds us that God desires each of us to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him. By doing righteousness and justice, we will hasten the day when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream (Amos 5:24). Offering a sacrifice of righteousness that involves integrity and justice will bring us gladness in a sad world.
What is the best way to honor God with a sacrifice of righteousness? First, we should love God and our neighbors passionately. Mark 12:33 admonishes, “And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.” We are told in sacred scriptures that we can give our bodies in martyrdom, but without love the sacrifice is meaningless. When Jesus encountered Peter after the resurrection, he asked a simple question: “Peter, do you love me?” (John21:15). He asked Peter that question three times. Although Peter had denied Jesus three times, he was restored by the love of Christ. Galatians 5:14 also echoes this sentiment of passionately loving God and neighbors. It states that to love your neighbor as yourself is to fulfill the entire law. Isn’t that a wonderful focus? Imagine that. I can fulfill the entire law of God simply by loving people as I would want to be loved.
Share with Others
A second way to honor God with a sacrifice of righteousness is to share what we have with those in need. Hebrews 13:16 reminds us, “And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.” When we share with those in need, we are preparing to give a “yes” response to the six questions in the story of the judgement in Matthew 25. The Master wanted answers from those being judged to the following questions: Did you feed the hungry? Did you give water to the thirsty? Did you clothe the naked? Did you visit the sick? Did you minister to the incarcerated? Did you take care of the strangers in your midst? Jesus of Nazareth would later declare, “As you have done it to the least of these, you have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).
A law of sowing and reaping exists in God’s universe (Genesis 8:22), so most of our labors can be described as either planting or watering seeds (1 Cor. 3:6). We are, therefore, told to not become weary in doing what is right, for in due season we will reap a harvest of joy (Galatians 6:9). When we share with those in need we are planting and watering seeds that will eventually bring a bountiful harvest for time and eternity.
A final way that we can be glad in a sad world is to offer a righteous sacrifice of praise. This approach ensures we are giving a righteous sacrifice. The Bible says in Hebrews 13:15, “Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name.” Psalm 22:3 states, “Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.” Psalm 34:1 seems to be making the same point when it declares, “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praises will continually be in my mouth.” When we bring God our praises, we honor him.
Paul and Silas demonstrated how to offer a sacrifice of praise when they were unfairly incarcerated at a jail in Philippi. They’d been beaten and shackled, yet at midnight they sang praises to God until the earth shook and their chains fell off. Indeed, God inhabited the praises of his children.
Imagine what would happen if each of us decided to offer God a sacrifice of righteousness by loving Him and our neighbors completely? Imagine the difference in our nation and world if people strove to never do to someone what they would not want done to themselves. Imagine the impact that saying yes to the six questions in the judgement could make in improving our lives? Imagine how much more gladness would be in our world if people would obey the challenge of offering a sacrifice of praise recorded in Psalm 100: “Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth! Worship the Lord with gladness. Come before him, singing with joy. Acknowledge that the Lord is God! He made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation.”
I have discovered a simple strategy for dealing with depression. Whenever I am feeling low, I walk outside my work place and seek to help someone who is less fortunate. I am blessed because I work very close to Union Station in Washington, DC where many people in desperate need congregate. I get money from the ATM in my building and go down to the train station, attempting to address the needs of the least of these. It doesn’t take long before my spirit is lifted by small monetary gestures to alleviate the suffering of the less fortunate. I challenge each of you reading to try this simple technique. I know you will discover the same gladness I have, even if you are going through a season of sadness; for we can be glad in a sad world.