On being joyful, even when you’re not joyful
Worship the LORD with gladness. Come before him, singing with joy. —Psalm 100:2
Worshipping the LORD with gladness is easy when you are glad. Singing joyful songs is not tough when all is going your way. But we both know this: you are not always glad, and things do not always go your way.
So, what then? Do you just fake a smile to God, or do you avoid God?
Both strategies are wrong.
Here is where the first strategy fails. Faking happiness with God means you are not giving God your everything. If God is only some “Rah! Rah!” cheerleader you seek only you when you’re sugared up for some pep rally, you’re really cutting the width and the depth of God very, very short. Give God your deepest, ugliest angst.
And then wait. And then listen.
Let me ask you this. If you are not crying to God during your painful moments, who are crying to—yourself? If so, does that really work?
Here is where the second strategy, avoiding God, fails. During significant loss, during a particularly rough time, or when you’ve been snubbed (even by someone in church), you’re avoiding God by not coming to church does what? I’ll answer that. It makes the Devil dance with delight. He wins. You lose. Actually, you keep losing. And those who love you lose too. Why? Because they hurt when you hurt.
Don’t avoid God. Hang in there. Don’t let go. Turn full speed to God, even if that speed for you in the moment is a crawl. As a son or daughter of Abraham, claim your inheritance. You may feel you have little or no energy to do this, especially in your most crumbling places, but God hears even the whimper, even the whine. Turn to the LORD. Come before him. There will be joy. Trust me. There will be joy.
Cheering to God only when you’re cheerful denies some of the best work God can do for you, which releases you from your doubt, your fear, your uncertainty and your sorrow. Have that multifaceted, give and take, high and low relationship with God because when you do, the experience the psalmist writes of will be yours.
Prayer: LORD, the next time I cry, it will be to you. The next time I turn from you, I’ll do a 180-degree turn and come right back to you. I love you, even though there are times I clearly don’t understand you, or, in the moment, I don’t understand where you are in the world I see. But I’m here. I’m looking. I’m listening. You are patient with me, but I’m not always patient—or honest—with you. Help me sing a joyful song. Help me BE the joyful song, especially in the aftermath of loss and hardship—both mine, and someone else’s. Amen.