All These Happy Christians

I walk daily on a somewhat fine line between joy and depression. It’s not only my war with my sin and the near constant failures that are mine as a minister, a husband and a dad that make me repentant and sad so often (Romans 8:12-17) I’m sure it’s also a result of my calling from God and my personality as well. I’d like to try to relate what I can of all this. Some of us need more discipline from God than others to do what he’s called us to do. Don’t get me wrong. Joy wins overall. I’m a Christian so how could joy not be mine? but the Christian life’s a struggle because I believe it’s a good thing to be depressed as a believer despite what many today seem to want to tell me.

I’m writing this devotional for those of you who face the same trials. I’m with you.
There is a tyranny in our day in the church of perpetual kindness and joy. A tyranny to always be happy that makes us lie to God, to ourselves and to each other. We become schizophrenic trying to always be, “Who we know we should be.” This tyranny comes I say from un-spirituality, aberrant teaching, and shallow preaching. Even in the midst of the grossest evil there’s this un-biblical idea afoot that Christians are always supposed to be nice, smiling, bright n’ shiny, cute n’ cuddly. I look to the Bible, however, and I must confess that I see otherwise everywhere. I mean I know we’re all a thousand times wealthier than most of the people we encounter on the pages of holy writ, and that this affluence makes us generally more prone to just want to get along with everyone, but aren’t we all still in the same world that they were in? There are just so many “nice Christians” today. Everyone seems to love them. They make no waves. No one accuses them of anything bad. These are the kind of people who even in Gethsemane would’ve told Jesus to cheer up. You know who I’m talking about. Their doctrine never divides. They’re never persecuted because “they’re as wise as a serpent.” Everything in life seems beautiful to them…all the time. They seem to always be smiling in the ubiquitous dictum to, “Let others see their joy and be attracted to Jesus by it” whatever that means. For those of us not fortunate enough to always wake up on that side of the bed, or to be trapped behind that magical curtain, we find ourselves asking if maybe we’re missing something? Are we sinning if we’re sad? A fruit of the Holy Spirit is joy (Galatians 5:22) so are we not bearing fruit if we’re depressed at times about some things? I mean- who doesn’t want to be happy?! I know I do. I want everyone to be happy so why do I find myself not happy so very often? Reader, it’s okay to be sad. We live in a sad and broken world. If we’re sad about it, you know who we’re being like? We’re being like Jesus.

I’d like to propose another idea. Maybe godly sorrow is a good thing for sinners like us. “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” 2 Corinthians 7:10. Maybe a godly sadness, even in the life of the true Christian, is an indicator that we know the truth, and that we actually care deeply about God and his creation. In Ecclesiastes God says, “Because in much wisdom there is much grief; and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain.”  Perhaps if God’s given us the fulness of revelation in Christ, and he has, that at least at times, sorrow in us is entirely to be expected. Maybe it’s actually his love at work in us if we’re saddened by the world around us, and the sin within us. If you’re paying attention there are a lot of things to weep over. I won’t name them. How many people have you wept with, reader, as a Christian? Blessed are you if there’s even one.

Now, joy is tangential to the Cross. It comes with maturity in the Faith. I believe that. God is a happy God. If Jesus conquered death for me and drew me to himself, then I will live as an inheritor of the planet. How can joy not win in the end in light of such things? Yes, joy comes through fellowship with God in the truth. This is most biblical. 1 John 1:4. Peter said it marvelously in 1 Peter 1:3-9:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which perishes though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Oh, hallelujah! I have this joy inexpressible within me, but I too have had to have trials sent by God if I’m to have a refined love for him. Doesn’t God say, “…for the moment, all discipline seems not to be pleasant, but painful…” in Hebrews 12:11a? Does sadness not discipline us? At times I can feel joy and I’m so grateful for those times, but did you catch the wider context of the passage? It’s in the midst of the struggles that one’s faith is refined. Romans 8:12-17 (cited already) has this same context saying we know we’re God’s children if we suffer in the mortification of our sin, being led by the Holy Spirit.

Now, no frowns in life may show that a person (especially a preacher) is not a believer. Jesus spoke clearly that when people speak ill of a person because of their faith that it’s likely a positive accolade, and not a negative one. Luke 6:26. James wrote: “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore, whoever wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” James 4:4. If the world is friendly to the Christian, especially the Christian preacher, my antennas go up.

If you struggle with sadness as a Christian, here comes the encouragement. Many things were prophetically said of Jesus in the Old Covenant. Consider two of them-

1) “He was despised and abandoned by men, A man of great pain and familiar with sickness; and like one from whom people hide their faces, He was despised, and we had no regard for Him.” Isaiah 53:3.

2) “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of joy above Your companions.” Psalm 45:7.

Both passages are reflected upon under inspiration and applied to Jesus in 1 Peter 2 and Hebrews 1:9 respectively. Now, I’m not Jesus, but if I’m growing up to be like him, it seems I should also be one lost men hide their faces from too, and one who hates evil. Blessed are you if this is you! Do people think you’re sad for no good reason? Do you hate sin? Blessed are you. Matthew 5:11. As a man I spend much of my time at work so, shouldn’t this show up there? What about in the church and all the smiley Christian faces around me? Isn’t the church full of carnality? Of syncretism? Are there not divorces every year in the church? Are there not televised heretics in every third pulpit poisoning the wells? And what about my culture? My people? Is my culture not loudly celebrating today every single sin for which God once flattened Sodom, or for which he once drowned the planet? Are babies not being disembowelled everyday in my land because of our rampant fornication? Is there not still a hell? Is God not still furious? There is still the greatest Day of Wrath appointed. Don’t we still live daily in light of it in these last days? What believer prior to the destruction of Israel back in the day would be smiling all the time talking about how their own joy should attract the rest of the world to Yahweh? No friend, we who love God can look ahead to what God is doing and rejoice, but we should also look around and lament.

Christians have been rescued. We’re in but not of the world. Amen. We must keep this before us. But if we’re doing what we’re commanded to love our neighbors I hope it’s a struggle at times for us to keep this before us. I’m inviting you to embrace depression. It may actually just mean that you care. First about God and his truth, and second about others. Aren’t we to rejoice and weep with those who weep? Romans 12:15. What about those who refuse weeping in their lives, but will weep, wail and gnash their teeth in hell forever? Do we not know better than them? Shouldn’t we be depressed for a God-hating world? Name me one true “smiling prophet” in either covenant. Do we look like them…ever? Is there an “us and them” anymore?

I exhort you to seek out why sadness, at least at times, makes perfect sense in Scripture. Paul knew God was utterly sovereign in salvation, yet wrote in Romans 9:1-2: “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying; my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart.” Is there no part in us that can relate to him? Are we so indifferent to God that we think we should just be happy all the time? I’m so glad that God saved me, but I’m at work for the salvation of others and in reality I know that we have to get dirty to do it. You can do this just by talking to lost people. Engage. Do the works of ministry. Go out to them. Engage. Experiment. Do apologetics. You’re told to. It comes with great blessing and also great sadness. In it you too will need to walk the line of focuses. One is on Christ. That’s where you’re to look. You’re also in a sense to look where the world’s looking if you love and to reach out. Don’t listen to the smiley people. Their reward will likely be little. It’s okay to be sad.

I’m not saying that I think the Christian life should be depressing. I am saying that its joy should be accompanied by great sadness. If you live in a world not under God’s wrath, sure, rejoice with no sorrow. No worries. If you live in this world, however, just be real.

Joseph Pittano

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