[Updated from the archives for today, the first day of Lent 2017.]
In the Lenten season of 2013 Keri Wyatt Kent blogged through her book Deeply Loved – 40 ways in 40 days to experience the heart of Jesus. I took her up on her invitation to reflect on the topic of The Blues.*
Keri begins Chapter 15 of her book with a passage from The Message:
Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God—
soon I’ll be praising again.
He puts a smile on my face.
He’s my God. (Psalm 42:11.)
Here it is in the NIV:
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.
Keri goes on to recount some songs from her childhood when the Sunday School class would sing about being “happy, happy, happy, happy, happy” all the time in Jesus. It reminds me of a hymn we used to sing as adults too:
At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light
And the burden of my heart rolled away
It was there by faith I received my sight
And now I am happy all the day!
(Isaac Watts, Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed?, ca. 1707.)
Now I’m sure that when Watts first wrote those words back in the dawn of the 18th Century everyone understood that he meant “happy” not as an emotion but in its more classical sense of contentment or enjoyment of good fortune. Nowadays, though, the word usually means nothing more than the opposite of sadness and, with that limited definition, admonitions to be happy in Jesus set us up to feel like failures: our feelings become a barometer of our spiritual condition.
What a load of hooey.
Singing the Blues
From Job to Paul, the Bible is full of examples of God’s people – at times – not possessing a smidge of happiness. What do we do at those times? The Bible gives instruction:
Cast your cares on the Lord
and he will sustain you. (Psalm 55:22.)
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7.)
Keri points out that these are times – just like our happy times – when God wants us to speak to him honestly. And we should also remember, along with the writer of Psalm 42, that God constantly watches over his own:
By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me. (Psalm 42:6.)
When our hearts are troubled, when we’ve got the blues, Keri points to Psalm 42 and suggests:
So you could pray, “God love me.” Or “God, sing over me all through the night.” You could simply reflect in wonder on the fact that God looks at you with love 24/7, and that he adores you and there is not an ounce of shame or guilt in that love, pure and constant. (Deeply Loved, p. 81.)
Still, it’s when we are feeling down that we might have the hardest time accepting that there is never any shame or guilt in how we appear before God. Yet it’s so blessedly true!
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1.)
God never condemns his people, you included. Why should you try to lay a guilt trip on yourself that God never lays on you.
Say Goodbye Feelings and Hello God
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. (Ecclesiastes 3:1.)
And get this – neither feeling happy or sad is a reflection of your standing with God. Both are possible for God’s people, and in either situation there is a perfectly appropriate response:
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. (James 5:13.)
Bottom line: Your feelings don’t define your relationship with God.
That relationship is defined instead by the finished work of Jesus Christ:
But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:22-23.)
Seasons Come, Seasons Go, God remains
Feeling happy or feeling the blues, the truth is that God is with you right where you are now. He always will be.
Because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5.)
That makes me happy.
*Of course, this post is only about the transitory experience of feeling down, what people commonly think of when they say they have the blues. There’s a big difference between feeling blue and the medical condition known as clinical depression. See also, Anxiety Needs.