RPM, Volume 15, Number 19, May 5 to May 11, 2013

A Cheerful Heart

Proverbs 15:11-15

By D. Marion Clark


In each of the two sections of proverbs we've noted how important the heart is. It is the heart that controls the tongue, the heart that makes one wise, the heart that determines if one will follow the right or the wicked way. These next proverbs deal explicitly with the heart. Let's us see what we can learn about our own hearts through them.


11 Death and Destruction lie open before the Lord— how much more the hearts of men!

The actual Hebrew terms translated Death and Destruction are Sheol and Abaddon. Studying these terms would make for an interesting study, because they reflect the understanding of the Jews about the afterlife, which in the Old Testament is not as clearly revealed as in the New. But the proverb lists these terms not because they enlighten us as to what happens after death, but precisely because they convey mystery. Consider them as names for the other world beyond this life, a life that is shrouded from view, a shadowy world in which the living disappear into. Before the Lord, this world of dark shadows is like a world clearly lighted in which everyone is fully accounted for. Now, if that world is laid bare before the Lord, how much more our hearts.

Our heart is the one thing we think we can keep secret. We might say our thoughts as well, but the proverb regards the thoughts as coming from the heart. Yes, we believe that we can play whatever part is expected of us, but keep what is really in our heart a secret. If people only knew what we really were thinking. What if some really knew how we felt about…well, what? What is it that if they knew they would be devastated or furious? What do we hide that would bring disgrace?

God knows. Yes, he knows everything — every bitter feeling, every arrogant posture, every…well, I'm making myself too uncomfortable! And consider that he knows even when we do not that we are being false. The times that we think we are being humble before him, he knows the pride that really stirred our action. The times when we think he should be proud of us for our sacrifice, he knows the self-serving motive. That is what scares me. Whenever we think about the warning that at judgment everything done in secret will be made known, I do tremble about what I am ashamed of, but what really makes me uncomfortable is knowing the will be surprises. I have this uneasy feeling of God saying to me, "Remember when you thought you being so wise? Well, the truth is…" God knows our hearts.

12 A mocker resents correction; he will not consult the wise.

This is our first encounter with the mocker. Other translations have scorner and scoffer. I suppose the ancient mocker was no different from the modern one. The full-blooded mocker cannot help but find something negative to say about everyone and everything. There is the parent mocker: compliment her child and she retorts with some shortcoming of his she thinks we ought to know. There is the sarcastic mocker: everything must be discussed as a joke. There is the mocker who goes on a rampage about anything that doesn't suit. There are the taunters who egg others on and on. There are even the nice mockers who after making a complement add the little comment, "it's a shame" or "too bad." "He's such a thoughtful man; too bad… They are the tough ones! After talking with them, there is nothing you can point out, but for some reason you come away feeling down or negative.

But since none of us fit those categories (!), let's consider our "milder" forms of mockery. We may not berate our children in public, but do we tend to continuously letting our kids know how we feel about their appearance, their music, their habits, their…well, it is easy to go and on with shortcomings to mildly joke about and needle them with. Do we not find it easy to mock people who don't live up to our beliefs and expectations? By mocking I don't mean necessarily making fun of someone, just needless criticism.

I'll confess one I am guilty of. When I go on vacation and visit a church, often I am guilty of mockery. The preacher doesn't preach like I preach. He's not staying with the text! That is mockery. It is irrelevant how he preaches. I've come to church to worship, not to be a critic, and God is not interested in the least in my reviews. That is needless criticism which benefits no one and damages my worship.

Now, I bring this up to focus on what is said about the mocker: he resents correction; he will not consult the wise. We all know the exasperating truth of this proverb. It is an exasperating truth because the person who could most benefit from correction is least willing to receive it. On the other hand, those who seem to least need it are the ones who receive correction well. As Proverbs 9:7-9 expresses so well:

Whoever corrects a mocker invites insult;
whoever rebukes a wicked man incurs abuse.
Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you;
rebuke a wise man and he will love you.
Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still;
teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning.

Again, we know this, but assuming that many of you are like me, we have our "small" mocking problems that we fail to see, that we deny if brought to our attention, and that we never think about consulting the wise about. "How to worship without a critical spirit" has not been on my list of topics to discuss with wise people. By the way, the only reason this has come to mind is from reading The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis, which is a book to avoid if you prefer not having your toes stepped on.

Our next three proverbs speak of the heart:

13 A happy heart makes the face cheerful,
but heartache crushes the spirit.
14 The discerning heart seeks knowledge,
but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly.
15 All the days of the oppressed are wretched,
but the cheerful heart has a continual feast.

By heart the proverbs mean the thoughts and attitude of a person, as Derek Kidner explains. Our heart is our mindset, the way we approach life. Verses 13 and 15 observe the effects that the condition of a person's heart has on his spirit or morale. We will look at those together, but first let us consider verse 14: The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly.

We've had two similar proverbs already:

The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly (2).

The lips of the wise spread knowledge; not so the hearts of fools (7).

Whereas those proverbs addressed how the wise made us of knowledge, here, the proverb speaks of how the discerning heart of the wise seeks knowledge. We've considered this before. The reason the wise can receive correction and make good use of knowledge is that they value knowledge highly. Knowledge is not merely a means to treasure; it is treasure. The fools just don't understand this. They want to be smart, but smart in order to take advantage of others and make themselves feel important. For them, knowledge is a means to power, fame and fortune. To the discerning — i.e. the wise — knowledge itself is reward, something to delight in, something to share with others for their enjoyment and good.

Of course, the two have different perspectives about what is knowledge. As we noted last week, knowledge according to the proverbs is the apprehension of truth and knowing God. Knowledge to the fool is nothing more than information that gets him ahead. The fool might say, "I know what life is really about" but what he really means is, "I've got things figured out in a way that gets me an advantage over you dull-witted folks."

It is this attitude of the heart that distinguishes the wise from the foolish. That is why we must make clear that as important as education is, it is not what sets the wise apart from the foolish. This proverb cannot be paraphrased "The discerning heart seeks a doctorate, but the fool settles for a GED." As scholars themselves will attest, being a scholar and being wise unfortunately do not necessarily equate. Wisdom does not come about simply by information; it comes through a right disposition of the heart. Without a discerning heart, the foolish scholar will blissfully keep chomping on folly with his less educated foolish kin.

Let's turn now to verses 13 and 15:

A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit. All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast.

We can approach these proverbs from two vantage points. The first is to consider the maxim that what takes place inside ourselves is what really controls how well we do in life. Pollyanna was right; it is better to look for the good in circumstances and in people, if only to feel happier. The person who can see the good in a bad situation, who can find humor midst trials, is a person who will be happy and contented, indeed, who will find life to be a continual feast. But the person who dwells on his disappointments, who always feels that he gets the short end of the stick, is a person who rarely can be happy and is always somewhat discontented. The person with the happy heart not only makes his face cheerful, but tends to have the same effect on everyone else he comes in contact with, while the afflicted heart makes others feel oppressed as well.

The other perspective to take is to consider the effect we have on others. All of us have great power. Do we understand that? We have the power to lift others out of depression and the power to throw them into one. If we consistently encourage others it will bring cheer to their hearts and produce happy faces. On the other hand, if we consistently criticize them, their spirits will be crushed.

Furthermore, I think this proverb teaches us simply to be observant of what is happening in others and to act accordingly. Romans 12:15 tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. When someone is happy don't take it upon yourself to make him "be sensible." That is how the grumpy people kept reacting to Pollyanna. She had no right to be happy under her circumstances! But on the other hand, recognize when others really are afflicted. We know how we feel when we've been told to cheer up by others who had no idea of the burdens we were under. Do not be quick to lecture someone on being cheerful before you know what saddens them. As the proverb says,

heartache crushes the spirit. Sometimes there is a very good reason for the heartache, and there are people who feel wretched because they really have been oppressed by the wicked and terrible circumstances.


These are interesting observations about the heart. What, then, can we do for our hearts? How do we develop cheerful hearts?

The first proverb teaches us not to bother pretending that our hearts are well when they are not, at least not to pretend before God. Don't pretend before God to have the faith you don't or the joy you don't. There are times of course when we ought to put on a brave face. We would be a burden if we always wore our sad feelings on our faces, and there are times when we need to exhort ourselves to be cheerful. But I am impressed with the brutal honesty of the psalmists before God when they are troubled. Listen to the man who is described as a "man after God's own heart."

9 I was silent; I would not open my mouth,
for you are the one who has done this.
10 Remove your scourge from me;
I am overcome by the blow of your hand.
11 You rebuke and discipline men for their sin;
you consume their wealth like a moth—
each man is but a breath. Selah
12 "Hear my prayer, O Lord,
listen to my cry for help; be not deaf to my weeping.
For I dwell with you as an alien,
a stranger, as all my fathers were.
13 Look away from me, that I may rejoice again
before I depart and am no more" (Psalm 39:13).

God knows not only when you are sleeping but when you are grieving; he knows not only when you are awake, but when you are doubting. He knows in your heart if you've been bad or good. He can handle your inward thoughts; but he does not do the healing you need when you don't admit your illness.

Do you remember the story in Mark about the father who had taken his son to Jesus to have an unclean spirit cast out? It was Mark 9:14-27. Remember how tough Jesus was with the father?

21 Jesus asked the boy's father, "How long has he been like this?"

"From childhood," he answered. 22 "It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us."

23 "'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes."

24 Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"

We asked why Jesus was so rough with the father when he did not need a confession from him to heal the son. Remember the answer? He wanted to heal the father as well of his unbelief or rather his belief in himself to control the outcome. When the father admitted the true condition of his heart, then real healing could take place. Are you grieving? Cry out to your Father. Are you angry with him? You can confess it. You are not telling him anything he doesn't know. All you are really doing is coming to terms with your grief and anger, which is a good position to be in to receive real healing from your Father.

When it comes to cheering other people, be wisely and compassionately attentive to the hearts of others. Don't lecture the dispirited. It is so easy to do. "You shouldn't be depressed. Cheer up!" "You're always moping about. Why don't you be happy?" I have to tell the story of my brother's encounter with a grocery store clerk (I would never do this!) While waiting in line, he apparently had an expression that made him look upset. The clerk looked over at him and told him to cheer up. He smiled briefly and resumed his expression. When his time came to be waited on she admonished him again. "Cheer up. Things can't be that bad!" He looked sorrowful and replied, "I guess you're right, but my dog was just run over by a car" (a creative use of the imagination). The clerk felt terrible and profusely apologized. But the result was that my brother felt cheerful leaving the store and had a happy face! The clerk could have gotten the same result if instead of admonishing him to be cheerful, she had simply been pleasant and wished him a good evening.

Being pleasant, showing sincere interest, paying a true complement — these are small things that heal a burdened heart. It is an odd thing. We can be feeling very low one moment, and then someone says a kind word and we are feeling as high as ever. Conversely, we can be happy as can be, and all it takes is one negative comment to send us crashing. Just a word, an expression on the face, the tone of a voice has great power to heal or hurt. How are you going to use your power today? Whose heart are you going to encourage? One thing you will find, as those who master this already know, that the more you cheer the hearts of others, the easier it becomes to have your own heart cheered.

A helpful lesson from the third proverb is to seek knowledge. Motivational speakers tell us that we should build ourselves up by asserting positive things about ourselves. I agree with that, but would add that we need to assert what is true.

"I can't do anything right." "You've confessed Christ as Lord; that's right."

"I keep sinning." "Yet the Spirit still imparts faith in you and perseverance."

"What good have I done?" "You have born fruit of the Holy Spirit."

Seek knowledge, not mere information. Seek truth, which, by the way, is all that doctrine is. If you grow in knowledge of the character of God, of the character and work of Jesus, and of the implications of grace, your heart cannot help but become happy, because your peace, confidence, and hope rest on God who cannot fail. Consider how the apostle Paul uses knowledge to cheer the Roman believers.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! 10 For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation (Romans 5:8-11).

That is good knowledge to have, for it is that kind of knowledge (knowledge of the gospel) that brings real and lasting cheer to the heart.

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