There are seven instances of the words "good cheer" in the Bible. Six times they are found in the form of a command "Be of good cheer." Jesus spoke half of those references; the Apostle Paul spoke the other half. And the fact that it was the greatest apostle who ever lived on the one hand and the Son of God himself on the other repeatedly giving that command emboldens me to make the following unorthodox statement:
Have some holiday cheer, or else.
I know, I know, that sounds sort of like a thinly veiled threat. But trust me, I have only your best interest at heart, whoever you are.
Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and then Christmas. And, with all due respect to Andy "It's the most wonderful time of the year, with the kids jingle belling and everyone telling you be of good cheer, it's the most wonderful time of the year!" Williams, that does not normally seem to be the reality on the ground.
In fact, a more accurate version of that Christmas classic might go something like this:
"It's the most difficult time of the year, with the kids all a-scheming and co-workers screaming complaints in your ear, it's the most difficult time of the year!
"It's the snark, snarkiest season of all, with long holiday hours and customers sour, and lots of rainfalls, it's the snark, snarkiest season of all.
"There'll be parties mandated and fruit cake you've hated, and places you don't want to go, there'll be long boring stories of not quite true glories of uncle Fred long long ago,
"It's the most stressful hard time of the year, there'll be forced family fun when you just want to run to some spot quiet and clear, it's the most stressful hard time of the year!"
Stop being pious; in the words of many of my youth group kids, "You know it be like that."
But it doesn't have to be like that. And God doesn't want it to be like that. In addition to the six commands to be of good cheer, we also find these words that are very applicable to the holiday season:
As Proverbs 15:15 says: "All the days of the afflicted are evil: but he that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast."
And Proverbs 17:22 says: "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones."
Simply put, a merry heart is both a choice and something that is produced by choices. And that being the case, please allow me to give some good counsel right here at the outset of the holiday season. I know that, humor aside, holidays can be some of the darkest and hardest days for a great many people. So here are some ways to intentionally be of good cheer or at least produce some conditions conducive to good cheer, no matter the circumstances.
One, make sure you are saved and ready for eternity, and then remember that you really get to go. No one accidentally goes to heaven, and no one goes by good works. Jesus told the crowd in Luke 13:1-5 that they must repent or perish, and in John 3, he told Nicodemus, "Ye must be born again."
Turning from sin to Christ, placing your full faith and trust in what he did on Calvary, apart from any works of your own, results in you becoming what 2 Corinthians 5:17 calls "a new creature in Christ." From that moment forward, even if your holidays are more like "Misery" than "Miracle on 34th Street," you can at least smile and say, "Where I'm going, the sun/Son is always shining!"
Two, get up and move. Walk, run, lift weights, play sports, do something. Exercise does not just improve your physical condition; it also improves your mood. When a person exercises, the body does exactly what it was designed by God to do, producing a wonderful set of chemicals known as endorphins. These marvelous chemicals produce feelings of happiness, help to regulate the appetite and settle the mind.
Three, do for others. After 25 years in the ministry, working with and observing thousands of different people, I can tell you that self-absorbed people tend to be miserable, and those who find ways to bless others tend to be cheerful. And either of those effects is incredibly amplified during the holiday season.
Four, forgive. Holding grudges has pretty much the same effect as squeezing a porcupine to spite someone who has hurt you; they don't feel it, you do, and the porcupine thinks you are an idiot.
Five, minimize your time on social media and in front of the television, especially the news. Too much social media will give you a feeling that the entire world is unfixably stupid. Too much news will prove that suspicion. So, post your funny meme, then go enjoy time with family and friends.
Six, move forward. For all of their wonder, holidays also seem to dredge up memories of all past hurts, fights and injuries for some reason. But you aren't there anymore. And the best vindication you will ever know in this life is the success that comes from always moving forward and making something out of the life God has given you. So don't just look at the holidays; look past them as well. Be making plans for January and beyond, and be quietly putting plans in place to do something, learn something, accomplish something.
Bo Wagner is pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church of Mooresboro, North Carolina, a widely traveled evangelist and the author of several books available on Amazon and at wordofhismouth.com. Email him at email@example.com.