A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones (Prov. 17:22).
This proverb, like many others, draws a contrast. The difference is between a merry heart and a broken spirit. The former does good; the latter is detrimental.
The heart under consideration is not the physical organ that pumps the blood. The heart which is brought into focus here is the mind - the heart which thinks, reasons, understands, purposes, and has emotions.
One's heart is the center of his life. The tone of the heart (thoughts and attitudes) affects the whole life. If it is a merry heart, there is joy, cheerfulness, and pleasantness present. A cheerful outlook relates to the manner in which problems are handled, how well one does in his work, and the ability to get along with people.
A number of factors contribute to a joyful heart. The following are significant:
1. Peace with God. The heart may seem merry due to laughter and humor, fun and jovial conversation. However, there can be no deep spiritual joy in the heart without favor with God. The gospel of Christ is God's remedy for sin and guilt. It shows us how to have peace with God. It reveals the way of salvation. One who has submitted to Christ through obedience to the gospel has good reason for true joy. To the saints at Colosse, Paul wrote, "And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful" (Col. 3:15).
2. Strong Faith. The New Testament teaches us to walk by faith (2 Cor. 5:7). The child of God is given assurance of all things for which he is taught to hope by faith. And faith gives conviction of things in the unseen realm (Heb. 11:1). The joy that we have in Christ grows out of strong faith. Paul wrote to the Philippians about the "joy of faith" (Phil. 1:25). Many who profess religion have no real joy in their hearts because they are so weak in faith.
3. Active Service. Joy comes to the heart of the Christian who participates actively in the Lord's work. There is diligence in Bible study, regularity in prayer, faithfulness in assembling with the brethren, earnestness in doing good, carefulness in righteous conduct, and unselfishness in service. The joy produced by this active participation is the delight of faith in action.
4. Contentment. Paul wrote, "I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content" (Phil. 4:11). Again he mentioned that "godliness with contentment is great gain" (1 Tim. 5:6). The person with a merry heart has learned to make the best of his situation, whatever his circumstances.
A merry or joyful heart does good like a medicine which is just the right prescription. A cheerful disposition is a valuable asset.
A broken spirit has the opposite effect of a merry heart. It dries up the bones, which is a way of saying that it saps life and paralyzes hope.
"The spirit is the power of self-consciousness which, according as it is lifted up or broken, also lifts up or breaks down the condition of the body" (F. Delitzsch).
There is a definite relationship between one's mental attitude and his bodily health. Many illnesses are not due to organic causes at all. "They are the results of our attitudes rather than the ills of the body. . . A person who always dwells on the negative aspects is a pessimistic person in all he does and thinks. However, it is foolish to attribute all ills to 'a broken spirit.' A broken arm is a broken arm despite any mental attitude you may have about it. Any amount of thinking will not replace a good cast. But the merry heart not only prevents many problems, it also helps to cure them" (Chas. W. Turner).
The following are some of the causes of a crushed spirit:
1. Bringing the future into the present. We need to learn to live one day at a time. Jesus said, "Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matt. 6:34, NASB).
2. Burden of guilt. An individual who feels the heavy weight of sin pressing down on his soul may be broken in spirit. He needs to turn to the Lord for forgiveness.
3. Gloom. Some folks live on despair and misery. They make others around them miserable. They always look on the dark side of things. In gloom there is no merit. Dejection and melancholy break the human spirit.
'Nothing has such a direct tendency to ruin health and waste our life as grief, anxiety, fretfulness, bad tempers, etc." (A. Clarke).
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 2, p. 45