Pearls From Proverbs

By Irvin Himmel

Smile, I Say There, Smile

A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance: but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken (Prov. 15:13).

Like many other proverbs, this one is a contrasted parallelism. Most of the wise sayings in chapter 13 are of this type. Two thoughts are placed alongside each other to depict opposites.

A merry heart produces a cheerful expression on the face. Sadness of heart produces a broken spirit. The prevailing attitude of the heart colors the whole personality.

A Real Smile Comes From The Heart

Children sometimes wear funny faces. A mask with a hideous facial expression would be suitable for a Halloween costume, but a mask with a big grin might be chosen for a happy birthday party of small kids.

The smile with which some grownups greet others does not come from the heart. It, like a mask, is a disguise. This is not the cheerful countenance suggested in the proverb. That which puts real luster in the personality and makes the face shine is a cheerful, joyful heart.

The heart stands for the thoughts and the attitude of the individual. Nothing could be more decisive to one’s general outlook than the condition of his heart. Indeed, “as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7).

Causes of Heartache

The New English Bible translates Proverbs 15:13 in this way: “A merry heart makes a cheerful face; heartache crushes the spirit.”

Many who have sorrow of heart, reflected in sadness of countenance, need to think about why thy are burdened within. Here are a few reasons:

(1) Guilt feelings. A person who sins but does not comply with the will of God to receive forgiveness should feel guilty. The remedy is to turn to the Savior in humble submission. But sometimes people who have obeyed the gospel still have guilt feelings. Their problem is unwillingness to forget the past and to fully trust the Lord. Why should one feel badly over a sin which has been washed away by the blood of the Lamb? Forget that sin and rejoice in the Lord!

(2) Temperament. Every human being has his own balance or mixture of qualities, physical and mental. It seems to be in the make-up of some individuals to be cheerful and pleasant, whereas others tend to the grumpy, gloomy outlook. Early in life I took note of the fact that on my mother’s side of the family there was a more cheerful outlook, generally, than on my father’s side of the house. Whatever may be the causes of one’s temperament, it is a fact that some have a natural disposition to always talk of themselves and their problems and troubles, and this kind of temperament can lead to hurtful melancholy – a rather morbid view of things.

(3) Physical conditions. Sometimes people are depressed because they are overworked. The body requires ample rest. There may be chronic illness that gives one a feeling of dejection. Or, it may be that a spell of sickness comes right when one has a highly important task to perform, and because he is laid low for a few days, he allows himself to have sorrow of heart. It is worthy of mention that some people learn to cope with physical handicaps and chronic diseases, and their bright outlook puts to shame a lot of us who enjoy good health!

(4) Grief and anxiety. A certain amount of heartache is to be expected when a close friend or relative dies. But it is senseless for one to sorrow to the point of despair. Worry is a chief cause of despondency. And so often people worry over things which may never come to pass. Jesus teaches us, “Be not anxious.” We must learn to cast our cares on the Lord, for He does truly care for us.

(5) No self-confidence. Sorrow of heart in some cases centers around lack of self-confidence. Faith in the Lord should give one assurance that he can achieve something worthwhile in life.

(6) Lack of faith. Here is the undergirding cause of all heartache. Many professed Christians have never learned to fully surrender to Christ. He provides us with guidance through His word; He offers comfort and help; He guarantees victory to all who keep faith in Him; He will never fail us.

There is another proverb similar to the one we are studying. “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones” (17:22). A joyful heart works wonders, like a good medicine, and it is much less expensive. Try it!

God can give health to the countenance. This thought is expressed in Psalm 42:11, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.”

As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones has put it, “Unhappy Christians are, to say the least, a poor recommendation for the Christian Faith; and there can be little doubt that the exuberant joy of the early Christians was one of the most potent factors in the spread of Christianity” (Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure, Foreword).

Smile, I say there, smile. . . from the heart!

Guardian of Truth XXX: 15, p. 457
August 7, 1986