Christians should always be joyful, but that doesn’t mean they will always be happy. While “joy” and “happiness” are often used synonymously, I think we can see a slight nuance in the two terms when understood Biblically. The Bible says we are to “Rejoice always.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16); yet the Apostle Paul also spoke of being “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” (2 Corinthians 6:10) How can these things be? The answer is found in the fact that our “joy” is rooted in our eternal relationship with Jesus Christ; while our temporal “happiness” is often related to our daily circumstances. For example, if a loved one, who is a Christian, dies in a tragic accident; we would be sorrowful. A giddy, happy, frivolous response to such a tragedy would be quite odd. Maybe even psychotic. Yet, though we are sad at the death of the loved one, we would likewise rejoice that they are now with the Lord. While our human emotions depress us, our eternal souls lift our thoughts heavenly and we are indeed, “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”
Dealing with sorrow is a major part of living in a fallen and sinful world. Things happen every day that strike us down and leave us reeling. Major tragedies might leave us miserable for months or years. Minor trials might last only a day. But in both cases, we must learn to deal with sorrow if we are going to thrive in this world; and glorify God until we depart and go to him.
Many great Christians of the past struggled with what we might today call “depression.” Charles Spurgeon’s bouts with it are well known; as are Martin Luther’s. In the case of Luther, he often felt like he was being attacked by the Devil himself; and perhaps he was. Modern ears like to mock Luther as being a superstitious and unenlightened relic from the past. But spiritual forces are real; and considering how God used Luther in the Protestant Reformation it is little doubt that the spiritual attacks he faced were all too real. The spiritual attacks Christians face today are real as well. So how do we deal with them? One of the most effective remedies for Luther was music.
Music has an unusual ability to stir our emotions in countless ways. Most people have experienced the poignancy of hearing a song that led them to tears. A song that reminded them of a loved one. A song that reminded them of a past event. Or most importantly, a song that reminded them of God’s love and salvation. Other songs might spark elation; while still others might make us laugh. Luther found comfort in songs about God; and even wrote many hymns himself. Luther’s biographer, Scott Hendrix, records a time in which Luther was away from his wife and kids for an extended period of time. The melancholy became overwhelming, to the point where Luther felt certain he was near death. It should be noted, that Luther’s life was often filled with turmoil and controversy. His bouts against the corrupt Catholic church of his day led to numerous death threats and censures against him and his writings. Many governing authorities wanted him arrested and executed. He had plenty to be depressed about. But remembering the Lord, through song, lifted his soul. Hendrix writes: “Luther’s mind turned to music and he sent a personal request to a prominent composer in Munich, Ludwig Senfl. After declaring that his love for music was abundant and often liberated him from great vexations, he asked Senfl to send him the music for Psalm 4:8: “I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.” The tenor melody (cantus firmus) had delighted Luther in his youth—as a boy chorister he had presumably sung the text in Latin—but now he wanted an arrangement for more voices and hoped Senfl had one at hand.” (From “Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer” by Scott H. Hendrix)
Luther not only requested the music, he also shared why he wanted it. He wrote to Senfl: “Indeed I hope that the end of my life is at hand; the world hates me and cannot bear me, and I in turn loathe and detest the world. Therefore, may the best and most faithful shepherd take my soul to him.” Luther’s tone might seem harsh to 21st century ears. It often does. But his point is valid; and in context, his declaration makes sense. The “world system” of his day violently opposed him; and likewise he lived in opposition to that world system. This was a time and place in which “church” and “state” were hopelessly mixed together and to be declared a “heretic” by the established church affected more than merely your religious practices. Luther exposed Catholicism and the papacy as the money-grubbing, corrupt racket that it was. They held ignorant masses captive by selling “salvation” for a financial price; and most people felt they had no choice but to pay the price so they could earn eternal life. Luther (along with other reformers) ripped the mask off of the pope and restored the Biblical teaching of justification by faith alone through grace alone. People were not saved by giving money, nor anything else to a corrupt religious authority. They were saved by trusting in Christ alone. Luther further struck a blow to the papacy when he translated the Bible into German, giving the people of his native land a spiritual light that was heretofore unknown. With the scriptures in their own language, they had an authority higher than the pope. They had the Word of God itself. Luther was used in a massive way; and not surprisingly he suffered greatly as well. But yet again, he soothed his soul with music.
One of the most inspiring hymns of the English language is a hymn written by Luther, originally in German. In the words we hear and feel how Luther found comfort by turning to God through music. “A mighty fortress is our God, A bulwark never failing; Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing!” The hymn goes on to express Luther’s heart with the following lines:
“And though this world, with devils filled, Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, For lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.”
In these words we see how Luther so often dealt with deep seasons of depression. It was through music, but not music alone. It was through music focused on God and inspired by the word of God. Luther prayed. Luther read the Psalms. Luther read and re-read Romans and Galatians; reminding himself of God’s love and God’s provision for his soul. Luther cried out to God. And Luther sang. We should sing too, for music has an undeniable power to affect the mood. But even more, Godly music has an undeniable power to affect the mood, AND THE SOUL! Godly music reminds us that this world is not our home and the trials we face are temporal. We will one day be with Christ forever, and our joy will be complete. And until that time comes…… let us sing on!