There are (seemingly) many reasons to be discouraged:
- The economy
- My economy
- Personal conflicts (especially the unresolved kinds)
- Suffering — both significant (cancer, totaled cars, lost jobs) and insignificant (four red lights in a row, paper cuts, lost computer files)
- Physical weakness
- Family concerns — marital needs, young children needing training and discipline, teenage children issues (schedules, helping them handle temptations, preparing for college, finances), adult children issues (waywardness, “leaving and clinging” questions, finances, grandparenting relationships)
- Judicial decisions and legislative directions
- Reading news alerts on my phone (never mind watching the news)
- Temptations (did I already say temptations?)
It doesn’t take much effort to incline my heart towards despondency. In that environment, it is good to remember that there are means to incline my heart to trust in God and to be joyful.
As a reminder for his hearers, the prophet Zechariah declares the words of the Lord of Hosts (aka, the Almighty God) to stimulate despondent Judah to joy. While the nation had returned from captivity in Babylon to her native land in Israel, oppression from outside forces provoked the nation to halt construction of the temple after laying its foundation. For approximately 15 years, no work was done because of the discouragement of the nation.
To stimulate Judah to continue the work of rebuilding the temple, God sent Zechariah (along with Haggai) to prophecy to the nation. The beginning of his prophecy was a series of visions in which the people were reminded of the promises and character of God who was for them. In the midst of the third vision, God says:
“Sing for joy and be glad, O daughter of Zion…” (Zech. 2:10a)
Addressing the nation as a whole (Zion can be a reference to the nation of Israel or Judah, the city of Jerusalem, or even just the temple; here the context suggests it is a reference to the nation), God calls and commands them to sing joyfully and gladly. They should overflow with delight as they sing (no morose singing or songs in the minor key!).
And note the context in which God is speaking. He is addressing some Israelites who had not yet left Babylon, but had chosen for some unstated reason (presumably unbelief in God’s provision or contentedness with living in Babylon) to stay in the foreign land and not to return home to Judah (vv. 6-7). Circumstances in Judah might be hard, God says, but they are to obey and return to their land. They are to choose obedience.
They are also to choose joy, remembering that the Lord is coming and will dwell (in His kingdom) with them. He will return and fulfill all the promised blessings to His people, Israel. And He will (eternally) be with them so He says:
“‘Sing…for behold I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,’ declares the Lord” (v. 10b).
They are to sing, not because their circumstances are so great. They are to sing because they trust such a great God.
This admonition to sing with a cry of jubilation is affirmed often in the Psalms:
- Sing joyfully as an expression of your righteousness (32:11; 33:1)
- Sing joyfully because you delight in God’s righteousness (35:27)
- Sing joyfully because God is your (infinite) strength (59:17)
- Sing joyfully as a reflection of what is in your soul (71:23)
- Sing joyfully because you are satisfied with the loyalty of God’s grace (90:14)
- Sing joyfully because of the firmness of His salvation (95:1)
- Sing joyfully because even His creation declares His handiwork and grace (96:12; 98:4, 8)
- Sing joyfully with the memory of God’s goodness (145:7)
Repeatedly the Scriptures exhort God’s people to rejoice in Him. Delight and joy in God is not ultimately a result of something happening to us; it is a decision that we make to intentionally pursue satisfaction in God. And that decision is reflected in what we sing (both with our lips and in our hearts).
As noted above, it takes little (no?) effort to be provoked to discouragement. In contrast, it will take effort to work against the fleshly desire of despondency. But the satisfaction that comes from intentional joy is worthwhile. So choose joy — and choose a song to sing that joy to the Lord and yourself.