Pollyanna, Rejoicing, and the Promises
"Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart" (Psalm 32:11).
"[Charity] rejoiceth in the Truth... believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things" (1Corinthians 13:6, 7).
"All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28).
by Tom Stewart
Eleanor H. Porter's novel Pollyanna (1913)-- now in the Public Domain ---New Window -- was a success when originally published, and it has become a piece of Americana, especially since Hayley Mills won an Academy Award portraying the infectiously glad orphan in Walt Disney's "Pollyanna" (1960). "Let the righteous be glad; let them rejoice before God: yea, let them exceedingly rejoice" (Psalm 68:3). The fictional character Pollyanna Whittier was the orphaned daughter of a home missionary, who came to live with her grudging but dutiful Aunt Polly Harrington. Not only did Pollyanna finally overflow her optimism onto Aunt Polly, but she had already contaminated Nancy (Aunt Polly's servant), the Ladies' Aiders (the women's church group), Mr. Pendleton (the town recluse, but renamed Mr. Pendegast in the Disney movie), Jimmy Bean (another orphan), Mrs. Snow (the contrary hypochondriac), Dr. Chilton (the town's doctor), Rev. Paul Ford (the pastor of their church), and most everyone else in Beldingsville, Vermont. "Rejoice in the LORD alway: and again I say, Rejoice" (Philippians 4:4).
When Pollyanna was first published, American Christianity's isolated innocence had yet to be shattered by the United States' 1917 entry into the War to End All Wars (WW 1). Optimism of ushering in the Millennium, i.e., "But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day" (Proverbs 4:18), would essentially evaporate after WW 1-- only that particular interpretation of Proverbs 4:18 evaporated-- when the Americans, the Allies, and the Central Powers experienced a carnage of 8.4 million dead. And, following WW 2, any further optimism about the future-- after an even greater 40-50 million war deaths-- would later give way to the increased talk of Evangelical Christians being Raptured before the outbreak of the coming Tribulation. "Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived" (2Timothy 3:13). In fact, dictionaries now define a "Pollyanna" as a person regarded as being foolishly or blindly optimistic. Used in such a derogatory way, a "Pollyanna" is a naive person, who does not see reality, in particular, the selfishness or evilness in man. Then, what is it that still attracts us to the infectious enthusiasm and gladness of Pollyanna? "Be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy" (Isaiah 65:18).
Pollyanna's Glad Game
You don't even have to be a Heavenbound Christian to feel some kind of admiration for an unsinkable determination to be optimistic, when few seem to be glad about their present circumstances, e.g., "But the LORD was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison" (Genesis 39:21). Pollyanna's attractiveness to the truly Godly would be her willingness to be Glad, because Pollyanna's minister father had showed her from the Scriptures-- as we shall later see-- that it was God's Will for her to "rejoice and be glad" (Psalm 70:4). Of course, anyone can play Pollyanna's Glad Game; however, only those who participate because the LORD Jesus Christ has invited them to do so, can receive any Eternal Benefit for their participation. "3 Blessed [Greek, makarios, happy] are the poor in spirit [who understand their spiritual poverty apart from Christ]: for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. 4 Blessed [happy] are they that mourn [who truly lament about sinning against Christ]: for they shall be comforted. 5 Blessed [happy] are the meek [who readily submit to God's dealings with them]: for they shall inherit the Earth. 6 Blessed [happy] are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness [who desire and seek after the Righteous Christ and seek to do right action]: for they shall be filled. 7 Blessed [happy] are the merciful [who hold back the ill deserts that others have accrued and deserve]: for they shall obtain mercy. 8 Blessed [happy] are the pure in heart [whose heart has been purified by trusting solely in the cleansing of Christ's sacrifice on the Cross]: for they shall see God. 9 Blessed [happy] are the peacemakers [who seek to bring to others the Peace they have found in Christ]: for they shall be called the Children of God. 10 Blessed [happy] are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake [who are misunderstood and hated by those who are not yet poor in spirit]: for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. 11 Blessed [happy] are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake [who can now so identify with their LORD that they count themselves blessed to bear the same kind of persecution heaped upon the LORD Jesus]" (Matthew 5:3-11).
In Chapter 5, listen to Pollyanna explain the Glad Game to Nancy:
Later, in Chapter 22, Eleanor Porter has Pollyanna explaining the Glad Game to Rev. Paul Ford. Speaking about her father, notice how Pollyanna innocently expounds the Scripture to the parson:
Rejoicing Is a Christian's Satisfaction With God
Rejoicing is a Christian's satisfaction with God, and it is not a grievous burden. "O satisfy us early with Thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days" (Psalm 90:14). Rejoicing is not an onerous burden that we must carry, as initially Aunt Polly dutifully but bitterly carried the burden of taking in her orphan niece, Pollyanna. What would others think of Aunt Polly, if she had refused? Scandalous! And, that kind of burden carrying, the Pharisees understood. "1 Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to His disciples, 2 Saying The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: 3 All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. 4 For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. 5 But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, 6 And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. 8 But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. 9 And call no man your father upon the Earth: for one is your Father, which is in Heaven. 10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. 11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted. 13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the Kingdom of Heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in" (Matthew 23:1-13).
Rejoicing is a responsibility we have to God, since the beginning of joyfulness in us has to be our willingness to see what God has done for us to make us so disposed. "Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart" (Psalm 32:11). Now, that's a command that we should easily see the pleasure in obeying! "16 Rejoice evermore. 18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the Will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you" (1Thessalonians 5:16, 18). What do we truly have to rejoice about? Not so much what we have down here-- and, we are grateful for that-- but, we are keenly aware of the Heaven that Christ purchased for us with His Blood! "Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in Heaven" (Luke 10:20). Our rejoicing is a cooperative effort with God. He looks in us for a willing heart, i.e., "For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not" (2Corinthians 8:12) and "Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver" (2Corinthians 9:7). Then, He works in us the doing of that which we would not have done otherwise. "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). We cannot claim to be truly cooperating with God in rejoicing, unless we are doing everything that we can to actually perform it. "But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work" (John 5:17). If we can only see our obedience in being glad and rejoicing as our love for the LORD Who Bought Us, then we will gladly bear that kind of Joyful Burden. "For this is the Love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous [burdensome]" (1John 5:3). Instead of groaning at the thought of another command to obey, LORD, give us as long a list of commandments as You desire, and we will gladly expend our last breath in attempting to keep them, for we love You. "15 If ye love Me, keep My commandments. 21 He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me: and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him" (John 14:15, 21).
Here are a few of those Rejoicing Texts that Pollyanna's father was talking about:
And, here are a few more verses that Katie Stewart assembled as Promises for Joy:
God's Promises Are Worth Rejoicing About
People disparagingly call someone a Pollyanna, whenever they feel that the optimism is not based upon their estimation of "reality." But, that is the nature of our Faith. You cannot see it, but it is substantial. "Now Faith is the substance [Greek, hupostasis, confidence] of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). Our confidence that God will fulfill His Word and keep His promises is sufficient to make us rejoice! God promised Abraham (age 100) to make him the father of a great nation by giving him a son through Sarah his wife (age 90). Could we rejoice and give glory to God as Abraham did? "17 (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before Him Whom he believed, even God, Who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. 18 Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. 19 And being not weak in Faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb: 20 He staggered not at the Promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in Faith, giving glory to God; 21 And being fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was able also to perform. 22 And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness" (Romans 4:17-22). True, Sarah initially laughed in disbelief about her prospects of bearing a son at age 90, but it is plain that she was spiritually ready for the task, when the time came. Do we have as much confidence in God to Judge Him Faithful Who Promised us-- concerning our particular promises-- to rejoice before we see the actual doing of it? "11 Through Faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged Him Faithful Who had promised. 12 Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable" (Hebrews 11:11-12).
Better to be accused of being a Pollyanna than to become weak in Faith and give up on the Promises of God. "35 Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. 36 For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the Will of God, ye might receive the [results of the] Promise. 37 For yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry. 38 Now the just shall live by Faith: but if any man draw back, My soul shall have no pleasure in him. 39 But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul" (Hebrews 10:35-39). If we do not draw back to perdition, then our perseverance in the face of apparent impossibility would put us in the company of men and women of Faith such as Abraham and Sarah. "And God is able to make all Grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work" (2Corinthians 9:8). Rejoicing in the promises causes us to put more stock in the character of the One Who Made the Promises than the bleakness or direness of our present situation. "Faithful is He that calleth you, Who also will do it" (1Thessalonians 5:24). True Christian Religion is not a series of good works that we put together to recommend ourselves to God, but it is the overflowing of the Exalted and Sterling Character of the Amazing Son of God in us working in us "to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). We have been given the Spirit of Christ-- "if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His" (Romans 8:9)-- as part of His New Covenant with us to cause us to walk rejoicing in Him in obedience. "And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My Statutes, and ye shall keep My Judgments, and do them" (Ezekiel 36:27). He is merely using His Promises like a carrot on a stick to cause us to seek, to believe, to persevere, to obey, and to sanctify us to the end. "3 According as His Divine Power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue: 4 Whereby are given unto us Exceeding Great and Precious Promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the Divine Nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust" (2Peter 1:3-4).
Pollyannas are accused of not seeing the reality of this present world; and, in a sense, they are right. Our eyes are not upon this world, but "as seeing Him Who is invisible" (Hebrews 11:27). Negatively, we will be only some kind of Humanist, if we are trying to elevate a goodness present in humanity, as if their was some kind of spark of divinity in all of us. Not so. "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing" (Romans 7:18). We should never let the poetic desire of worldly men to cause us to "go beyond the Word of the LORD" (Numbers 22:18). The sad truth is that man is a hopeless mass of sin. "10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: 11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. 12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one" (Romans 3:10-12). If we were left to dwell in the hopeless reality of our ineffectual wickedness, then "we are of all men most miserable" (1Corinthians 15:19). But, if Christ elevates us to hope and rejoice in His promises, we have been truly set upon High with Christ in Heavenly Places! "4 But God, Who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, 5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by Grace ye are saved;) 6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in Heavenly Places in Christ Jesus: 7 That in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His Grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. 8 For by Grace are ye saved through Faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:4-10). Hope is a good thing, because it causes us to hold on past the difficulty of our present circumstances. If it causes us to hold onto the Promises of Christ, to trust Him, to patiently endure in the meantime, to love Him, to obey Him, and to continue rejoicing until the end, then I would gladly be willing to be called a Pollyanna. "Looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of Our Faith; Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the Cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the Throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2). "[Charity] rejoiceth in the Truth... believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things" (1Corinthians 13:6, 7).
Amen, and Amen!
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