By Tim Sullivan


In Paul’s pastoral letter of instruction to his “son in the faith” Timothy, he gave some very practical advice: “The husbandman that laboureth,” he wrote, “must be first partaker of the fruits” (2 Tim. 2:6). As this applies to the teaching ministry, one should never teach beyond his own experience. Before you can teach well, you must first learn well.

With that in mind, I assure you of my fitness to present this short treatise on “How to be miserable.” This is a subject I know intimately, with first-hand knowledge. For many years I practiced the art of inflicting misery on myself and others (it is always done in that order!). So gloomy and downcast was I as a young man that my high school friend Melissa called me “Eeyore,” the forlorn donkey from the Winnie-the-Pooh stories. Later, when I gave my life to Christ, my sister Kei told me that the irrefutable evidence that something otherworldly had happened to me was the fact that for the first time ever she saw I was happy.

The great thing about knowing how to be miserable is that with that knowledge, you also learn how not to be miserable! It is a choice you make, to be or not to be... miserable! It has nothing to do with your circumstances. There are countless people better off than you who are more miserable than you, and there are innumerable people worse off than you who are happier than you. To be or not to be, that is the question!

Though I yet see him through a glass darkly, I am so glad I have found a friend in Jesus. What a comfort it is to know that he understands my human frailties.

Hebrews 4:15:
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

Jesus is the Word of God Incarnate, the Word made flesh. It should come as no surprise, then, that the Bible evidences God’s understanding of our human condition. The words of Psalm 73, though divinely authored, lay bare the “thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).

The psalmist, the hero of our story, starts out well enough...

Psalm 73:1:
Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart.

Yes, all is well in the heavenly stratosphere, but woe is me here on earth! We’ve only reached verse two, and already things take a turn for the worse.

v. 2:
But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped.

Self-pity starts with self. Misery begins with “me.” You can even stretch the point and call it “Me-siry.” (Work with me, okay?) Who was the culprit waxing our hero’s slippery slope? Read for yourself.

v. 3:
For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

Was it the God-rejecters and unbelievers, the foolish and wicked, who were raining on this man’s parade? NO! It wasn’t even their prosperity that was the problem. The problem was this man’s envy of their prosperity! He was irate and jealous that these other people were having a better time than he!

vv. 4-5:
4 For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm.
5 They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men.

Ah, the exaggerated reality of the envious! “They are not in trouble as other men, neither are they plagued.” Is that so? Our hero is wearing his miserable comforter like a mantle! He is actually finding a sort of egotistical satisfaction in the thought that he alone is subject to the world’s ills, while everyone else is living in bliss.

Here is a great lesson in “how to be miserable.” Convince yourself that nobody but you faces problems. Forget “the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world” (1 Pet. 5:9).

Our hero continues wallowing in resentment.

vv. 6-7:
6 Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment.
7 Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish.

It occurs to me that chains of pride and garments of violence are the uniform of the “gangstas,” the rap artists who promote in-your-face rebelliousness and lasciviousness. But our lamenter is wrong again. No one has more than he can wish. When it comes to worldly riches, the heart always wants more.

Ecclesiastes 5:10:
He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity.

So here is lesson number two: in order to be miserable, you must believe that everyone else has found contentment in life, while you alone suffer disappointment.

Psalm 73:8-11:
8 They are corrupt, and speak wickedly concerning oppression: they speak loftily.
9 They set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walketh through the earth.
10 Therefore his people return hither: and waters of a full cup are wrung out to them.
11 And they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High?

Our hero pretends that he is angry at the spiritual depravity of the wicked, but finally he shows his true heart once and for all.

vv. 12-14:
12 Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches.
13 Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency.
14 For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning.

“IT ISN’T FAIR!” he cries. “Where is my reward for being a good person? What do I get for my troubles but more troubles?”

vv. 15-16:
15 If I say, I will speak thus; behold, I should offend against the generation of thy children.
16 When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me;

These were the secrets of his heart made manifest, the thoughts he feared even to speak. It hurt him even to think about it. Then finally, mercifully, the light of understanding began to dawn.

v. 17:
Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.

It is one thing to be sanctified by the blood of Jesus Christ. It is quite another to enter the sanctuary of God. This is a place far from the madding crowd, a place of quiet rest where truth reigns supreme. But you don’t need to look here, there, or yonder to find it. God wants to meet you in your heart.

Luke 17:21:
Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

The psalmist testifies, “Then understood I their end.” Herein is the final lesson in “how to be miserable,” a lesson our hero was about to fail. In order to be miserable, you must forget that, as Christians, we have been delivered PAST, PRESENT and FUTURE.

2 Corinthians 1:10:
Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us;

Our hero had successfully warded off thoughts of his deliverance past and present. But there was one reality that he couldn’t forget, no matter how hard he tried. He could not forget the deliverance to come.

Romans 8:18:
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

As someone once said, for Christians, this present life is the closest we will come to Hell. For unbelievers, it is the closest they will come to Heaven.

Ecclesiastes 7:8:
Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.

You see, misery needs to be nurtured to exist. It must be coddled and held close to heart. It needs to be shielded from all light, lest it vanish away. Our hero’s misery was now like water slipping through his fingers. Try as he might, he could not hold on to it.

Psalm 73:18-22:
18 Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction.
19 How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors.
20 As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image.
21 Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins.
22 So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee.

At first our hero derided the foolishness of the unbelievers. Now he realizes that he was the real fool!

vv. 23-28:
23 Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand.
24 Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.
26 My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.
27 For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee.
28 But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, that I may declare all thy works.

In order to be miserable you must forsake right judgment and cleave to error. 2 Timothy 2:4 warns of people who “shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” Psalm 73 testifies of a man who did just that. First, he concluded that the only reward of righteous living was hardship and disappointment. Second, he convinced himself that it is only the ungodly who know true prosperity. Only when his focus returned to eternal truth was his misery relieved.

Take it from someone who was once a maestro of misery, a sultan of self-pity, a bona fide Eeyore: it is hard work being miserable, especially after you know Jesus. But why would anyone go through so much trouble? When you are down, remember your friend Jesus, a friend who truly “sticketh closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). He has delivered us, is delivering us and will yet deliver us. He is “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Heb. 13:8).



From the May 2005 issue of The Vine & Branches