"Be of Good Cheer," Laughter is a Cure-All
- Ron Walters Vice President of Church Relations, Salem Communications
- 2009 29 May
I've always loved a good laugh. In fact, I look for those who can make me laugh, or whom I can make laugh. Laughter is a cure-all. It's a jog through a rainstorm on a hot day. Suddenly you feel different... refreshed... energized.
I think Jesus loved to laugh too, and, being the great communicator He was, I'm convinced His preaching style was filled with every successful technique, including making people laugh. "A Philistine, a rabbi, and a duck walked into a deli..."
Few human reactions can cleanse the air like a room full of belly laughs. It does wonders for the soul. It's infectious. And is there any better reset button for an audience? Nobody wants to miss a good joke or fun story. After all, "A joyful heart is a good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones."
When scripture says, "The people loved listening to Him," simple logic says He used multiple avenues to capture and awaken crowds, including making them chuckle if it accomplished His mission. I'm not sure He told knock-knock jokes but I'll bet He used something like them to make his points.
The prophet said the Savior would be "a man of sorrows acquainted with grief." And, of course, he was. The cross was never far from his thoughts. No one ever carried the burden Jesus did, or suffered as much. And yet Jesus never lost his ability to generate grins, causing the crowds to wonder what he'd say next. Though his teaching never changed, his whimsical lines did:
- He was ironic when He called Simon Peter "the Rock." It was like calling a tall man "Shorty," or a cantankerous grump, "Smiley."
- He was paradoxical when He told his disciples, "Follow me and I'll make you fishers of men."
- He was preposterous when He said. "Let the dead bury their dead," and "Don't cast your pearls before swine."
- He was a master of the understatement: to a sickly, bitter complainer of 38 years, He asked, "Tell me, would you like to get well?"
- He even used maxims: "A prophet is not without honor, except in his home town among his own relatives."
He connected with the people. He spoke their language, though he spoke like no one they'd ever heard. He didn't sound religious or stuffy. He taught of God with an authority totally lacking in their religious leaders. The people noticed it and wanted more. Even his enemies said, "Never has anyone spoken like this man." And children, the world's most transparent critics, hung on his every word.
Jesus was forever elevating people's spirits. He took great pleasure in lightening loads. To the physically ailing he said, "Be of good cheer." To his fearful disciples he said, "Be of good cheer." In warning of difficult times to come, he said, "Be of good cheer."
Preaching and teaching is a seemingly impossible task: Give people the words they don't want to hear, about a love they do not deserve, from a God they don't want to believe.
Based on Jesus' example, levity can help.
Jesus warmed His way into people's hearts. The good ones usually do. Can't you hear Him asking a crowd, "How many uncircumcised stiff-necks does it take to change a light bulb?"
Abraham Lincoln used humor as a defusing device. Just prior to unveiling the highly controversial Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet, he relieved the tension by reading jokes.
Socrates, when sentenced to death, was asked how he would like to die. He thought for a moment, then deadpanned, "Force me to sit through a show at the Prytaneum." The Prytaneum was Athens' Town Hall where they performed their version of American Idol.
When criticized for injecting humor into his preaching, Charles Spurgeon answered, "If you only knew how much I hold back, you'd commend me."
It's true, the good ones know how!
Vice President of Church Relations
P.S. If you're looking for great preaching tools, don't forget Preaching Magazine. It's my favorite. Check it out at Preaching.com. Do your congregation a favor by subscribing.
Copyright 2007 by Ron Walters
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Original publication date: May 29, 2009