What’s the current temperature in your pressure cooker? It’s ironic that we who live in a world of advanced technology which is supposed to breed unprecedented convenience, instead find ourselves battling stress amidst others who have already lost that battle. I often feel that I have less energy but more demand in my life. Many of you have duties that are increasing but available time that is recessing at the same moment. Diagnose yourself: are you increasingly irritable? Do you seek to find the first soft piece of furniture at the end of a long day so you can merge your exhaustion with it? Are certain temptations finding you over-willing and under-resistant? Have you been wanting to quit something so that you can just to experience a little relief? Married folks, is your sex drive vanishing? Is your waistline enlarging? Does your mind splinter by noon on most days? Yep, it sounds like you’ve caught the virus along with two dozen others in your immediate social circle. You are not imagining things, it is real…you…are…STRESSED. I want to recommend something so simple that you might dismiss it and leave the blog with a frustrated grunt today. What’s my remedy? An occasional pursuit of laughter.
“A merry heart works good like a medicine: but a broken spirit dries up the bones.” – Proverbs 17:22
Like most good things that Scripture addresses, laughter is seen with clear perspective. The bible says that God “will fill your mouth with laughter” (Job 8:21) and that redeemed people may often say “our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy” (Psalm 126:2). The bible also warns against superficial laughter (Proverbs 14:13), that raucous laughter of fools (Ecclesiastes 7:6). Inappropriate laughter that fails to recognize the danger of coming judgment (James 4:9) is exposed as being unfit for our lives. Genuine laughter, when pondered biblically, is seen to be quite helpful for the child of God. For us, I not only believe laughter to be good but also, in certain seasons, to be essential for your continuance.
One of my favorite things to observe is Amy’s delight when our children laugh. There is something inexplicable about how their laughter raises her spirits when daily challenges arise. My fourth-grader has this rolling belly-laugh that almost sounds liquid as he gets a case of the giggles from time to time. In those moments when he and Alicia are blissfully ignorant of how their childlike joy ministers to us, Amy and I will look at one another and become convinced that all is well. How bad could things possibly be when God is gifting your children with ease of spirit? My bible says that a merry heart has a spiritually-medicinal impact on us. Do you still believe that? Have you ever considered it?
My father passed humor on to me and I’m so grateful for that. In spite of a challenging home life when I was growing up, laughter was frequently with the Lyles. Though I was not a believer in those days, and though much of my chosen venues of humor were not exactly sanctified, I learned at a young age that laughter brought relief. Long before I engaged in pulpit thunder, I was a comedian who loved to make others laugh. I saw benefit in it even though I was ignorant of God’s will and ways. This very day I am still convinced of the high value of appropriate humor and the validity of expressing it. Laughter in ministry is so helpful and we all do well to seek out healthy sources of humor which help us offset some of the pressures that find the servants of God. Admittedly, laughter is sometimes how we get through days of dealing with the heaviest problems that plague the people we serve. I remember sitting at a dinner table in Scotland with a pastor and three missionaries as we laughed so hard until three of us were crying; we had spent the majority of that day working through the heaviest of thought concerning how desperately the Gospel was needed in the city we were in. You see, it is not an either/or dynamic. We can be serious about the Kingdom while remaining joyful in the Kingdom. Some of you may be disappointed in me as a pastor but I don’t go out of my way to avoid humor. I like parody. I enjoy irony and clean jokes. You can keep your smutty innuendo to yourself because I have learned that sin isn’t humorous but I’m certainly not one who believes that the height of Christianity is to appear as though I’ve had a permanent transfusion with a lemon. American songwriter, Billy Joel, expressed the frustration of unbelievers with disconnected, ultra-pious Christians when he wrote, “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints…” Christians are often viewed as some of the most detached, aloof and dour representatives of the human species – is this really a fitting representation of who God has made us to be? Among all people who should have the easiness of mind and spirit to exhale and laugh, should it not be those who have solid confidence concerning the end of our stories? Part of your journey of faith is to glorify God with an overcoming willingness to hold fast to joy and mature in the process of living with an eased spirit.
Springtime is here and Summer will soon follow. I challenge you to cultivate opportunity for approved ease, recreation and holy laughter. Take delight – deep delight – in what you can. Look for ways to drop the temp in your pressure cooker. You can’t breathe in there forever and I am convinced that laughter is one of God’s means to set us free from the gripping tentacles of this world which seek to hold us down. I often wonder if part of Heaven’s joys will be that laughter will be the eternal norm as tears are no more. I, for one, am greatly looking forward to it.