Steve’s Devotional – Laughter
APRIL 4, 2014
I’m often criticized for allowing (or causing) too much laughter at Key Life. I can understand that. In fact, I pray about it a lot. After all, God is holy and sometimes I wonder if laughter is appropriate before holiness. I believe, and have often said, that if you have never stood before God and been afraid, you have probably never stood before God.
Have you read in Isaiah 6 where the prophet encountered God in the temple? That chapter opens with these words: “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted” (verse 1). Then the angels shout, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” (verse 3).
Isaiah was doing just fine up to that point. In fact, at the time, he was involved in church work, doing what people do in church, when the real God of the universe came into the temple. It shattered every preconceived idea Isaiah ever had about God. His response was what yours or mine would have been. He cried out, “Woe to me!…I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (verse 5).
If Isaiah had laughed, it would have been highly inappropriate. When people complain about the laughter, I understand their complaint. God, after all, is God, and his awesomeness and power ought to solicit something other than the superficial laughter of his people. And then I start laughing. I don’t mean to. It just comes out. I start thinking about him and all that he has done, and sometimes I can’t stifle the chuckles. I’ve apologized a hundred times. I’ve tried—God knows I’ve tried—to be more serious and pastor-like, but I just can’t do it. Maybe it’s just the natural, nervous laughter that happens when one is frightened. Maybe things are funnier in a serious setting like church or a religious radio broadcast. It could be that the pressure is finally getting to me.
But I don’t think so. I think there’s much more laughter in this thing called Christianity than I ever thought. Whether or not you hear that laughter depends on which side of God you find yourself.
For instance, when Isaiah first met God, not only was the experience one where laughter would not have been appropriate, the message Isaiah was given was not a joking matter either. He received a message of judgment. He was charged to call the people to repentance.
But after the sorrow and the repentance, a veritable flood of laughter rushes out: “and the ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (35:10). And then, almost as if we didn’t get the message the first time, he says it again several chapters later: “The ransomed of the lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away (51:11). When the people of God have been redeemed, God commands them, “Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem” (52:9).
In that wonderful passage where Isaiah proclaims the work of Messiah (as well as his own) and from which Jesus quoted in reference to himself, there is a great statement about the proclamation that comes from the throne of grace: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (61:1-3).
We get a lot of people who write to Key Life telling us that we make them laugh. Sometimes people tell me a funny story. Some have said that listening to the broadcast is the one place where they smile. One listener said, “Steve, don’t ever get too serious. We need to laugh. I love what you teach, but I also love the fun you have doing it. It makes the teaching and the living better.” Then I started feeling guilty again. I prayed, “Father, you didn’t call me to be a comedian. You called me to be a Bible teacher. Forgive me if I’m not taking you seriously. Forgive me if I have made something light out of…” That’s when my prayer was interrupted. I thought I heard laughter. I checked. Do you know what? I did. It was the laughter of God.
So I have discovered that one of our ministries is laughter. Not the laughter of derision or cynicism, but rather the free, uninhibited laughter of the redeemed. That kind of laughter starts at the throne.
That may not sound like much to you. I didn’t think so either until a woman wrote to tell me how she had lost her husband. She described her loneliness and how she felt there was no reason to live on. Then she said, “But when I heard you laugh, I laughed too. I just wanted you to know that it helped a lot.”
Heaven knows we have enough sour Christians. There isn’t much about the world to inspire laughter. The hurt and pain we experience don’t leave much room for humor; there’s probably more reason for tears than laughter in most lives. So maybe there’s a place for a ministry that doesn’t take itself too seriously, that lightens up the landscape a bit. Perhaps that doesn’t sound so important, but I think it really is. God has given his people laughter and that laughter has great healing power.
I recently heard about a man who went to the doctor for his annual physical. The doctor came to him with all the reports and test results and told him, “Mr. Jones, your health is very good. There is no reason why you can’t live a completely normal life as long as you don’t try to enjoy it.”
Don’t we sometimes communicate the same message to people? We say, in effect, “Now that you have been forgiven for all your sins and you’re sure of Heaven, and now that you have meaning in your life and have found a great power in prayer, you ought to be able to live a normal Christian life—as long as you don’t try to enjoy it.” Of course, biblical truth is important. Reaching out to those with significant needs is important too. We also need to have an uncompromising, clear, and forceful presentation of truth. But all that doesn’t exclude laughter—it includes it, transforms it, sanctifies it, even glorifies it.
So let’s throw back our heads and laugh. God’s infinite riches are ours in Christ. What other reason could we ever need to laugh?
Time to Draw Away
Read Exodus 15:1-21, 2 Samuel 6
Start making a list of “Reasons to Laugh.” Note what you have from God’s hand that’s cause for joy. Keep in mind that all good things come from God, so if you count your spouse, a friend, your home, or whatever or whoever else as a source of joy, understand that God is its ultimate source. It won’t take long before you discover how much you have to laugh about.
The image used with this post is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution license. Attribution: Nathan Siemers.