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A Time to Laugh in Spite of Tough Times

by Bob Russell

On Thanksgiving Day, our family got into a discussion about the importance of laughter.  My grandchildren are old enough now that they like to relate amusing things that happened at school or on a family vacation.  Of course, when they say something funny, our level of laughter may exceed the degree of humor in the situation.  But that’s what grandparents are for, and I really enjoy seeing them giggle.

     A sense of humor is held in high regard in the Russell household.  It’s my nature to be quick to laugh.  Forty years ago, when my son Rusty was in the second grade, he was given a thought-provoking writing assignment. He was asked to fill in the following blank: “I like it when __________.”  Rusty scribbled, “I like it when my dad laughs.”  That brief essay absolutely thrilled me because I think laughing out loud is one of the healthiest gifts a father can give to his family.  The Bible says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine…” (Proverbs 17:22).

     John Oswald Sanders was director of the China Inland Mission in the mid-1900s.  He wrote an excellent book on Spiritual Leadership that meant a lot to me in my ministry.  Sanders commented on the importance of a sense of humor in church leaders.  “Our sense of humor is a gift from God that should be controlled as well as cultivated.  Clean, wholesome humor will relax tension and relieve difficult situations.  Leaders can use it to displace tension with a sense of the normal.”

     In his book, The Humor of Christ, D. Elton Trueblood, American author and theologian, pointed out that Jesus excelled in First-Century humor using exaggeration.  People in the First Century laughed at hyperbole and embellishment.  Trueblood suggests Jesus’ audience must have laughed out loud when Jesus talked about straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel, taking a speck out of someone’s eye with a saw log jutting out of your own or a camel trying to squeeze through the eye of a needle.

     Jesus was a man of contagious joy.  Just hours before His anticipated arrest, He encouraged His followers: “I have told you this so that my joy might remain in you” (John 15:11 KJV).  Regardless of the trying circumstances we face, a healthy sense of humor is tangible evidence that Christ’s spirit of joy abides in us.  The Bible commands us to “Be joyful always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).

     Admittedly there’s a lot of sadness in the world right now.  There are serious problems.  People are terrified of catching Covid 19.  Many have loved ones who are sick or hospitalized.  Some have died from the dreaded virus.  Businesses are closed.  Church services are limited.  People have lost jobs.  Families are divided.  Christian leaders have fallen.  Suicides are increasing at an alarming rate.  This is no time for frivolity or superficiality.  We need to sober up and get serious about our relationship with God.  James 4:9-10 admonishes us, “Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

     While this is not a time for ditzy whistling in the graveyard, neither is this a time to lose our sense of humor.  Just the opposite is true.  The rest of Proverbs 17:22 reads, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”  A gloomy, melancholy spirit sucks the oxygen out of the room and compounds sorrow.  Laughter soothes the troubled soul, eases tension, encourages others, deepens relationships, and reminds us we still have hope in Christ.

     C.S. Lewis said, “In my own experience, the funniest things have occurred in the gravest and most sincere conversations.” Sometimes, the most serious and tense occasions can be eased by just a little humor. Since so many people are really uptight these days, we need to remember that the joy of the Lord is our strength.  A sense of humor helps us avoid becoming jaded and depressed.  

Clergyman and social reformer Henry Ward Beecher said, “A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs jolted by every pebble in the road.”

     There’s much about social media that’s not to like.  But there are some funny quips and cartoons circulating that I enjoy.  Social media provides a golden opportunity for those gifted with a sense of humor to give full expression to their talents.  On Thanksgiving Day, a friend sent me a picture of Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear peering through the kitchen window to make sure there weren’t more than eight assembling in the house.  My friend added a caption, “Took this picture outside your condo.”  That’s a joke, of course, but if the governor did peer through our window, he’d probably see us laughing…and to be honest, some of it at his expense.

  Bob Russell is retired Senior Minister of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY. www.bobrussell.org

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I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33