There once was a little girl sent to stay with her great aunt in the country for the summer.
While the home was beautiful and pristine, the great aunt was a staunch Presbyterian of an unusually staid and humorless variety.
The aunt never laughed. Nor did she smile – at any time or anything. She did go to church – religiously. Her niece went with her. They sat in dignity on a long wooden pew and listened to long wooden sermons preached by the dull and joyless black-robed minister.
The little girl grew bored and despondent with all the strict rules of her aunt’s immaculate house.
One day, out for a walk and some fresh air to escape the indoor stuffiness, the girl came across a pasture. Standing with its head hanging over the old wooden fence, a mule stared forlornly at the girl.
She went up to him, gently patted his nose and looked into his sad eyes.
“Don’t feel so bad Mr. Mule,” she said softly. “My aunt’s got religion too”.
Author, critic and biting atheist H.L. Mencken once defined Puritanism as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy”.
Christianity has been perceived as a joyless enterprise by non-believers for centuries. The biggest part of this is due to conscientious Christian crusaders intent on ridding the world of all that the world finds pleasurable – and faithful activists find morally repugnant.
To paraphrase the apostle Peter, Christians are usually better prepared to give an answer for the despair that is within them than the hope.
Christian activism – and it’s had a profound and busy role in shaping American culture throughout history – is too often defined by what we are against than what we are for.
Hating the sin – that’s the easy part. Loving the sinner? Ah, there’s the rub!
There’s plenty to criticize and condemn in a world headed for hell. We find ourselves living as aliens in a foreign land that used to be our home.
That’s how it feels sometimes.
It’s harder to find the joy that creates a bit of heaven for the weary fellow-traveler. The great irony is that joy ought to be a high note in every Christian’s experience. We ought to find something to laugh about. Our joy ought to be a blessing to share with others.
Find a Christian who never laughs and never smiles and you’ve discovered a walking contradiction.
Humor is one of God’s exquisite gifts.
Leaders have found it of value and comfort.
Abraham Lincoln sat in a solemn cabinet meeting reading stories from a book. He’d read one out loud and then he’d laugh. None of his cabinet officers joined him. They knew of his reputation for telling funny stories; to many it was an undignified annoyance.
How could the president laugh amidst a nation drenched in the blood of a horrendous civil war?
Finally Lincoln paused and looked at the serious faces seated in dignity around the great oak table. His eyes glistened.
“Gentlemen, why don’t you laugh? With the fearful strain that is upon me night and day, if I did not laugh I should die. You need this medicine as much as I do”.
Ronald Reagan is beloved by many not only for his courage and convictions but also for his great sense of humor and perfectly-timed stories.
Humor is a powerful tool – and an even more powerful antidote.
The Bible tells us that a happy, joy-filled heart is good medicine. A broken spirit dries up the bones (Proverbs 17:22).
Jesus must have laughed often. We know he loved to tell stories. What else would explain how the publicans and sinners gravitated to him like a magnate. Jesus was criticized by the stuffy Pharisees for partying with the lower-class.
Children loved Jesus too and followed him everywhere. It wasn’t because he was a joyless, austere stick – in – the – mud. It’s because he was fun to be around.
Jesus understood joy.
On the night of his betrayal, he told his disciples:
“Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy” (John 16:22, NLT).
There, on the eve of their greatest failure and most devastating sorrow, their Friend was reassuring them of their coming joy.
Christians, of all people, should have the most joy and happiness in their hearts, and in their lives. Nothing in this world can give us true and lasting joy – and nothing in this world can ever rob us of it.
We don’t have joy because we are without problems – heartaches or perplexities or loss. We face those along with everyone else. We are not immune to suffering or exempt from it.
We rejoice because we know that suffering and sadness do not have the final word.
We may weep for a night, perhaps for a season, but the promise of God is unfailing: “Joy cometh in the morning” (Psalm 30:5,KJV).
Let’s thank God for Joy. It’s a fruit of the Spirit, right up there with Love and Faith and Peace.
“Don’t cry because it’s over,” said that wise sage, Dr. Seuss, “smile because it happened.”
Peter asked God to fill us “with an inexpressible and glorious joy” because, in the end, faith would save our souls (I Peter 1:8-9).
That’s something to be happy about.
“The most wasted of all days is the one without laughter.”
So go ahead.