By Pastor Glenn Pease
Martin Clark said every church should have a humor committee because there are more funny things that happen in church than in a zoo, for people are funnier than the animals. God made man to be the only creature on earth who can laugh because of his sense of humor. Christians need a sense of humor to deal with the reality that they are so fallible. If all the mistakes pastors make were compiled in a book, it would make the unabridged dictionary look like a postage stamp in comparison.
One of the funniest mistakes I have ever read about was of the young pastor who just moved into the parsonage next to the church. On his first Sunday they were having communion. So he and his wife poured the grape juice into the little cups, and they thought they were ready. But when it came time to serve, the pastor saw that they had not poured enough cups for the size of the congregation. He leaned over the front pew and whispered to his wife, "Run next door and get that bottle of grape juice out of the refrigerator. If you run fast enough you can be back before the deacons serve the cups." She batted out the side door and flew to the parsonage. She did not bother to even switch on the lights. She just grabbed what she thought was the bottle of grape juice, and tore back to the church. What she had was a bottle of green parsimmon juice.
The young pastor, with complete faith in his wife, did not bother to read the label. He just uncapped it and poured its contents into the cups for himself and the deacons. It was perfect timing, for just as he finished, the deacons were marching down the isle with their empty trays. The pastor then served the deacons and led the congregation in drinking the juice. Suddenly his lips began to pucker and he knew he had a problem. He leaned over and wheezed, "deacon Jones will you please lead in closing prayer." Deacon Jones was having his own problems, and was barely able to smack his lips and get out, "Please excuse me!" The pastor surveyed the situation and could see none of the deacons were able to pray. The congregation had no idea what was going on, for they had perfectly normal grape juice. Finally the pastor motioned all to stand and said, "Well, friends, let's whistle the doxology and go home."
Murphey's law has not been repealed for the church. Even in the most solemn and sacred moments Christians leaders provoke laughter by their slips of the tongue. Billy Graham in a message in Atlanta roared out, "David slew Goliath and then he turned around and killed him." Another pastor prayed, "Oh Lord, make us more offensive--I mean Lord, put on the offensive." Another introduced the new music director with these words, "We are delighted he is coming to lead us in our sinning." At a testimony meeting on the campus of a Christian college a tearful freshman concluded his personal testimony with what he thought was a sincere request. He said, "Please pray I'll not be found sleeping with the five foolish virgins when Jesus comes." At every homecoming since, this is remembered as a choice moment of laughter.
There is no end to the laughter producing goofs of Christians, but my point in sharing these is to make it clear that this sort of laughter is not what we are dealing with, as we consider the fruit of the Spirit, which is joy. You do not need the Holy Spirit to see the humor in life. This is a gift God has made available to all men. The non Christian can have as good a sense of humor as the Christian. Jews have always been the major contributors to the world of comedy. So Christians do not have a monopoly on laughter. Laughter is a universal gift.
But joy is something else. Joy is much deeper, for joy is based on love and not laughter. Joy is the feeling that even if I blew it, and made a blunder that everyone laughed at, I am loved and not rejected for my mistake. That is a good feeling that lasts after the laughter quickly passes away. Laughter is momentary, but joy is a state of mind that is permanent. Joy makes you happy even when there is nothing funny to laugh at. We see this all through the New Testament. This was the joy of Jesus. He is about to go to the cross and suffer on a level we can never comprehend, yet He says to His disciples in John 15:11, "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that you joy may be full." Again in His great prayer in John 17:13 He says, "I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them."
Jesus was loaded with the fruit of the Spirit, and He had all the joy one is capable of possessing. But you will notice, it was not because life was funny, and He was having a ball. He was facing the worst life could throw at Him with evil, suffering, pain, hate, injustice, cruelty, and betrayal. Yet, Jesus had fullness of joy. We see it also in Paul and Silas in Acts 16. They were attacked and beaten, and we read in verse 23, "After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison; and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully." So he put their feet in stocks so they could not move. It was not what you would call a fun day at the park. It was a terrible day, and these men had to be in pain. Nevertheless, we read in verse 25, "About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God and the other prisoners were listening to them." This is when God sent an earthquake, and the jailer was converted with his whole family.
Joy is not a positive feeling that life is going great. Joy is a feeling that no matter how hard life is, I have the best that life can offer in Christ. Anyone can feel good and be happy when all is going well and life is free of negatives. But with the fruit of joy you can rejoice in the Lord always, even when life is full of negatives. This is not man generated joy, but the joy of the Lord which is our strength.
Madam Guyon was thrown into prison in France, and she wrote-
"I passed my time there in great peace, content to pass the
rest of my life there, if such were the will of God. I sang
songs of joy, while the maid who served me learned by
heart as fast as I made them, and we together sang Thy
praises, o my God. The stones of my prison looked in
my eyes like rubies. I esteemed them more than all the
gaudy brilliance of the world. My heart was full of that
joy Thou givest to them that love Thee in the midst of
their greatest crosses."
Her poetry, which she sang in prison, is still read and sung today, thou she died in 1717. She wrote forty volumes. Here are just a few lines-
Tho my foes have combined
and my body confined
yet my soul is with liberty blest.
I am humbly content
With whatever is sent
For I know that Thy pleasure is best.
Thy wondrous defense
Makes a cell seem immence.
It sheds so peculiar a grace.
Such a pleasure abounds,
Such a glory surrounds,
And the joys of Thy kingdom embrace.
This is not natural joy but the fruit of the Spirit joy. The joy that can only grow in the life of one who knows, that no matter what, they are loved by God. Joy grows out of love, the first fruit of the Spirit. Joy is not the laughter of the sense of humor, but the laughter of love which says, nothing can separate me from the love of God. This joy does lead to laughter, and what we call happiness, for it fills one with a sense of optimism. It is a denial of Christ's joy to make Christianity a solemn and somber faith.
John Wesley said, "Sour godliness is the devil's religion." Jesus said in the Sermon On The Mount, that even when Christians are persecuted and slandered, they are to rejoice and be glad for their reward is great in heaven. Joy in hard times is a Christian obligation. That is why we need the filling of the Spirit, for we cannot produce this fruit on our own. Paul says in I Thess. 5:16, "Be joyful always." He does not say ninety per cent of the time, or ninety eight per cent of the time, but always. That is not natural, but is of the Holy Spirit. Augustine said over 1500 years ago, "There is a joy which is not given to the ungodly, but to those who love Thee for Thine own sake, whose joy Thou Thyself art."
Jesus was the most joy-filled person ever to live on this planet. We are told this in Hebrews 1:9, where it says of Christ, "...your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy." In other words, there has never been another above Jesus in joy. He had the highest level of joy possible, and none has never matched it. An apple is an apple, and a pear is a pear, but not all apples and pears are equal. Some are better than others. They are bigger, juicier, and sweeter than others. So it is with joy, and all the fruits of the Spirit. They grow like fruit, and so there are all different stages of growth. Jesus had the perfect fruit of joy. This is what all believers will have in heaven. This was the hope of even the Old Testament saints. David says in Psalm 16:11, "You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasure at your right hand." Until then, the goal of the Christian is to be filled with the Spirit, and get as near to having the joy of Jesus as possible.
The New Testament has 11 words for different aspects of joy, and they are used 326 times. It is a major theme of God's Word, and a major obligation of the Christian life. There is a wealth of English synonyms for joy-bliss, buoyancy, cheerfulness, delight, ecstasy, elation, exuberance, felicity, gaiety, gladness, glee, hilarity, jubilation, rapture, and rejoicing. All of these can be summed up in the word happy, which the New Testament calls blessed. Vernon Grounds, the well known evangelical theologian, commenting on Paul's declaration in I Tim.6:15, that God "is the blessed and only Potentate or Ruler", says, "Since blessed means happy, Paul is here affirming that God is happy. The Happy God! God in Himself is a shoreless sea of vibrant glory, a fathomless ocean of sheerest ecstasy...God Himself is the Rejoicer who before the hosts of heaven reacts with a thrilling happiness that baffles the language and logic of earth. Infinitely joyful, He is the Source of all genuine joy."
Does this mean the Christian has to be a pollyanna, and be blind to the reality of a fallen world? Not at all, God knows the evil of man like no other, but He is by nature happy and joyful, inspite of His knowledge. Joy is not a denial of evil and a pretense that all is well. It is a conviction that life is a comedy and not a tragedy, and that in Christ good will triumph over evil. History is His-story, and it will have a happy ending.
Listen to Cyprian, the Christian leader of the church at Carthage in A.D. 200. He wrote,
"This is a cheerful world as I see it from my fair garden...But if
I could ascend some high mountain and look out over the wide
lands, you know very well what I would see. Brigands on the
highways. Pirates on the seas. Armies fighting. Cities burning.
In the amphitheatres men murdered to please applauding crowds.
Selfishness and cruelty, and misery and despair, under all roofs.
It is a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world. But I have
discovered in the midst of it, a quiet and holy people who have
learned a great secret. They have found a joy which is a thousand
times better than any of the pleasures of our sinful life. They are
despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters
of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people,
Donatus, are Christians, and I am one of them."
There is no blindness here to evil, but eyes wide open to the good news in Christ which produces the joy that overcomes the world. The Christian deals with his fallen nature in a different way than the world does. Leslie Flynn and his book, Gift of Joy, says the way the world deals with sin is to-
1. Minimize it. It is no big deal, everybody does it.
2. Rationalize it. They blame their genes, parents, or their mates, or the world situation.
3. Anesthetize it. By a constant round of activity, or by drugs.
4. Neutralize it. By doing good to counteract their bad.
Christians are not immune to any of these. David, after his great sin, tried all of these routes, but they were dead ends, and he lost the joy of his salvation. He learned the hard way, that the only way to deal with sin is to recognize it for what it is, and seek the grace of God. We need to confess our guilt and receive the forgiveness made possible by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. This is the only way to deal with sin that leads to joy. David did get there, and he sang songs of joy again, but he took the long hard route of the world before he took the short cut of grace, and he suffered a great lost of joy because of it. His folly is recorded that believers might learn to avoid his mistakes, and come to Christ for cleansing and renewal right away David prayed in Psalm 51:7-8, "Cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean; wash me and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice." Then in verse 12 we read, "Restore to me the joy of your salvation..."
When a Christian falls and fails the Lord, he or she is to immediately get right with the Lord and be restored, so the fruit of joy does not wither on the vine, as it was doing with David. The Christian who delays confession and forgiveness will see the fruit of joy wither and they will be a poor witness to the grace of God. Lack of joy is a sin that is seldom recognized. R.W. Dale, the great English preacher, said, "We ask God to forgive us for our evil thoughts and evil tempers, but rarely, if ever, ask Him to forgive us for our sadness." Sadness is not just the expression on our faces, but the negative views of life that rob us of joy in the midst of so much fallenness. The face is not the key factor. Jesus often had a sad face as he wept over the lostness of the world, and the weakness of His disciples. Sadness of face and sorrow over sin and death did not rob Him of His joy.
Joy is deeper than sadness, and can be real even when the face is not expressing it. It is superficial to suggest that Christians should always have a smile to show their joy. Optimism of the mind and soul goes far deeper than the face. This does not mean it is okay to go about looking like a sad sack. Spurgeon said to his students training for ministry, "When you talk about heaven let your face light up with a heavenly glory. When you talk about hell, your everyday face will do." This was a rebuke of their everyday face, for it usually reflected pessimism and not the optimism of Christian joy, and was thus, a quenching of the Spirit.
If you have people who know you who think you are a pessimist, you are probably quenching the Spirit, and have ceased to produce the fruit of joy. Joy is deeper than mere laughter and smiling, but these are still ways by which we can express that joy to the world. The external ways of letting people know of the inner joy is important in our witness. You may not always feel like giving an external witness, but it should be a common part of your witness. Joy that is never seen is not the kind of fruit that makes others hungry to taste it.
One of the major purposes of worship is to help us develop our expression of joy. Praise is the twin of joy, says John Drescher. Praise is the joy we express to God, but in so doing we water the joy in our own lives and help it to grow. The goal of all worship is to grow the fruits of the Spirit. This pleases God and man, and the self. Pulsford said, "There is no heaven, either in this world, or in the world to come, for people who do not praise God." Praise is the fruit of joy turning toward the Son of heaven to receive that light that makes it even more luscious and appealing to the world. The goal in going to church is that you might become more optimistic about life and how God can use you to make a difference in this fallen world.
Just as natural love is not enough, so it is not enough to have just natural joy. The fruit of the Spirit love enables you to love those who are not loving, but who are even enemies. Fruit of the Spirit joy enables you to be optimistic even in the trials of life, and, thus, be a witness to the world of a joy that is beyond what man can produce. Henry VanDyke said it profoundly, "There is something finer than to do right against inclination; and that is to have an inclination to do right. There is something nobler than reluctant obedience; that is joyful obedience. The rank of virtue is not measured by its disagreeableness, but by its sweetness to the heart that loves it. The real test of character is joy. For what you rejoice in, that you love. And what you love, that you are like."
If worship is a bore and service is a chore, it is because you have lost your first love, like the Christians in Ephesus that Jesus rebuked in Rev. 2. Worship and service are pure joy to those who do not quench the Spirit. Frank Lauback, who has helped millions learn to read so they could read the Bible, said, "I have had more fun than any other man in the world." It was such joy to serve Jesus because he loved Jesus and he loved the world. He carried a globe of the world in his arms as he spoke, for he loved the whole world. His love was the source of his joy. You cannot skip over the first fruit of the Spirit and expect to get to the others. They all grow out of the main vine, which is love. When you are loving, which is to say, when you are Christ like, then you will also be growing the fruit of joy. The most loving Christians are the most joyful Christians.