I once shared in an unusual men’s retreat. The inspirational verse for the three days was Psalm 126:2 – “Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations that the Lord has done great things for them.” It would take a book to record all the healings that took place that weekend. There was tears and there was laughter. Since then I’ve pondered the verse. I conclude that it’s the cognitive recollection of those “great things” in the latter part of the scripture that causes the emotional effect in the first part.
During the pain of the city of London during the nightly bombing they called The Blitz, a song by Johnson Oatman began to have a buoyant effect on all who heard it. The second stanza says: “Are you ever burdened with a load of care? Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear? Count your many blessings every doubt will fly, and you will keep singing as the days go by! ¼.Count your blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”
A danger of the good life is that it brings poverty in gratitude. Like a local high school kid who grumbled to his coach that his parents were forcing him to take another boring holiday with them in Switzerland this year, we need a reality check. The first step to beating the blues is to pray with thanksgiving. Unless your prayer is a very short one it’s going to mean enumerating those blessings first.
The longer your thanksgiving list and the more you consider how each item has improved your life the better you become at the practice of worship. The act of telling your Creator what it is about Him that you value; will gradually free your heart from the tyranny of self-focus. After a while you’ll invite the Spirit of God to reside at the center of your life. That act of consecration is all about surrendering control over what pleases you. When it is genuine it also brings unexpected health benefits.
The fruits of God living inside a human life by His Holy Spirit are an increase in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Most believers find that each of these does not increase in the same proportion to all the others. Indeed there are times when you need to ask God what will stimulate the deficient ones. Now it’s the second attribute: joy, that forms the focus of this article.
Joy down deep in the heart is the most effective cause of healthy laughter. For years human civilization has tried to cause laughter from the outside. Groucho Marx said: “A clown is like an aspirin, only he works twice as fast.” Charlie Chaplin, that comic of the silent movies, believed that laughter is “the tonic & relief for pain.” Walt Disney said about the good effects of his movies: “Laughter is America’s most important export.”
From the medieval court jester to the TV stand-up comics, we grant the value of their work. In stoic Japan, Dr. Ito has taken the lead of our Dr. Patch Adams (remember the movie that paid tribute to the Gesuntheid Institute) and in Kyushu Hospital he uses humor to accelerate healing. We all know the secure feelings that follow a joke that has made you laugh until the tears flowed.
There is however a deeper cure than an occasional joke. This month my health plan’s magazine has an article called The Happiness Factor. It too discusses the healthy effects of an optimistic outlook. That article leads with a quote from the Bible: “A merry heart is good medicine.” My contention is that a heart that’s self-absorbed cannot be consistently merry. You were created to be in loving relationships with God and those around you. Do that and joy will abide within so much that it’ll spill out often in laughter.
Andrew Paton of Clinton Church of the Nazarene, born in Africa, has pastored in Hunterdon County since 1997. Before that he ministered in Durban and Bedfordview, South Africa and prior to that was an officer in The Salvation Army. He has been in full time Christian leadership since 1975. He and his wife Carol have two married sons and five grandchildren.
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