Laughter as a Spiritual Discipline

Galatians 4:15  What happened to all your joy?  Where is that sense of blessing you had? This question is one we will all face from time to time. If we have a good community of fellowship, someone may ask you–it is a loving question. You may be prompted by the Holy Spirit to ask yourself–hmmm, where is that ‘sense?’ I’m not sensing it…so how can I cultivate that sense?

This round-about post is going to look at laughter as an aid to get us back to the Source of our joy, and how Joy is spiritual fruit that will show itself in many ways, one of which is rejoicing. Let us begin by examining a time when Jesus rejoiced. His disciples had just returned from their mission He had sent them on; they were thrilled that they could perform miracles and cast out demons. Jesus told them they ought rather to rejoice that their names are written in heaven. And then…:

At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit and said, “I praise You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants.  Yes, Father, for this way was well pleasing in Your sight…”

Luke 10:21

So the source of our rejoicing, as we have the mind of Christ, is the Holy Spirit. He gives us joy, and leads us in rejoicing. Just as was promised. Before He was crucified, Jesus told His disciples many things in John 13-17. In chapter 16, Jesus tells them that after their mourning, when they see Him, they will be filled with joy and “no one will take your joy from you” (16:22).  Indeed, after He was raised from the dead and was seen by them they were overjoyed/rejoiced…(John 20:20).

Did this joy stay with them, even up to martyrdom?  Did they ever rejoice, and enjoy life?  Search through the epistles, looking for their joy, you will find it.

We have been promised His joy and peace, and truly the Holy Spirit wants to cause us to rejoice greatly…yet, we go through mucky circumstances that leave us feeling like we are in a funk.  I had one such funk last winter…  So I did what I do, and started meditating on Scriptures to focus my attention on joy, on His grace in meeting me in these times, on His delight.  

So what does laughter have to do with this?

Laughter as a gift:  Genesis 21:6; Job 8:21; Psalm 126:2. Notice the difference between Sara’s first laugh, when she does not believe God (that laugh is sin); and the laugh that comes after Isaac is born–that laughter is a gift from the One gave us the capacity to enjoy life. He created laughter!

Sometimes, Laughter is a front: Prov 14:13; Ecc 2:2/7:3, 6; 

Sometimes laughter is sinful, or laughter is withheld due to sin: Hab 1:10; Proverbs 17:5  He who mocks the poor taunts his Maker; He who rejoices at calamity will not go unpunished.  Prov. 26:18-19;Colossians 3:8; Eph. 5:3-4

Laughter is an aid

It is now known that laughter can prevent the release of stress hormones; the very ones that will tell us to fight or flee, and if we get stuck in that the overabundance of hormones begin to hurt us. Laughter can also reverse a stressful condition, enabling us to think and feel more clearly.  Even the anticipation of laughter or rethinking a joyful moment. Laughter has been shown to reduce stress, and pull people out of a stuck position whether fight/flight or some other hormonal response to stress. (For more on this, see Dr. Earl Henslin’s book This is Your Brain on Joy, 2008.)

Many a time in life, our brains will get stuck overthinking circumstances or processing feelings (and mostly, our brains are clinging to false stories in those moments). A distraction can stop that cycle, and laughter can be just such a distraction! Scripture teaches this, but sometimes it is when science shows how or why that some will believe; pause here to reflect on Philippians 4.

A distraction, and a habit of reorienting our thoughts, can help reverse a stressful condition, and ultimately enable us to think and feel more clearly. 

We sometimes think we ought to “process” every emotion in the moment.  Yet sometimes what we really need is to be distracted, restored to clear thinking, and then, later on, to look back and process.  Laughter is an effective distraction to help this process!

I found this true during my miscarriage.  A dear friend gave me a copy of a very funny movie.  I almost thought it was irreverent to watch movies when grief was gripping my heart.  But my husband and I laughed, and it helped.  And the next day, my journaling was more therapeutic, perhaps because I was not in the rut.

Similarly, during the beginning of the Pandemic. We found ways to laugh. There were nights that I laughed so hard tears came. Whether it was an overabundance of memes, or a friend who recommended the newest Jerry Seinfeld comedy night on Netflix, or I would put on Harry Belefonte and Odessa singing “A Hole in the Bucket” and laugh at our children laughing…

A Glad Heart

A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.  

Proverbs 17:22 

Or cheerful heart. Or,  “A heart being glad, to be in good health makes man”

So if a heart being glad is good medicine, then enjoying laughter is good medicine. How can we use laughter as an aid to seek healing, refreshment, rejoicing and allowing our souls to take hope and wait for God?   How can we use laughter, or a cheerful heart, to pull others toward this healing?  

Can laughter help us work towards Psalm 118: “rejoice and be glad”?  Gladness, happiness, and rejoicing in our lives will be from the Spirit, God is the Source.

Science here is only reaffirming what God has already revealed…remember, He created the brain!  Back to Philippians 4 “…be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication…[and then] think about…  whatever is___”  Paul here is teaching us, from the Holy Spirit, that in times where our brains are apt to get stuck in the anxious thoughts, we need to redirect.  Training ourselves now, to know what to redirect to, is wise.  Having a community around us that can help us redirect is amazing.  Laughter is one of the ways we can redirect…

Joy is inner, rejoicing and exulting and being glad is the outworking of joy.  

All the fruits are inner with outworkings!  They show themselves, or they are not there.  Joy comes out in rejoicing; even in the midst of tribulation–but not because of tribulation! Remember, we rejoice for having our names in His book; we rejoice in our salvation, in His goodness, in His nearness, in His power and Sovereignty and hesed, etc.

There may be times when we would not naturally feel like exulting–yet the Spirit at work in us is always refreshing, restoring, renewing, overcoming, leading us in victory and triumph… He grants joy in our tribulations; though we ought not consider tribulations fun, or no big deal…but we have a call to keep our eyes on Him, to remember what is ultimate as opposed to what is temporal, to think of our “weight of glory” and of His constant presence.  

Joy, a fruit of His Spirit at work in us, makes us endure, as it did Christ.  

Our rejoicing is not always boisterous:  Ps 149:4-5 (joy is restful!)  But somestimes we cannot help it: Lev 9:24 (shout for joy). Here we see Israel repent and worship and rejoice at God’s response to the sacrifice being accepted! We rejoice in Christ!

1 Thessalonians 5:18-22  Rejoice Always!!!

QUESTION:  How do you walk in this?  How are you learning this?  Do you practice this?  Related to gratitude, but not the same.

Χαίρετε  present active imperative second person plural. In other words, this is a command, and in Christ we can obey.

  Lk 15:5, 32  2 Cor 6:10  1 Pet 4:13  Mk 14:11 (74x!) 

God’s work of reconciliation, restoration, renewal, brings joy–rejoicing–exulting:

For thus says the high and exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy, “I will dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.  For I will not contend forever, nor will I always be angry; for the spirit would grow faint before Me, and the breath of those whom I have made.  Because of the iniquity of his unjust gain I was angry and struck him; I hid My face and was angry, and he went on turning away, in the way of his heart.  I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and to his mourners, creating the praise of the lips.  Peace, peace to him who is far and to him who is near,” says YHWH, “and I will heal him.”  

Isaiah 57:15-19

Brains that don’t feel like rejoicing benefit from rejoicing.  Feelings lead us to say “I can’t” and “I won’t, you can’t make me…”  The Spirit works joy in us, and that joy supersedes nature and circumstances, and allows us to exalt in Him, trusting Him with our circumstances. When we rejoice in Who God is, as Scripture leads us to, it leads to whole-person healing, it leads to clearer thinking, and to realizing we can rejoice always! 

Joy in Scripture–connected to laughter, enjoyment, delight, in the midst of a fallen world:  practical application

Let us share joy  Phil 2:16, 18; Phil 4

Let us rejoice with those who rejoice Romans 12

And let us say we can rejoice always… 1 Thess 5

Joy and fear often go together:  Matthew 28:8  

Gladness can also be spiritual, and is not always superficial:

1 Chronicles 16:23-31  Sing to the LORD, all the earth; proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day for great is YHWH, and greatly to be praised! …splendor and majesty are before Him, strength and joy are in His place…Let the heavens be glad, let the earth rejoice; let them say among the nations, “YHWH reigns!”

So a little light hearted merriment might be just what I need to jolt me out of my rut, and enable me to delight in things truer and deeper than my circumstances.  A little laughter may help my brain stop fretting so that I can be glad and rejoice in His Majesty, in the good tidings of His salvation, in His faithfulness to be my ever-present-Help in time of trouble…etc.  

A week of 30 minutes a day to begin new neurons connecting.  If your tendencies have been away from delight, in just one week, you can begin to rebuild new ways of thinking–thinking that will have you believing that in His presence are fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16).  Sometimes we must do this together; knowing that one moment of empathy visualized in a sister’s face can break a cycle and begin healing; one moment of laughter to get our minds unstuck to be able to reorient our thinking and feeling.

photo by Skylar Gerald on Unsplash

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *