Oswald Chambers said, “Jesus rarely comes where we expect him; He appears where we least expect Him, and always in the most illogical situations. The only way a servant can remain true to God is to be ready for the Lord’s surprise visits.”
Often, Jesus’ surprising visits are wrapped in humor.
In my first appointment as a student pastor, I served three little churches. One paid $500 a year toward my salary. At my first church board meeting as a “college-sophomore-pastor,” a cantankerous member said, “What we need is a William Jennings Bryan in the pulpit.”
The church’s grouch and the new preacher had locked horns! The air was sucked out of the room as everyone held their breath, wondering what would happen next. After a stunned pause I asked,“Can you get William Jennings Bryan for $500 a year?”
Humor prevailed. He said,“By Jove, I believe you’ve got something!” From then on we were the best of friends. Jesus had come to my assistance“wrapped in swaddling humor.”
Telling Stories and Telling Jokes
Over the years I have made a radical shift from telling jokes to telling stories. If I say, “I have a joke for you,” your attention will be focused on the ending since that is where the weight of a joke is. The ending is where the burden is for the joke-teller, “Did I end it right with a strong punch line?”
However, if I say, “I have a story for you,” you begin listening immediately so you will not miss a single detail, because we all love a story. I may say the same thing after promising to tell you a story that I would if I had said I was telling you a joke, but the invitation to listen comes much earlier—at the beginning of the story rather than at the end of the joke.
Imaging and timing are essential for telling a funny story or a good joke. Imaging is creating word pictures that are complete enough to invite other people to see the pictures and find themselves in them. This is relatively easy to achieve.
But not so with timing! Timing is the use of pauses, that give the story time to tell itself. The story unfolds by images being strung together, with appropriate pauses between. Strategic pauses allow the hearer to anticipate what is coming. Such anticipation is golden in telling a story.
What is spirituality? It is living one’s life in a personal God-orientation.
What is humor? It is a slice of life that produces some level of laughter by the way it is uniquely set apart from everything around it.
Humor is a pressure release, a situation-softener, an antidote to hurt. It can help impart spiritual revelation about the character of God and God’s loving-kindness towards us. It can provide a change of direction when needed, and ease a burden to lighten a load. It’s like a cushion between hard surfaces.
Humor is profoundly spiritual! And how profound it is when a congregation recognizes humor as a spiritual gift and makes spiritual humor part of the congregational lifestyle. That is done one pastor at a time, one class at a time, and one person at a time. Ultimately, it is done when anyone can pray this prayer to the Holy Spirit:
Come, Holy Spirit,
purify the thoughts of my mind
and the words of my mouth.
God, give me the spiritual gift of humor
so my spirit can laugh with your Spirit.
show me how to share the gift of humor
so others may laugh as you intended.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.