A recent study by the University of Maryland School of Medicine says laughter is good for cardiovascular health. According to the School of Medicine's website, the study included 20 non-smoking, healthy volunteers, who were shown parts of two movies "at the extreme ends of the emotional spectrum." When watching a movie like Saving Private Ryan, researchers discovered that blood flow from the heart of the study's participants was restricted. Just the opposite occurred when volunteers watched a comedy and experienced lots of laughter.
The study confirms previous research that mental stress actually narrows the blood vessels. But it also confirms a great biblical truth of old, which says, "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine" (Proverbs 17:22).
Certainly there are times to be serious in life, but God never takes pleasure in a sourpuss. The way some Christians look and act, you would think they had been given a permanent dose of Castor oil. Dr. Warren Wiersbe said a Christian foreign missions executive once told him that he would never appoint a missionary to the field if the candidate didn't have a sense of humor. "To be able to laugh at yourself and at the world around you," said Wiersbe, "is a mark of maturity."
It was G.K. Chesterton who said, "Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly. Never forget that Satan fell by force of gravity."
Some of the people I've admired the most in life knew how to laugh at themselves and their circumstances.
For example, Dr. Billy Graham says that he was once on a crowded airliner to Charlotte, when a heavy-set fellow was sitting directly in front of him who obviously had too many drinks. Intoxicated, the man filled the plane with raunchy language, was unashamedly flirting with the stewardess, and boisterously annoying everyone on the flight. Finally, one of the passengers tried to take matters in hand by asking the fellow if he knew the famous evangelist was sitting right behind him.
At that point, Graham said the bleary-eyed man struggled to his feet, turned around, looked at him and extended his hand, saying: "Billy Graham? Put 'er there. I'm really glad to meet ya. I'm one of your converts."
Rev. Coy Privette, now retired, had my job for 15 years as director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina. He also served four consecutive sessions in the North Carolina House.
Privette is both a powerful preacher and an astute politician. Often we travel together, speaking at various places in seminars, where we educate churches and communities on the evils of our governor's push for a state-operated lottery. At each of these events, Privette always tells the story about a time when he was running for re-election in his district. He says when he was campaigning he assumed everyone in his constituency knew him. "I just thought they all knew I was that Baptist preacher from over there in Kannapolis, North Carolina," he says in his countrified way.
"One day," says Privette, "I pulled up to a gas station in a rural section of Union County." Underneath a car on a rolling pallet was a man working on an engine. Privette says he got down on one knee, while holding some of his campaign literature and said to the man: "Hello, I'm Coy Privette. I'm running for the North Carolina House and I would appreciate your vote." Slowly the man under the car rolled out from underneath and asked Privette a question. "What's your name again?" asked the man. Privette said, "I'm Coy Privette. I'm running for the North Carolina House and I would appreciate your vote." "You know what," responded the man. "I'm going to vote for you, because anyone would be better than that Baptist preacher from over there in Kannapolis."
In his book, Small Wonders, Rev. Harold E. Kohn writes: "While there is much terror and sordid ugliness in the world, there is also a stream of health, cascading like a clear mountain rivulet of melted snow through human experience. This stream is the flow of wholesome, spontaneous laughter -- God's gift for refreshing and renewing our souls. A life lived with little laughter is like land devoid of springs, streams, lakes, or ground water; there are some things such a life cannot grow. We cannot take ourselves seriously if we cannot occasionally take ourselves lightly. Laughter is an affirmation of God's final triumph over the worst that can befall us."
After warming up a crowd of several thousand rain-soaked young people with some jokes in the main square of Trent, Italy, Pope John Paul II told his audience: "Don't tell your colleagues, and above all the press, that the Pope made jokes instead of a serious meditation on the council ... but being holy means living in profound communion with the God of joy, having a heart free from sin and from the sadness of the world."
It's interesting to note that the word "humor" and "humility" come from the same root of the Latin word, "humus." In other words, to be humble means you can laugh at yourself. You know how short of the glory of God you fall. You know it's a laugh to think you can get along in life without Him. It's also a source of endless joy knowing God lovingly rules and reigns in the circumstances of all who put their trust in Christ.
On the eve of His crucifixion, Jesus said: "These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be full" (John. 15:11). Think of it. Jesus was talking about joy as he approached the death of the cross.
Yes, laughter "doeth good like a medicine." Maybe you should go tell someone a good clean joke today. Yeah, that's a good idea. Chances are they never heard it before.
Rev. Mark H. Creech (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc.