The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. – John 10:10
Joy nor righteousness by faith in Jesus can never be maintained constantly. But it can be acquired at times, as often as we choose to, to plead for the Holy Spirit’s grace to allow it to continue in our lives: “righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). The human will is not perfect, and it always needs the Holy Spirit’s assistance and presence, in order to maintain the fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, righteousness, etc (Gal. 5:22).
Misery desires company and they that love it eat of its fruit. The Irish Christians used to call the devil “the Sorrow,” because his primary goal was to create misery or depression to such a point that people would despair not only of their earthly lives, as being a thing of joy, but also leading men to commit suicide: and that they would despair of eternal salvation. If we take this perspective, then having the joy of the Lord takes on not only an emotional state but also a state of spiritual warfare (Neh. 8:10). It is important that we do not allow the spirit of sorrow or, “the spirit of heaviness” as the Bible calls it, to come in and crowd in upon us. The Bible says that we should take on the garments of praise for the spirit of heaviness (Isa. 61:3).
The devil “comes not but for to kill, steal, and destroy” (John 10:10). John Wesley wrote a sermon once called “Heaviness Through Manifold Temptations.” I’m pretty sure it goes into these themes at greater length. If the devil is our enemy, then we should not be surprised if we find our thoughts and feelings come under attack by negative spirit forces. Those who suffer in mental hospitals from psychiatric disorders are only the most extreme cases, but the devil works upon the normal population in lesser degrees, and his work is still very real. We would be wise not to overnaturalize such things. Because if we do, then we will not recognize the need for naming the names of demon spirits, and praying for them to be cast out by calling on the name of Jesus at such times, which can be extremely effective (see John Eckhardt’s Demon Hit List). Just as God works in the natural circumstances of life, so also does the devil; and sometimes we give him a foothold. The greatest foothold that we can give the devil is that of anger at other people (Eph. 4:27). It’s important that we try to forgive people in our hearts, even when they have not apologized, and even when we cannot reconcile things with them socially. If we allow the sun to go down on our anger, then we will surely give the devil a foothold: opening ourselves up to psychological problems like nightmares, anxiety, and outbursts of rage.
In John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress we see spiritual warfare played out in the life of Christian. Many times his warfare comes in the form of bad, negative thoughts that bring him to places like Doubting Castle, which is inhabited by the Giant Despair. We have to remember the promises of God: particularly the promises of the Gospel, so that we can set our minds back on the right things again. Only then can we get our feet back on the right track; and walk in step with the Holy Spirit.
“Laughter can conceal a heavy heart…a cheerful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 14:13; 17:22). Although we should not give ourselves over to hysteria as they do in comedies, we should have a degree of comedy and good humor in our lives because God created it. But not as the ancient Greek comedians laid down for us, which creeped into English theaters, and American films and television. There you will only find men who are filled with sexual immorality, profanity, and blasphemy; and we should not allow our happiness to come from such things, because they grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:3-4). But we should have a sense of what is humorous; and take advantage of it when it comes: such things can create a sense of being resilient during the hardships of life. When friendships, family members, churches, ministers, companies, managers, and co-workers fail us. The humor that God has given us can sustain us while we are practicing our faith in Jesus. It is healthy and good to crack jokes provided that they are not profane or blasphemous. Then Christians can truly be good humored and experience emotional healing in their lives on a regular basis.
Ecclesiastes 3:4: there’s “a time to weep and a time to laugh.” If I did not guard my heart and fight for my own joy and happiness, then I tell you right now, I would be a defeated Christian. I would have an unhappy life. I would be depressed and miserable all of my days. And even though Paul says that if Christ is not raised then we of all men are the most miserable (1 Cor. 15:19), it does not mean that we of all men are the most miserable at all, because we know that Christ has risen; and we have reason to hope for eternal salvation. So that does not by any means allow for our earthly lives to be characterized by misery. Happiness cannot be a constant state; it is a gift from God for sure, and it’s always a temporary one. But even as it is a gift from God, Christians should take advantage of humor and happiness, whenever it presents itself as an opportunity, provided that it is not profane. This does not mean that dry, bland, vanilla Christian comedy is the answer. That is NOT what I’m talking about. What I am saying is, that Christians in general should allow themselves to be good humored and lighthearted enough to be able to have conversations that are humorous, while at the same time guarding themselves with moral seriousness. So many people have such a killjoy understanding of Christianity, that they can’t even enjoy their lives, while thinking of the Christian life. They think the Christian life is all about suffering and dragging your cross throughout life, but I like the ESV translation of Romans 5:3, which tells us to “rejoice in our sufferings.” Too many people are influenced by worldly concepts of humor like Mel Brooks, Monty Python, Saturday Night Live, and Mad TV to get any idea of what a good humored attitude looks like in the state of sanctification. And that is truly sad, because I believe that when Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10), He was including in that a sense of good humor. Jesus said, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh” (Luke 6:21). If you are looking for it, you can even find humor in the gospels, like when Jesus refers to somebody having a beam in their eye (Matt. 7:3). This is actually a sarcastic, humorous parable against hypocritical judging. Don’t you think people at least snickered the first time they thought about a two-by-four sticking out of a man’s eye? Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter” (Gen. 21:6).
It’s not my objective to prove that Jesus was a comedian, because I don’t think He was. Neither were the apostles comedians. What I am saying though, is that there is evidence that they had a sense of humor; and there was a sharp difference between that and worldly humor. And I think that the false dichotomy, that people sometimes manufacture a joyless Christianity: that it is the devil’s design to hide from them true spiritual life, so they can see no other alternative but to go back to the way of the world. And so they forsake God, who is the Fountain of all true life; and they damn themselves. If any man thinks that Christianity is dull and lifeless, then he has yet to understand true Christianity. If you ever have the feeling that being a Christian does not make you emotionally happy, then something is wrong with your way of thinking. You would need an adjustment in your perspective. This doesn’t mean that Christianity is a religion of positive thinking, that ignores all the pains and troubles of this life. Jesus did say, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). But here we see that having good cheer comes from our our sense of Jesus’ overcoming the world, by faith in the cross, and His resurrection from the dead. And when we root and ground our faith in this thought, then we can have a good cheer: because Jesus said so.
Surrounding yourself with the right people and keeping yourself away from the wrong people is essential to this task. I can’t think of anywhere in the whole Bible that contradicts or overrides simple concepts like how friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God, or how Christ is not the friend of Belial, how darkness cannot fellowship with light, how we are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers, and how blessed is the man who does not sit in the counsel of the ungodly nor in the seat of scoffers (James 4:4; 2 Cor. 6:14-15; Ps. 1:1). There’s nowhere in the whole Bible that contradicts or overrides such principles; and they are very serious ones. Wesley considered them, in his sermon, “A Call to Backsliders,” one of the main reasons why people backslide: hanging around ungodly, non-Christian people for fun. I also think that it’s a sign of backsliding when people embrace such people as friends, simply because they’re feeling down and they would like to have a little bit of comedy in their life. Pilgrim’s Progress also portrays this in the character of Mr. Worldly Wiseman. These people, not knowing the whole time that Jesus allows us to be good humored, and not knowing that sanctification is necessary for salvation, because it says “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14), and at the same time wanting this desire for comedy and friendship but overthrowing sanctification in the process: they end up laughing their way to Hell. I’ve been recently reading Daniel Jennings’ collection of The Supernatural Occurrences of John Wesley. It’s definitely an interesting book; it takes all of the charismatic elements from the works of John Wesley and compacts them into a convenient volume. There’s more than one occasion when someone is warned about something negative in the future in a dream from God; and then they share the dream with someone else; and “they’re laughed out of it”; he says this, meaning that they’re talked out of believing in the dream; and they irreverently laughed it away like a joke: only to find the next day that the dream becomes fulfilled, the warning was not heeded, and someone dies. It’s important to have good humor in our lives. Laughter is good medicine for the heart, but we also have to realize that when people stop fearing God, they are drinking in a poison and not taking their medicine.