Medicine of Laughter: Spurgeon’s Humor
Larry J. Michael, PhD.
a time to laugh, and a time to cry” (Ecclesiastes 3:4)
Some years ago
there was a documented case in the British Medical Journal about a
man who laughed himself well. He actually had a terminal illness,
and through the employment of laughter therapy, he allowed his body
to successfully fight the disease.
While we may
grudgingly acknowledge the merit of such a case, for the most part,
we find such an incident almost incredible. Can laughter really be
that good for us? The Bible definitely supports such a notion.
The writer of
Ecclesiastes stated: “There’s a time
to laugh, and a time to cry” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). We
know that there are plenty of reasons to cry. Just a casual glance
at our world, with its wars, hatred, violence and evil—makes us sad.
Every day we see/hear on the news horrible accounts of hurting
people who hurt others. We are grieved at the plight of so many
persons who are living in darkness and have rejected the light of
Christ. The stark reality of sin in our world is indeed sobering.
surprising that many of us as leaders may be more inclined toward
sadness than to joy. Given the nature and demands of Christian
leadership in an increasingly challenging world, one could cynically
surmise that leaders may have more reason to be glum than glad these
days. The pressures of our organizational responsibilities, and the
accompanying stresses, can drag us down. Handling church conflict,
losing someone special, helplessly seeing a marriage dissolve,
experiencing personal betrayal, facing an unsuspected tragedy—all
may give cause for tears.
To counter the
sad times, the Scripture also advises that there is a time to laugh.
Leaders need to know the balancing therapy of laughter. Toward that
goal, we should fully embrace the joys of ministry—celebrating
special moments with members, “high-fiving” family achievements,
relishing the reaching of hard-earned goals, and savoring the
blessing of spiritual growth. But those experiences may still fall
short of the biblical pronouncement regarding laughter. C’mon, when
was the last time you laughed so hard you cried?! Or, you actually
had a good belly laugh?
great sense of humor
evangelicals know well the stern side of C. H. Spurgeon and his
serious pursuit of the holy life. Indeed, his stands for righteous
causes, and countering doctrinal error are often recounted. But many
readers may not know that he was a man with a great sense of humor.
Spurgeon knew the value of laughter and mirth. He virtually took to
heart the word in Proverbs 17:22: “A
merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”
laughed as often as he could. He laughed at the ironies of life, he
laughed at comical incidents, he laughed at the amusing elements of
nature. He sometimes laughed at his critics. He loved to share
wholesome jokes with his friends and colleagues in ministry. He was
known to tell humorous stories from the pulpit. William Williams, a
fellow pastor who kept company with Spurgeon, was a near and dear
friend in the latter years of Spurgeon’s life. He wrote: “What
a bubbling fountain of humour Mr. Spurgeon had! I laughed more, I
verily believe, when in his company than during all the rest of my
life besides. He had the most fascinating gift of laughter…and he
had also the greatest ability for making all who heard him laugh
with him. When someone blamed him for saying humourous things in his
semons, he said, ‘He would not blame me if he only knew how many of
them I keep back.’”
considered humor such an integral part of his ministry that a whole
chapter in his autobiography is devoted to it. Humor permeates his
sermons and writings, often woven into the fabric of his messages.
It's one reason among many why he is still so readable today.
The therapy of
the blessing of the treatment of humor. He often spoke of his
illness in humorous terms: “I have had sharp pains,”
he wrote to a friend, “but I am
recovering. Only my back is broken, and I need a new vertebrae.”
Once, when he was feeling depressed, he spoke of the remedy of
laughter: “The other evening I was riding
home after a heavy day’s work. I felt wearied and sore depressed,
when swiftly and suddenly that text came to me, ‘My
grace is sufficient for thee.’ I
reached home and looked it up in the original, and at last it came
to me in this way. ‘My grace is
sufficient for THEE.’ And I said,
‘I should think it is, Lord,’ and I burst out laughing. I never
understood what the holy laughter of Abraham was till then. It
seemed to make unbelief so absurd…O brethren, be great believers.
Little faith will bring your souls to heaven, but great faith will
bring heaven to your souls.
Spurgeon’s humor even bordered on the cynical--like the time he was
embroiled in the Baptismal Regeneration Controversy. When Spurgeon
took on the Church of England clerics because of their belief in
baptismal regeneration, he had a baptismal font installed in his
back garden as a birdbath. He referred to it as “the
spoils of war.” While the great “Prince of Preachers” may
have gone over the top on that one, for the most part, his humor was
balanced and appropriate.
Laughter is an
important release in a leader’s life. It is much-needed therapy for
positions that are most often fraught with stress and the burdens of
the day. Certainly there is a time to be sober as we face many tough
situations in our lives and ministries. But, we need to learn how to
experience the relief of laughter. Part of the problem is that too
many of us take ourselves way too seriously. When we forget that God
has a sense of humor, we need to do as one leader suggested--go look
in the mirror!
the value of laughter and humor. Both in tough times and sick times,
humor was a means for him to deal with his situation. It was a
coping mechanism for him. There will always be seasons of sadness
and joy for the conscientious leader. But, the leader who learns to
balance the two, will learn the discipline of employing laughter and
joy in his life. It could very well make a difference in his
fulfillment and purpose in his service to the Lord.
Dr. Larry Michael is
senior pastor at
First Baptist Church
in Clanton, Ala. He serves as an adjunct professor at
Beeson Divinity School
in Birmingham. This article is an adaptation of writings from the
Spurgeon on Leadership,
Kregel Publications, scheduled for release October 2003, and is used
with permission from the author.
Ron Beckham, Pastor
Friday Study Ministries
Tel: (562) 688-5559
PO Box 92131
Long Beach, CA 90809-2131
we were yet sinners, Christ died for us"