Yom Tov, Friends:
Many years ago a wise leader once shared a timely personal maxim with me:
“While on a given platform, and while gracing a pulpit, a lectern, a microphone, or perhaps even a television camera; take God very seriously, but also remember to never take yourself too seriously.”
Over the years I have done well to remind myself of this. When I have forgotten such, I have fallen-prey to the wiles of the Religious Spirit, who is ever-lurking in the shadows, waiting patiently for an opportune moment to fuel the vain antics we yield ourselves to when facing a sea of people; for we are predisposed to a performance mentality, and we can very easily get in the way of the graceful work of the Holy Spirit, if we are not careful.
To disarm the Religious Spirit in public meetings, and especially so when I am a focal-point in a given service; I take liberty to laugh at myself. In so doing I am immediately freed from the temptation to perform, and I subsequently send the Religious Spirit whimpering down the road to another venue.
As the times intensify about us; as chaos, confusion and anxiety slowly and subtly yet steadily continue to lap at our feet, not unlike an incoming tide as we stand in the wet sand looking out upon the horizon; we do well to remember that nestled within our quiver of weapons is the God-given gift of humor.
With these thoughts thus far in view, let us take an unusual turn…
I have been a student of Holocaust Literature for quite some time. As I have poured over the pages of those who have survived Nazi death camps, and especially the Jewish writers among such, I have thanked God for each and every soul that has emerged to share with us what in turn occurred within their souls as they endured unspeakable suffering. These were virtually tried by fire, to emerge with unspeakable depth, and corresponding depth in recognizing the fingerprints of God—in the most unlikely places, and in the most unlikely moments.
Communist Romania, and the subsequent persecution, imprisonment and torture of Jewish leader’s Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand (founders of The Voice of the Martyrs ministry); and that during an equally dark chapter within the pages of Eastern European history; were no exception to the treasure chest of souls who were so beautifully refined as they emerged from the throes of suffering, that every page of their subsequent writings drips with the unmistakable anointing and fingerprints of the Holy Spirit of God—the Ruach HaKodesh (Hebrew).
For those who have had little exposure to the Wurmbrand’s; I encourage you to secure two volumes penned by these two respectively: In God’s Underground, authored by Richard; and The Pastor’s Wife, authored by Sabina. Richard composed many volumes, however in my opinion In God’s Underground contains the highest concentration of the kingdom jewels he was given. Sabina’s book is equally rich.
One of the most prolific Jewish authors to emerge from the Holocaust is that of Elie Wiesel. Having read most of his works, I count it a supreme privilege that his volumes would grace my personal library. For those unfamiliar with Elie’s work, may I recommend you consider securing first his trilogy: Night, Dawn, Day.
Though there are many tremendous Jewish authors to have emerged to write priceless volumes; and while it is my aim to rather address a topic quite removed from the Holocaust; I will allude to but one more author.
Victor Frankyl, a psychiatrist, emerged from unspeakable suffering within the Nazi death camps, to later make a remarkable contribution to the field of psychiatry by introducing Logotherapy (I discuss Logotherapy in greater detail, in a previous article). Frankyl’s seminal work is handsomely contained in his book: Man’s Search for Meaning. In the event you are unfamiliar with his work, I strongly recommend that Man’s Search for Meaning be added to your personal library as well.
*Note: Frankyl took psychiatry to a new level, by superseding the industry’s terminal focus upon brain chemistry and its interaction with drugs, to that rather focusing upon a human grasp of meaning in life–an exercise which melds the more substantive elements of philosophy, psychology, and especially theology–meaning as reflected in the discovery of what God would have us do with our lives.
It is within the pages of Man’s Search for Meaning that we meet with Frankyl’s personal discovery of the profound place and purpose of the gift of humor—a discovery which convinced Frankyl that humor is truly God-given, and a God-given medium for survival.
I will paraphrase the excerpt in question (as I have loaned-out my last copy of this tremendous book):
“When the human being is faced with suffering, agony, hopelessness, remorse, shock and despair which seemingly defies words and expression; he does well to be reminded that when all hope is lost, the gift of humor remains at his disposal. For humor exercised, even if but for a brief moment, can elevate one just enough above one’s demise, to in turn gain a brief glimpse of hope—a glimpse of hope which will feed the soul just enough life and hope to enable it to carry on and to see the next day.”
Frankyl alludes to his discovery as he goes on to define his work in coining the concept: The Will to Meaning.
With Frankyl’s observation of humor in view, I return to my initial discussion of The Work of the Ministry. If we could see us as others see us as we carry out the work of the ministry in formal gatherings; and if those who fuel and perpetuate the worst elements of ongoing congregational politics could in turn see themselves as well; we would have ample occasion to laugh at ourselves. And it is in the spirit of laughing at ourselves that I offer you a brief reprieve from the weight and pressures of your role in leadership.
As I have long-searched for tools by which to build-up, strengthen, affirm and encourage weary leaders, I have on occasion discovered some veritable jewels. Such is the case with the 8:14-minute video-clip I have inserted at the close of this article. Within this video-clip, you will meet with an uncanny assortment of scenes which humorously depict precisely what we often witness on a given platform on Shabbat, if you represent a synagogue; or on Sunday, if you represent a congregation otherwise. You will also meet with an uncanny assortment of scenes which depict the colorful congregational politics we are graced with from week to week (or hour-to-hour for some of us). With each scene, I’m confident you will not have to ponder more than a fraction of a second, before seeing corresponding parallels to that which you witness ongoing within just about every facet of public ministry (smiling).
Before you view such however, please ponder the picture I paint with my closing thoughts.
One would have to be lost in deep denial, ignorance, delusion, or have been lobotomized, at this stage in history, to fail to recognize the signs-of-the-times as they define the unmistakable trademarks of the End-Time’s domino’s toppling in succession before our eyes. This said, and as fear and anxiety continue to mount about us, we do well to remember to laugh at ourselves regularly, and to remember also that God is in complete control—He knows the events of tomorrow—before we awaken (provided of course that we are first able to sleep).
I believe we also do well to consider a maxim that I personally coined some time ago:
“Spiritual warfare is overrated.”
I jokingly exclaimed this to myself while sitting in an exhausted heap on the floor, following one intense yet fruitful deliverance ministry session with a dear soul. I must have resembled a cartoon character of old, with stars dancing over my head, my hair frazzled, and with my clothes torn, tattered and smoking from flash-burns (smiling).
Please understand dear reader; I could never be personally and legitimately charged with underestimating the place and purpose of spiritual warfare within our daily lives. Were you to know the nature of the ministry in which I engage daily, you would fully understand why I would render such a disclaimer. Our spiritual lives, in this lifetime, do in fact reflect one massive battlefield. What I am saying therefore, within the maxim in which I have coined, is this: We must never work ourselves up and into a place of such embattled frenzy that we completely forget that within but a fraction of a second, and with but a gentle touch of one of His fingers, God can dispel every battle that we face. After all, He is known in Hebrew as “Adonai Tseva’ot”—“The Lord of Armies.”
We must therefore exercise great discernment and Spirit-sensitivity in the selection of, or the choosing of, our battles.
There are battles in our lives, often self-inflicted battles, and even battles which we were never commissioned to engage, which should be rather left to God alone. And leaving them to Him requires that we learn to rest in Him–and to more often find the occasion to laugh at ourselves–the very point of my collective musings within this article.
When we forget that God is far more omnipotent than any dust we can stir-up in His name, or any stirred-up dust that we might otherwise settle in His name, our vocation has surly become “overrated,” and we have lost sight of His majesty in all things.
The Holocaust, and Holocaust Literature is no laughing matter. It is a very sobering study and meditation. Equally, a visit to Israel’s Holocaust Museum (Yad Vashem) is very sobering, and heart-wrenching. I have taken part in 3 historic ceremonies therein, on 3 separate trips to Israel; ceremonies involving holocaust survivors. And I have counted these moments in time precious, as I was privileged to embrace each of the survivors, and bless them.
The above said, please understand that by inserting reference to the Holocaust within the context of a discussion of humor, I am in no way discounting the suffering therein, nor our supreme duty to honor the victims of such. Much rather, I have used the very words of survivors themselves, who have encouraged us to laugh at ourselves and our circumstances, as one of many means to overcome them.
And when we find occasion to weep about our own suffering, we do well to meditate upon the following excerpt of scripture, which happens to be in “the back of the Book.” And as you do so, take special note of Who has the last laugh (smiling).
“Stop weeping; behold the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome…” (Rev. 5:5, NASB)
Enjoy this video-clip: