Wednesday

Laughing in the Darkness


If the windows had been open, the neighbors would have thought we were nuts. 

It was 4:30 in the morning, and my husband and I were laughing so hard the bed shook. He had awakened to go to the bathroom, which always wakes me up. When he climbed back into bed, he mentioned an event from the day that was still tumbling around in his brain. I commented. He responded with something silly, and before long we were laughing so hard we were snorting and wiping tears from our eyes. 

When the hilarity settled, and we snuggled back into quiet, I sighed happily. It’s been an unusually-rough month. We launched a marriage Bible study, which always seems to stir up issues in our own marriage. We’ve been extra busy with ministry, work demands, and family commitments. And, as a meteorological P.S., not one, but two hurricanes have blown through our city. We’ve frowned more than smiled, it seems, which is why the middle-of-the-night laughter was so lovely. 


“A cheerful heart is good medicine,” Proverbs 17:22 says, and it’s true. Like the first cool breeze of fall (which we finally experienced this week), it swooshes in and banishes the stifling emotional air that threatens to suffocate us. Laughter knits our hearts together like nothing else.

Professional speakers know if they can get an audience to laugh within the first two minutes, they’re engaged. When we laugh together, it forges a bond that covers a multitude of sins and makes it impossible to be angry. Or sad.


We were gathered at my mother-in-law’s house to celebrate and open presents. But we felt anything but celebratory. My brother-in-law Luther was dying of cancer, and the knowledge that this would be our last Christmas together hung like a black shroud over the gathering. Luther heroically dragged himself out of bed to sit with us around the Christmas tree to open gifts, but his presence, instead of comforting, was heartbreaking. 


Then my youngest daughter (isn’t it always the baby of the family who instinctively knows how to interject laughter into tense or sad situations?) picked up a goofy book she’d received as a White Elephant gift and began to read aloud – dramatically. “The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig.” 

The title alone made us smile, and the ensuing tale, a hilariously skewed version of the classic The Three Little Pigs story soon had us all laughing until the tears flowed. And while the laughter tears probably disguised a few sadness tears, it was a welcome release. It gave us a happy memory to treasure from that sad Christmas. 

Of all the emotions, laughter is the one with the greatest health benefits. The Mayo Clinic article, “Stress Relief from Laughter? It’s No Joke,” lists several short-term benefits, including stimulating our heart, lungs, and muscles; increasing our level of endorphins (the feel-good hormone); relieving stress; and soothing tension. 

Long-term effects include improving our immune systems, relieving pain, increasing personal satisfaction, and lessening anxiety and depression. 

For my husband and me, our middle-of-the-night laugh was a reset button to put us back on track to enjoy each other and take life a little less seriously. And this is always a good thing. 

If your life could use a laughter resent, here are a few suggestions: 

1. When things go awry, try to find the funny in the not-so-fun. Generally it’s there, somewhere, even though we may have to look hard to find it. Was it a funny expression on the woman’s face as she griped and complained? Did you see something happening on the fringes that contrasted with the drama of the moment? Capture that and allow the humor to do its work. 

2. Seek out funny people. Think a moment. Who do you enjoy being around because they always make you laugh? Why not invite them over for dinner or out for dessert? Surrounding yourself with Happy Harrys instead of Debbie Downers could make all the difference. Because moods are as contagious as chicken pox in a room full of toddlers, it pays to choose our companions carefully. 

3. Watch (clean) funny television shows and movies. I admit, it’s hard to find wholesome humor that doesn’t create laughter at others’ expense, but it’s out there. My husband’s favorite source of clean television is the MeTV channel that broadcasts oldies but goodies like The Andy Griffith Show and The Beverly Hillbillies. 

4. Seek humor and share it. Even if a not-so-great joke elicits more groans than guffaws, it still might spark a smile. Check out https://www.ajokeaday.com/ for a good source for clean jokes. A free subscription will get you a daily email containing the Joke of the Day. And don’t laugh alone – share it with someone else who looks like they could benefit from a chuckle. 

I’m so glad God created us with the capacity to enjoy and share laughter. It’s one of the funnest parts of being human. And since we’re created in God’s image, I suspect he enjoys laughter as much or more than we do. So the next time you throw your head back for a great, big, belly laugh, imagine the Lord laughing with you – because he probably is. 

Now, to get you started, here’s one of my favorite funnies, courtesy of A Joke a Day

It’s a Miracle! 

The devout cowboy lost his favorite Bible while he was mending fences out on the range. Three weeks later, a sheep walked up to him carrying the Bible in its mouth. 

The cowboy couldn't believe his eyes. He took the precious book out of the sheep's mouth, raised his eyes heavenward and exclaimed, "It's a miracle!" 

"Not really," said the sheep. "Your name is written inside the cover." 

Now it’s your turn to join the fun. In the comment section below, share a favorite joke or funny experience. I promise to laugh (as long as it’s clean). If you’re reading by email, CLICK HERE to visit Hungry for God online and leave a comment. 

Blessings and laughter to you today!



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Sunday

If You're Living Under the Tyranny of Unforgiveness

“I’ll never forgive you as long as I live!”

A “friend’s” adolescent betrayal, probably having something to do with a boy, incited me to spew these venomous words. She had wronged me, and I was livid. I determined never to forget what she had done. 

And forgive her? No way. I vowed to keep my anger alive, rehearsing the wrong over and over in my mind until it simmered like soup in a crock pot. Occasionally I’d crack the lid, and burning steam would leak out, injuring me and everyone nearby. To forgive would be to deny the offense had happened and negate my right to be offended. 

Many years have passed since that turbulent time, and I’ve learned much about anger and forgiveness. I’ve been the one who was wronged, and I’ve wronged others. 

One night recently I had the pleasure of tucking my granddaughters into bed and telling them a Bible story. I chose the most dramatic one I could think of – the story of Jonah. When my telling was complete, probably as a tactic to delay bedtime just a little longer, five year old Lauren offered to tell me a Bible story. 

“Once upon a time . . .” she said. ”No, I can’t say ‘once upon a time,’ because this is a real story . . . .” She looked to me for help. 

“How about ‘One day . . . ‘?” I suggested. 

“Yes,” she nodded. “One day, some bad men arrested Jesus. They took a crown made of HUGE thorns and smashed it on his head until he bleeded. And then they beat him . . . even though he never did anything wrong.” 

“Yeah,” her three year old sister chimed in, “Jesus never did anything wrong.” 

“And he died,” Lauren continued. “They put him in a cave . . .” she paused, searching for the unfamiliar word “. . . a tomb. But THEN, on Eachter Sunday, he came alive again!” 

I thanked her for her story, kissed them goodnight, and turned out the light. They were asleep in an instant, but I stayed awake for hours pondering their words. 

“Jesus never did anything wrong.” 

The knowledge that I’d often sinned against others was what finally led me to forgive my friend those many years ago. I’d let them down. Betrayed their trust. Broken my promises. An awareness of my own sinfulness allowed me to extend grace and forgiveness to her. I certainly couldn’t hold her to a standard I hadn’t kept myself. 

But Jesus. 

Jesus, who never did anything wrong, whose only crime was loving a messed up, sinful world, has every right to hold our sins against us. 

Yet he forgives. And forgives. And forgives. 

“’Return,’” he pleads in Jeremiah 3:12-13. “’I will not cause My anger to fall on you. For I am merciful. I will not remain angry forever. Only acknowledge your iniquity. That you have transgressed against the Lord your God.” 

“Only acknowledge your iniquity . . .” 

All God requires to extend forgiveness to his children is a simple, repentant confession. He’s justified in holding our sins against us, yet he doesn’t. If we’ve come to him once for salvation, Jesus’ death on the cross has already paid the penalty for our wrongs – once and for all. Now when we sin, all he requires to restore our fellowship with him is simple confession and repentance. 

“Just say you’re sorry,” he says. “I can’t wait to forgive you.” 

Unlike my adolescent self who vowed never to forgive, Jesus wipes our slates clean immediately. 

What a gift. 

If you’ve ever lived under the tyranny of unforgiveness, either in your own heart or in someone else’s, revel in this truth for a moment. God, who has every right to hold our sins against us, doesn’t. 

“I’m sorry, Lord.” 

“I forgive you.” 

It’s that simple. 

Think on this today.


Now it's your turn. Is there something you need to ask God to forgive you for? Don't wait another minute. Talk to him right now and experience the glorious freedom that comes from being forgiven.



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Wednesday

Overheard on a Plane

I was thankful he wasn’t six feet tall—or weighed 300 pounds, this man who shared the too-small pair of seats with me on my flight to Washington. 

But he was of average height and build, fitting adequately into his allotted 18-inch spot. Already conscious of personal space, I tucked myself tightly into mine, leaning hard against the window and wondering aloud how taller-than-average travelers manage to fly comfortably. We made awkward but polite conversation as the plane taxied to the runway. 

He was headed to New York via D.C. to visit his son, and I was spending the weekend with my daughter. My radar went up when he mentioned New York, and for a while we talked Yankee, lamenting about how hard it is to find good pizza, Philly steak and cheese, and Italian bread. 

“What do you do?” I asked him. 

“I was trained as a musician,” he said, “but I realized early on that I’d never be good enough to make a living, so I sell insurance. How about you?” 

“I edit a Christian magazine,” I answered. 

It was odd, really, for someone who values eye contact, but the respect for personal space required me to talk to him while staring at the back of the seat in front of me. 

“I was raised a Roman Catholic,” he said. 

“Me, too,” I replied with a smile, “like all good Yankees.” 

“I never really thought about it much until my father was dying,” he said contemplatively. “My family was all there in the hospital, and I was doing okay for a while. Then a . . .” he paused as he searched for the unfamiliar term, “. . . chaplain came by. He asked me if there was anything he could do for us, and I just lost it. . . .” His voice trailed away, remembering. “We talked for about two hours in a room down the hall. It helped a lot.” 

“Losing someone you care about gives you a different perspective,” I agreed. “My husband and I lost two sisters and a brother in 2010, and it was really hard.” 

“Makes you wonder why stuff like that happens,” he said. 

“I’ve been a Christian for over 30 years,” I said, “and I’ve noticed that the hardest experiences are the ones that teach me the most—usually how much I need God. And I almost always learn something that I can use to help someone else. The Bible talks about that, that we can comfort others with the comfort we’ve received. When that happens,” I paused, “it makes me feel like maybe I haven’t wasted the pain.” 

The flight attendant came around with coffee and Cokes, and we fell silent, lost in our thoughts, until the Fasten Seat Belts sign came on. The reminder to return our seat backs “to their full, upright position” confirmed that we were preparing to land. 

“I enjoyed talking to you,” he said as he gathered his bag and coat. “Usually it’s, well, you know. . .” 

“Enjoy your time with your son,” I smiled in return. 

Later, waiting on the tarmac to retrieve my suitcase, a woman with a gentle smile stood nearby. 

“Were you sitting in 10D?” she asked. 

“Yes,” I answered, expecting her to tell me I’d left something behind. 

“I was in the row in front of you,” she said, “and I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed listening to your conversation. It was refreshing.” She smiled again and was gone. 

“Be ready always to give a reason for the hope that is within you,” the Lord through Peter says, “but with gentleness and respect.” 

I wonder: What if, instead of rushing through our lives, we asked the Lord to show us each day who needs a word of encouragement, hope, or truth? We might be surprised at what we see.



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Sunday

How to Be Angry and Sin Not

It’s midnight Saturday night, and the music is blaring from our next-door neighbor’s house. In my husband’s BC (Before Christ) days, this would have been an invitation to a great evening, but now it’s just annoying. And frustrating. And about to make him angry. 

Unlike our partying neighbors, we plan to attend church in the morning. My husband, the pastor, doesn’t have the option to sit on the back pew and take a nap. He’s got to preach. And to be ready to preach, he’s got to get a good night’s sleep. But with the ground-pounding, window-rattling noise, sleep is impossible. 

We lie there, and I feel his body tensing in frustration. He tosses one way, then the other, mashing the pillow against the side of his head in an attempt to block out the noise. I grab the portable fan from the kitchen and turn it on high, hoping to drown the waves of music in a sea of white noise. It does little to muffle the pounding beat. 

His frustration, combined with anger and fatigue, finally does him in. He leaps from bed, storms out the door, and confronts our neighbor. 

It isn’t pretty. 

Or polite. Or God-honoring. My husband’s angry reaction was something he regretted later, when morning dawned, and he wasn’t so tired. He’s conscious of the fact that our neighbors don’t yet know the Lord, and he wants to be a good witness. Clashes like this hinder his attempts to develop a relationship with them, and, one day, share the Gospel. 

Anger, especially righteous anger, is a powerful thing. Our neighbors were unnecessarily loud and inconsiderate, and my husband’s complaint was justified. But even he, in the light of day, acknowledged that responding in anger wasn’t the best way to handle the situation. 

“Be angry and do not sin,” Psalm 4 warns us. James 1:20 tells us why: “for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” 

Thankfully, in addition to a warning, the fourth Psalm gives us guidance for how to deal with anger in a God-honoring way: 


“Be angry, and do not sin. 
Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still. 
Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, 
And put your trust in the Lord” (v 4-5). 

Several months after this incident, my husband had an opportunity to put these instructions into practice. 

It was 3 a.m., and we were startled awake by a car alarm sounding under our bedroom window. Peeking through the blinds to make sure no one was stealing our neighbor’s car, I saw his adult daughter drive off. “Must have hit the alarm by accident.” 

At least five times a day thereafter, our neighbor’s car alarm would sound. Four ear-splitting honks. It happened in the daytime, and it happened at night. One night it awakened us at 11 p.m., the next night at midnight. 

“I know what we’re going to,” my husband said one morning at breakfast. 

 “What?” 

“Bring ‘em a pound cake.”

“What?” 

“A pound cake. Getting angry doesn’t help, so let’s try a different approach. Let’s bake ‘em a pound cake.” 

So I did. And he took it over. And he didn’t say a word about the car horn. 

The next day, when the clock radio went off at 4:45, he said, “I’ve been awake since three, when the car alarm went off. I’m going to have to say something to them.” 

Uh oh, I thought. He left for work, and I prayed. Lord, you tell us not to sin in our anger. Please help David express his frustration without getting angry. Please help them have a conversation that glorifies you. 

Later that day, he told me what happened. 

“I was polite. I just told him how disturbing the alarm was and asked him what was going on. His daughter bought the car used, and it didn’t come with a key fob. Every time she unlocks the door, the horn starts blaring until she puts the key in the ignition. She’s about to pull her hair out. It’s embarrassing. Anyway, they’ve ordered a fob and hopefully it’ll be in soon. He apologized for the noise.” 

Success—and such a different outcome. 


Here are the four steps to take, according to Psalm 4, when we become angry: 

1. Acknowledge our anger, but do not sin. 

2. Meditate on God’s Word. Ask him to remind us of Scripture that applies to the situation. 

3. Respond with righteous acts instead of sinful ones. 

4. Trust God to either bring about a resolution or give us the grace to bear it. 

Our noisy neighbor situation is mild compared to some issues. Pound cake and a peaceful conversation might not defuse more complicated clashes, but, big or small, we can apply the steps laid out for us in Psalm 4 and trust God to work. His Word is trustworthy, wise, and given for our instruction. We do well to apply it. 

Now it’s your turn. Have you ever chosen to honor God in a situation, even though your emotions wanted to strike out in anger? What was the result? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your story.



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Wednesday

Do You Feel Powerless to Influence Your Children?


It wasn’t until my daughters were graduated and out of the house that I truly understood the power of prayer. 

In the days leading up to their moves, I was overwhelmed by the knowledge that I could no longer be a daily influence in their lives. How am I going to take care of them? I wondered. How can I continue to influence them when they’re so far away? 

I felt powerless and afraid. Who’s going to stay awake to be sure they get home safely? What happens if they get sick? And the worse fear of all, what if they stop attending church and stray from the faith? These looming dangers easily eclipsed the more minor issues I had worried about when they were children. 

More importantly, they revealed the lie I had believed—that my children were safe as long as I was nearby. And that I had the power to protect them from harm, bad influences, and spiritual apostasy. Without intending to, I had usurped God’s role, at least in my own mind, as their guardian and protector. 

When they moved away, I came face to face with my own impotence. Simultaneously, I rediscovered the greatest power in the world—prayer. 

Stormie Omartian, author of The Power of Praying for Your Adult Children, says: “. . . when we take our concerns to the Lord—trusting that God hears our prayers and answers them on behalf of our adult children—it means our prayers have power to affect change in their lives. And that gives us a peace we can find no other way.” 

While I already had an established prayer routine, something shifted significantly in my heart. Prior to their leaving, I’d stick prayer on my conscientious parenting efforts like a bow on a Christmas box. Now the Lord was showing me that the majority of my efforts needed to move away from physically and emotionally parenting my children and toward spiritually influencing my children through diligent prayer. 

He helped me realize that while I couldn't be everywhere my children were, God could. And he cared for them even more than I did. 

Some parents of adult children have the added burden of a strained or hostile relationship with their children. They feel doubly impotent and frustrated. 

J. Sidlow Baxter spoke to this when he shared how prayer is the stealth weapon able to penetrate even the thickest defenses. "People may resist our advice, spurn our appeals, reject our suggestions, and not accept our help,” he said, “but they are powerless against our prayers." 


Pastor John Piper has often shared how he prays consistent, focused prayers on behalf of his sons. He transcribed one of his prayers in his book Taste and See: “Even in their sleep, Lord, turn their hearts to you.” 

I love this picture—that God can and does work in the hearts of our children, even while they sleep. His influence is not limited by time, space, or daylight hours. His heart desires to draw them into a rich, full relationship with himself and those around them. 

Are your children far away—relationally, physically, or spiritually? Take heart. You are not powerless. You have the greatest weapon in the world available to you. Through prayer, you can continue to affect your children for good no matter where are. 

“The prayer of a righteous (wo)man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). 


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