Pastor Larry Long
Years ago I attended special meetings at a church not far from where I served in South Louisiana. They were "having revival," and it was of the "laughing kind.” The guest preacher was connected to the revival that lasted several years and touched countless lives in Pensacola, Florida.
Now, I am not an especially emotional person. Being something of a natural-born cynic (an attitude I must regularly bring under the Spirit’s control), I sought an open heart and mind. I was hungry for a fresh work of the Spirit; I wanted all God had for me. I went to receive, not to critique.
The singing and worship were uplifting, and I felt a freedom I had not often experienced. But the meeting was dissatisfying overall, primarily because the preacher played fast and loose with the biblical text from which he was preaching. I felt sorry for him in a way. There was so much laughter and commotion during the message that I felt in my soul the same distraction the preacher showed on his face.
God’s word says we should do all things in a fitting and orderly way (1 Cor. 14:40), so my initial suspicion was that these disorderly goings-on were not necessarily of God. Being a student of history, however, I also knew that unusual phenomena often accompany true revival, so I didn’t quite know what to think. I certainly didn’t want to quench or grieve the Spirit in my own life, so I fought against a closed mind.
I believe “holy laughter” can be a legitimate response to the infilling work of the Spirit upon a soul open to him. 1 Peter 1:8-9 talks of believers being filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy at receiving the end result of their faith, which is the salvation of their souls. “Inexpressible joy” is almost an oxymoron. Even just common joy is of a nature to be expressed. Joy of the “inexpressible kind” is no doubt so powerful it cannot be withheld. The unspeakable joy explodes within the soul until we see it in joyful tears, or with singing and dancing and laughing. A.B. Simpson, founder of The Alliance, testified to just such an experience in his life, calling it a “baptism of holy laughter.”
I, however, was unmoved.
The morning after this meeting I rose early for prayer and made my way over to the church. I was seeking insight into how I ought to be responding to all of this. I still genuinely wanted all God had for me, but I also didn't want to pretend. During this time of spiritual communion I penned the following, which has been for me something of a "word from the Lord" in answer to my prayers for insight. I am aware, of course, that this may be nothing more than an excuse on my part. I still genuinely want all the Spirit of God has for me. But these thoughts spoke to me then and continue to speak to me now:
"Holy laughter," "tongues," being "drunk in the Spirit," "falling out . . ." When I become overly critical of what God is doing in others, even if God is not doing what they imagine or pretend him to be doing, that should be a red flag to my soul.
The very fact that I am troubled by such happenings suggests that all is not well in me. For if I am fully centered in Christ, if my relationship with him is all that it should be, then I will not be overly critical of what others are experiencing . . . doing . . . pretending . . . whatever!—because my own inner-self would be at peace, confirmed in the surety of God's love for me and my love for him.
As it is, some of the uneasiness I feel is a lot like the jealousy a young man might feel when others more handsome, more powerful, or more worthy of his girl's affections attempt to court her. If this man's relationship with his lover is what it should be, his heart will be at peace, even when her beauty attracts the glances and advances of the most virile swains. Only when all is not well do such happenings trouble him excessively.
And so the mere fact that I feel challenged and defensive about some of what is said and done in the name of revival (when the Lover of my soul moves upon the hearts and lives of others) suggests that all is not well within my own soul—that my relationship with the Lord is not as centered as it should be. By moving off-center, my relationship shifts out of balance, pulling me to its outer edge by the centrifugal force of its dynamic spin.
In the words of Evelyn Underhill: "...Fuss and feverishness, anxiety, intensity, intolerance, instability, pessimism and wobble, and every kind of hurry and worry—these, even on the highest levels, are signs of the self-made and self-acting soul; the spiritual parvenu. The saints are never like that. They share the quiet and noble qualities of the great family to which they belong."
The same is true in the reverse. Those who experience these phenomena and then look at others with a critical spirit for not following, might themselves be more distant from the center than what they suppose.
My prayer, then, is that I remain open to all Christ has for me—without pretending or allowing my enthusiasm for the things of the Lord to mislead me into believing or doing something contrary to the clear teaching of God's word. At the same time, however, I want to always be open to God to be used in ways that don't always fit my narrow and limited understanding of things divine.
God help us all to so live!