Where’s the smile on Jesus’ face?
For many centuries when artists painted Jesus’ portrait they didn’t put a smile on his face. It has been the same in sermons, books, and gospel movies. Almost always Jesus was portrayed as serious, if not somber, as he went about preaching the gospel, healing sickness, and discipling anyone who was interested. Of course, Jesus didn’t always smile, but he smiled a lot!
To see the smile of Jesus is the most important expression on his face for us to see. Sadly, few people appreciated Jesus’ smile. Fewer still understood discipleship to Jesus as a playful and joyful adventure. For centuries, no one imagined Jesus laughing — that was thought to be blasphemous! How sad it is that a veil of solemn religiosity has covered our minds so that we don’t see Jesus as he really is: free and full of life!
Do you see Jesus’ Smile?
What do you see in Jesus’ face? A blank stare? A frown? Or maybe your vision is cloudy and you’re not sure what you see? Can you see Jesus’ smile as he looks at you? A warm, welcoming, joyful smile? How about a shining face of great delight!?
Our view of God is a BIG issue! Everything about us theologically and psychologically is based on our image of God. We even misinterpret the Bible without realizing it, projecting our own concept of God into what we read. Negative images of God have led to Christianity being a dour, dutiful, or shame-based religion for many people. Following Christ is supposed to set us free from our burdens, not add to them! And yet I’ve talked to so many Christ-followers over the years who are inhibited from freely being their true selves. Many are so weighed down by their problems as to be depressed.
Years ago I personally struggled with depression — even as a dedicated follower of Christ focused on ministry to others. It may surprise you to know that many pastors struggle with depression and eventually burn out and leave the ministry. This is why bringing therapy and spiritual renewal to pastors is a special focus of our Soul Shepherding ministry.
We Long for Jesus’ Smile
It is so important that we see Jesus’ smile. We long for it. We’re desperate for it. Really, we can’t live without it.
One place I turned for help appreciating the smile of Jesus was a book from 1964 by Elton Trueblood that had a promising title, The Humor of Christ. I was so disappointed! He is a great Christian author and his book brought out many valuable insights about Jesus from the gospel accounts, but it was boring! What can we say about a book about the humor of Jesus that puts the reader to sleep?!
A Fresh Look at Jesus
That’s been the way of the church for millennia — until recently. Thank God that in our generation there are some Christ-honoring artists, preachers, writers, and movie producers who are helping us to see that the joy Jesus is not just a theological concept or a reality reserved for heaven, but it is a defining characteristic of his personality and it is meant to be part of the personality of anyone who calls Jesus his or her Lord and Savior.
I invite you to join me as we take a fresh look at Jesus in some gospel scenes. More than that, I hope you won’t just look, but that you’ll also pray with me — and enter into Jesus’ smile with me!
Dear God, show us who you truly are in the face of Jesus. Remove the veil of religiosity that has hindered us from appreciating the joyfulness of Jesus. Help us to consider your gospel anew. Show us that you are happy! You are playful! You have a sense of humor! You like to surprise people! You live with a spirit of fun and adventure!
Lord, help us see that your joyful spirit is consistent with your holiness and your earnest concern about the sin and pain that we struggle with in our world. Help us to appreciate that an essential way that you love us is to embrace us with a smile and invite us to be playful with you in our day-to-day life and work. Help us not to be so burdened down with our problems, worries, and pains that we miss the opportunity of a lifetime: in the midst of our stress we can participate with you in the grace-rhythms of your wonderful, glorious, and joy-filled kingdom that is going on all around us all the time.
We pray in Jesus’ name and with Jesus’ smile. Amen.
Picture yourself with Jesus in these Gospel Scenes
In the small groups, seminars, and retreats that we lead for pastors, lay leaders, and all kinds of servants of the Lord we facilitate personal encounters with Jesus. We have a great variety of creative spiritual formation exercises that we use to help people to connect meaningfully with Christ, listen to him, and share their hearts with God and one another.
Enthusiastically meditating on Jesus’ smile is one of the most important things that we can do! To help you smile, play, and laugh with Jesus I’d like to invite you into some of my gospel meditations on the joy of Jesus spilling out to you!
Jesus turns water into wine and he invites you to dance with him! (John 2:1-11)
Share your heart with Jesus. See his playful, winsome smile.
Living water will bubble up in you and overflow to others. (John 4:1-42)
Playfully, Jesus naps in the story to see what you’ll do.
He’s inviting you to rest in Abba’s arms with him. (Mark 4:35-41)
Fish with Jesus. Laugh with surprise at how he provides!
(Matthew 17:24-27; see also Matthew 22:15-22)
Come to Jesus like a child and join the fun! (Mark 10:13-16; see also Matthew 18:1-4)
Climb a tree to see Jesus. Jump down to follow him on a new adventure! (Luke 19:1-10)
Don’t work in your own strength—listen to Jesus say with a wink,
“Just throw your nets on the other side.” Rejoice in what he does! (John 21:1-14)
Does your God Image Need Healing?
What is your Image of God? I did my PhD dissertation on this all-important subject. “The God Image Questionnaire” is a survey to help you understand how you view God in your heart.
“Visualize yourself with Christ in Scripture” introduces you to the spiritual discipline of using your imagination to help you meditate on Gospel scenes. This includes prophetic pictures of Christ from Psalm 18.