By Joe McKeever
“Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance, and my God”
– Psalm 42:11
A smile is outward evidence that everything inside is in good shape. A smile is visible evidence of the joy of the Lord.
Anyone can smile. And everyone should. But those who put faith and trust in the Lord Jesus have more right to smile than anyone. They can number a hundred blessings in their lives as a result of the salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ: They’ve been forgiven, cleansed by the blood, and born into the family of God. They are indwelt by the Spirit, overshadowed and undergirded by Him, and surrounded by like-minded disciples. They have the Word of God, the love of God, and the power of God. And so forth.
The unsmiling Christian is a contradiction.
Why aren’t you smiling?
The Lord God is the “Help of your countenance,” according to Psalm 42:11. Whatever else that means–some translations say He is the health of my countenance; others say the salvation of it–it surely means He will make you prettier than you would be otherwise.
It’s no stretch to say that sin uglies you. Given enough time, the face will register the truth that “the way of the transgressor is hard” (Proverbs 13:15). The face keeps good records. It will not lie.
The Spirit pretties you. God’s senior saints tend to become more beautiful as they age. They have a sweet glow about them that cannot be bought in a bottle.
As a child I heard it said–and never forgot–that the devil has no sweet old people. God has a houseful of them.
“Please smile. You’ll like this better if you do.”
I sketch thousands of people every year. (See note at the end.) And there is no one on the planet whose face is not improved by a smile. That’s why, always, as the subject takes the seat in front of me, I ask them to smile.
You’d be amazed at the responses I get to that simple request.
–-“I don’t smile.” Oh my. Too bad you’re not a Christian, not forgiven of your sins, not indwelt by the loving, joyful Holy Spirit, and not going to Heaven when you die? What’s that? You say you are a Christian? That you just don’t smile?
Don’t they understand how contradictory that is?
I’ve actually had pastors tell me they never smiled. I’m merciless. I say, “Friend, you are teaching your people that the joy of the Lord is their strength? And you’re not even smiling? Something is bad wrong here!”
My diagnosis is this: When God’s people are not smiling–except during a time of great tragedy or loss; but even then, they still retain their joy in the Lord!–the only explanations for this are: a) sin in their lives or b) unbelief.
In one church where I’d spoken and now was sketching everyone at lunch, I told the pastor, “Fully one-half of your members who have sat before me tell me they do not smile. Something wrong here, friend.” He laughed it off as unimportant.
—“I am smiling.” No you’re not. You may think you are. But that smile you say you are feeling is hidden deep inside somewhere. Unlock it and let it out. We need to see it!
Since our church was telecasting its services every Sunday, once in a while I would get the tape and watch it in my office to see what kind of product we were sending out. That’s when I noticed something about myself. In my introductory welcome to the television audience, delivered in the foyer as the congregation was singing the opening hymn, I wasn’t smiling. I was saying all the right words, and I honestly thought I was smiling. It felt like I was inside. But the proof was right there before me. I looked solemn. And that’s when I learned something…
Sometimes we have to make up our mind to make ourselves smile. Even if someone would call it a fake smile (see below; there’s no such thing), it’s absolutely essential to decide to put on a smiling face if we expect to project one. They don’t occur naturally in nature. We decide to smile.
Happiness is a choice, you may have heard. So is smiling.
—“If I smile when I don’t feel like it, it’d be fake.” No, it wouldn’t. You don’t need to feel a smile. Just decide to do it. You can do this!
I’m always amazed at Christians who say that if they do not “feel like doing a certain thing,” doing it would be fake. As if it’s our feelings which give validity to our actions. As if feelings are the arbiter of all that is good. And man, who wants to go there?! Start running your life by your feelings and you are asking for more trouble than you’ve ever known in your life! So I tell them, “No! It wouldn’t be fake. It would be faith!” And we live our lives by faith, don’t we!
Feelings have no part in this. As some have said, feelings for Christians are like the caboose of a train. (Remember those?) A train will run with or without a caboose, but it would be a serious mistake to try to pull a train by the caboose. And Christians make a mistake when they try running their lives by their feelings.
Some people choose not to smile
In one church where I was sketching, a man said, “When I was 15, my grandmother told me I did not have an attractive smile. I went 20 years without smiling.” I said, “What a mean old lady! That’s a cruel thing to do to a kid.”
Children and teens do it to one another all the time. “Be sure to draw his crooked smile!” “Are you going to draw his teeth? They’re weird, don’t you think?”
But in most cases, we do it to ourselves. I cannot tell you the number of people who said, “I don’t smile because I don’t like my smile.” Or, “I don’t like my teeth.” Or, “I don’t have a pretty smile.” If I have time, I’ll tell them, “You’re not the judge of your smile. You are on the inside of it. We’re on the outside and we see your smile, and we like it a lot! Please smile.”
My college roommate had a high school teacher who refused to smile because she didn’t want the lines around her mouth. Even as a teenager, I thought, “What a price to pay for a flawless face.” The truth is–and I wouldn’t be surprised if that teacher came to realize it in time–a smiling face, even with those ‘crinkles’, is truly beautiful.
So, as an apostle for smiling (smile, please!), here is my advice on How to put a smile on your face…
One. Get saved. Get on your knees and repent of your sin and give your heart and life to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Two. Then, from that moment on, every day of your life, make the decision to obey Him no matter what your feelings are telling you.
Three. Throughout your day, make the decision down inside your heart to consciously smile. You do this by turning up your lips. You do this regardless of how you are feeling today, how much sleep you got or didn’t get the night before, how people are treating you, or a thousand other things. Just smile.
After all, as a follower of Jesus Christ, it is well with your soul. Pause now and reflect on the words to that gospel song. Claim its truth for yourself.
One final thing…
If you wonder where all of this fits you, or if it does, take this simple test: Ask your spouse, “Honey, am I a smiler?” Do not explain the question, even if asked. Just wait for the answer. In 99.99 percent of the time, the person who lives closest to you will be the best authority on that question. And the answer they give should be taken to the bank.
In addition to drawing cartoons for religious publications, I’m a sketch artist. I draw thousands of people every year. These are not caricatures, which are exaggerations, but sketches. I’m attempting to do a reasonable likeness of the person in two minutes or less.
I’m in an average of 50 churches each year in various capacities–preaching the Sunday services, doing senior adult gatherings, deacon training, banquets, etc. Wherever I go to speak, I draw. If I’m doing a Sunday morning service, in most cases during the Sunday School hour they’ll put me at a table to sketch children and teens. Often, the worship service will be followed by a luncheon at which I sketch nonstop.
In addition, I do school assemblies, classrooms, and events at the local library. This week, I’ll be drawing at an Easter Egg hunt not far from where I live. And, on top of all this, I sketch people wherever I go–restaurants, hotel breakfast rooms, stores, anywhere and everywhere. How many in a year? I probably average a hundred a week, which would be around five thousand sketches a year. And over a long lifetime–I am turning 78 this week–this would mean I’ve possibly sketched two or three hundred thousand people.
You can see why I teasingly refer to myself as an authority on smiling, or an evangelist for smiling. In banquets or school assemblies, I’ll sometimes tell lessons I’ve learned in sketching all these years. These will include: 1) There’s a beauty about every person. 2) It’s different in every person. 3) Everyone looks better smiling. 4) You can make yourself smile. 5) Everyone would change something about themselves if they could. And so forth.)
Joe McKeever is a cartoonist and retired director of missions for New Orleans Baptist Association. This editorial first appeared on joemckeever.com.