by Jack Williams

A pastor asked me to preach for him last Sunday.  Said he needed to talk about something important and wanted me to stay after church.  I met “Ralph” and the missus in his study.  As we shook and howdied, I said, “Thank the Lord for such a beautiful Sunday morning.”

Ralph replied, “Jack, I got nothing to be thankful for.  My church is filled with critics and grumps.  I feel like a failure.  My sermons are bad.”  The three of us missed Sunday School.  When men like Ralph have nothing for which to be thankful, they need a friend to listen, encouragement and a different point of view.

Critics. Let’s not be too hard on our critics.  After all, they remind us that not everybody sees things the same way we do.  Some criticize us for our own good.    Consider them the loyal opposition; they are constructive critics.

Others expect the worst and are surprised when it doesn’t happen.  They don’t like us, don’t trust us and secretly hope we fail.  These mean-spirited souls are suspicious of everybody; we call them destructive critics.  They’ve given up on people and revel in the mistakes of others.

But I’m thankful for critics.  They push us higher.  Critics don’t like to be criticized, but that’s a story for another day.

Grumps. Yep, I’m thankful for grumps, even though they’re kissin’ kin to critics.  Grumps get irritated if you aren’t miserable too.   They resent it when you smile on a rainy day.   They grind their teeth if you see rainbows and promises instead of mud and inconvenience.  They’re not going anywhere and they paint their windows black to keep out light and laughter.

Grumps could be nice company if they had a sense of humor.  Left to their own devices, they veer off into the ditch of criticism and throw harsh words at passersby who disagree with them.  Grumps enjoy rocks in their shoes and a hole in the roof, because it verifies that life is unfair.

Some of my favorite people are moderate grumps.  I’ve noticed that the plan of God usually includes one thorough-going grump per church.

Failures. I’m thankful for failures because we’ve all failed at something.  Those of us whose best golf move is wrapping a nine iron around a pine sapling provide examples for others who are not golf-challenged.

There’s a humility about failure.  Nobody who has failed has any illusions about himself.  We understand that sometimes we fail because we didn’t study or overestimated our driving skill or spoke out when we should have listened.

The brotherhood of failure has this in common with the successes in life.  Every success was at one time a failure like us…a failure who tried again, who rewrote that paper, who changed a habit, who learned to take advice, who came to work earlier, who went back to school, who got up off the ground one more time.

Bad Sermons. Strange as it may seem, I’m thankful for bad sermons.  There are two kinds of bad sermons—somebody else’s and yours.  I’ve heard some awful sermons and preached worse.  Both experiences left me with the certain knowledge that there is a better way.

Bad sermons encouraged me to take notes while listening to them.  I discovered that most “bad” sermons weren’t that bad.  Their delivery suffered because of nervous speakers or unrealistic expectations from hearers who demanded that every preacher thunder like Billy Sunday.  Of course, some sermons are simply awful and only cease getting worse when the speaker stops.  One of mine was so bad I hid behind the church until everybody left.

The solution?  I learned to avoid certain subjects because I mangle them.  I also learned to preach shorter.  I’m amazed at how fewer bad sermons I preach when speaking 20 minutes instead of 40.  I shall not mention those 60-minute disasters when grown men  waved watches above their heads.

Don’t be alarmed at my “thankful” list.  Paul gave the Ephesians an unexpected principle, “Giving thanks always for all things…” (Eph. 5:20).  There’s usually something in every event for which we can be thankful—patience learned when that tire exploded, faith we were forced to exercise in the hospital waiting room, new skills developed when the company downsized.

Jesus gave thanks the night before His crucifixion (Matt. 26: 27-28).  His thankfulness was not for the pain He would suffer, but for what His death would mean to lost humanity—the remission of sins.  That’s why we thank God for the day the Perfect Man died.

Paul and Silas were beaten and jailed by city leaders in Philippi (Acts 16).  When Paul wrote the Philippian epistle, he began with the words, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you” (Phil. 1:3).  That’s because the story at Philippi didn’t end with a beating.  Paul was thankful for the miracle that changed everything in the last half of the chapter (Acts 16: 25-40).

For all the Ralphs struggling with harsh words, your story doesn’t end with the critics, the grumps or the failures.  The chapter continues; you can expect some doors to open.  There is a God who hears in the darkness and who can with one swift move turn bitterness to joy.  You do have something for which to be thankful.