"Since you came, Mr. Murphey, our church has lost some of its dignity," Dorothy said as she served me tea from an ornate silver pot resting on a silver tray. And with the next breath she asked, "Milk or sugar, Mr. Murphey?"Cec’s words sure ring true with this pastor. I had not been more than a few months in my first church (at age 22!) when a dear old saint in the church told my wife that the difference between me and my predecessor was that he had had personality! My wife and I laugh about it now, of course, but as the years have rolled by, I have had hundreds of similar opportunities to grow in grace as a result of what Cec calls “grace builders.”
"One lump, please," and I reached for the cup.
"We had such—such quiet dignity before you came. I don't want to hurt your feelings in telling you all of this. But…"
I had been the pastor of the church less than four months before she and her two sisters invited me to tea. For the next forty minutes the three of them tried to help me see the error of my ways. They didn't seem interested that we had added new members or that attendance by members had increased. Their concern was the loss of decorum.
Dorothy smiled as she offered me a cookie from a silver plate. "And another thing…" She looked at a pad of paper on which she and her sisters had written a number of items.
As I walked out of the house, depression weighted me down. Their criticism hurt. I sat in my car for several minutes and prayed in deep anguish. By the end of the day, however, I had grasped one significant fact about those three sisters. They were God's grace builders in my life.
Since that I've realized that every church, company, and neighborhood has at least one grace builder. They serve a divine purpose: They teach us invaluable lessons about patience and longsuffering. They force us to grow spiritually. Grace builders drive us to pray more fervently and to scrutinize our motives. Maybe they do more for us than all the sweet, kind, and encouraging people we encounter.
Grace builders: I've known many of them. Like Johnny. He pats me on the back and sounds friendly. He makes everything into a joke so that means I can't get angry—not even when he insults me. Even when he ridicules me. I'm not paranoid; I don't feel persecuted. But I have enough sense to know when a person insults me even though hiding behind jokes and light-hearted humor.
For the past 25 years I've been a full-time writer and I haven't escaped those grace builders. They email to remind me that they discovered a misspelled word on page 197 of my latest book (as if I yearned to know that or could do anything about it once the book is in print). Or one woman said, "You're a decent writer, not as good as _____."
We all have our grace builders. Our occupation doesn't matter. And, as much as I hate to admit it, they make life miserable enough for us that we pray and realize how much we have to depend on God's help. They serve a practical, spiritual function.
I don't like the grace builders in my life. I try to avoid some of them as much as possible. With others, I grit my teeth and face them. When I think of the grace builders at work in my life I have several words to describe them: They're obnoxious, self-centered, opinionated, and demanding. Without them I could accomplish more, and feel better about life and—or could I?
Probably not: They serve a practical purpose: They are God's gifts to make us grow. And we all have them.
Which makes me wonder: Whose grace builder am I?
Everyone has obnoxious, self-centered, opinionated, and demanding people in our lives; pastors certainly do! But are they really “grace builders….God’s gifts to make us grow?” Is that how you look at them? If so, why? And if not, why not?