by: Topher Wiles
The tennis director and I were lamenting the challenge that preachers can be when signing up to play in a weekend tournament after I apologized for having a funeral come up on Saturday in the middle of the tournament. She said, “That’s not a problem. Schedules I can fix. What I can’t deal with are grumpy preachers.” After asking her to elaborate, she shared that the worst challenge she ever had with a preacher in her tennis tournament. It wasn’t in last minute scheduling changes, but was his poor attitude, constant complaints, and bickering with others. She admitted that this Christian preacher whined about the awful Tennessee weather and even yelled at the director about the Tennessee temperatures!
With so much to be joyful about in the pursuit of Christ (and tennis), how can the words “grumpy” and “Christian” ever go together? Isn’t that an oxymoron like “organized chaos” and an “honest thief”? While it’s true that scripture inspires us to be joyous and sacrificial saints, we are also Christ’s perfect imperfections (another oxymoron). While we follow Him, we’re still plagued with our own sin and selfishness dubbed by Scripture as “the old self.” (Rom 6:6) In our battle against Satan and the old self, even followers of Christ can have time periods of being grumpy, irritable, and whiny. Sadly, for some who claim faith in Christ this isn’t a momentary slip, but the grumbling mentality seems to be a way of life. The God of Scripture calls us to a higher standard and dares us to accept a better way. So how do we deal with those who have fallen so far from grace and joy?
First, we need to immerse ourselves into prayer. Even spur-of-the-moment short prayers as a normally grumpy person approaches can put us in the right mindset and involve God in the conversation from the beginning. As you pray, always thank God for the person and pray a blessing for them. Jesus went so far as to instruct us to pray for our enemies. “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matt 5:44)
Second, we need to examine our own lives against scripture to see if God’s correction applies to us. God gives a stern warning through a brother of Jesus, Jude. “The Lord comes…to execute judgment…on all and to convict all the ungodly... These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage.” (excerpts from Jude 1:14-16). Then another potential brother of Jesus gets more direct, “Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold the Judge is standing at the door.” (James 5:9) Paul is even more succinct as he states, “Do not grumble as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.” (1 Cor 10:10) We have to ask the hard question of ourselves first, “Am I a grumpy Christian?” For an honest answer, ask your parents, spouse, or kids to get that no-holds-barred kind of truthful answer. Only by looking to remove the plank in our own eye can we begin helping another with the speck in theirs avoiding the risk of being a hypocrite.
Finally, our goal with a grumpy Christian needs to be the same as Paul’s. “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” (Gal 6:1) Focus on that “spirit of gentleness” as you correct them. While it may seem satisfying to give them the same sarcastic high intensity verbal lashing that they give others, tit-for-tat lessons rarely have an impact other than to make them and you even more surly. To maintain a spirit of gentleness and avoid temptation, keep calm while letting them talk. Ask questions about their feelings and emotions to get them to talk through their challenges. “I can hear that you are upset by this situation, why do you feel this way?” “Why did you choose such negative words?” “Why do you think that statement is a fair assessment?” “What are you going to do or change in your own life to make the situation better?” One stat I found claims that Jesus asked 307 questions in the gospels to help people find their way to His better path. Keeping calm while listening is a surprisingly great way to quiet the grumpy Christian while also modeling a better way. Remember, some people have been allowed to think grumbling as acceptable Christian behavior for many years; it may take a lot of time, prayers, and gentle correction to change their attitudes.
In the end, when you catch someone who normally complains in the act of speaking positively, rejoice and encourage them knowing you aren’t alone in this triumph! “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” – Luke 15:10