At last we pulled into the bed and breakfast where we would spend our first night in the wonderful countryside of south central England. After ten hours flying and a few more getting used to driving on the left side of the road, it was comforting to know we’d arrived safely at our destination. Pulling into the minuscule parking area in front of this delightful cottage, I jumped out of the van and rang the doorbell. Yes, this was the right place, and they were very glad to see us.
But not everyone. It seems that while I was chatting with the owner, her neighbor was instructing my wife and in-laws that our van was parked in his space. Returning to the vehicle, I learned that I had apparently encroached on this man’s driveway. Not wanting to offend him further, I hastily moved our van to the correct location. Later, as we headed off to a sight-seeing tour of Bourton, I had to back over his space in order to pull out onto the roadway. As I did, I noticed him leaning out of his door, so I waved a friendly ‘how do you do’. He looked at me in disgust and shook his head. Fortunately I could not read his lips as he slipped back into his domicile.
My first thought was "what a curmudgeon!" A word that had not crossed my mind in years, it seemed fitting for the occasion. The term is used in English literature and carries the idea of a crusty, irascible cantankerous old person full of stubborn ideas. Here we were, off on a joyous holiday adventure and this spoilsport is getting cranked that we inadvertently parked on his drive.
I wondered to myself, "What in his life made him so particular about the gravel in front of his home? Was he just tired of his next-door neighbor’s patrons cluttering up his view?" In only a few minutes the Spirit had spoken quietly to me about my own struggles with "curmudgeonry." He reminded me that there are times when I find myself quite sensitive to the invasion of others into my life. As a former local church pastor and now long-time Talbot professor, I have sometimes reacted as this man did, shaking my head and being perturbed by the needs and actions of others – not reflecting the grace and kindness of our Lord Jesus.
So I began to itemize what makes me like this sometimes. Here are three prevalent reasons I’ve uncovered so far:
Our life in Christ is often pictured in scripture as an athletic contest. So being tired should not be unexpected as one of his servants. We see a lot of exertion and exhaustion in most sports and think nothing of it. "Tired" goes with the territory. The problem many ministers face is not so much the rigor of ministry as their inability to take time for rest and refreshment. Lots of reasons are given for this ceaseless activity: ‘people need me, they expect me to be available, there’s no one else who can or will do what needs to be done..."
Though more relaxed by nature than some, I’ve had to wrestle with the tendency to resist taking breaks. I love ministry (most of the time) and have come to realize that anger is a reliable barometer indicating I’ve pressed too hard for too long. When I sense a growing impatience with people, myself and situations, it’s time to consider a plan for rest. After all, this is a marathon you and I are running, not a sprint.
It is also noteworthy that the apostle Paul found it necessary to remind his dearly loved disciples about the basics of the faith and other matters of Christian living (Phil. 3:1ff). His letters are replete with encouragements to remember that we are servants, and that our purpose is to reflect Christ’s love and kindness, reveal His salvation, and consider the things of the world not worthy of our passion. The relentless and unavoidable noise from the world tries to convince us of much that is contrary to the word of the Lord. The Philippian Christians were surrounded by the pressures and influences of Greco-Roman values and the unsound teachings of the Judaizers. As an attentive spiritual father, Paul pointed them to Jesus, His saving work and selfless example (Phil. 2).
Personally, I notice lapses in my memory when I neglect a regular time of bible reading and study. Teaching an adult fellowship class at our church has helped me keep my nose in the text, reminding me of my secure position in Christ and awesome privilege of being an ambassador and servant for His glory.
One of the blessings of being my age is having come to see more clearly how God has made and gifted me for particular kinds of service. You don’t have to be this old to know such things, but years of service and experiencing Christ have nurtured a settled sense of what I should be doing as a minister of the gospel. I understand better the settings in which service can be most effectively conducted, and the places God has given me to serve.
A close mentor told me some years ago that he considered my ministry here at Talbot a great fit for me. The only time I get frustrated is when I’m called to serve in areas where I’m not gifted or motivated. Less fulfilling work is ours no matter what the setting, to be sure. But if we are regularly laboring in an area not suited for us I think we stand a better chance of getting cranky and becoming less of a blessing to others.
There is another kind of frustration that can affect us, and with this I close. It is the kind that comes when we are not walking closely with the Lord. Dysfunctional relationships cause all kinds of trouble. We must not fall victim to being on the ‘outs’ with our heavenly Father. Without exception, I can trace bad attitudes on my part to a lagging behind in my walk with God. It’s my problem, of course, but He is loving and patient, always there to listen and let me catch up to His wonderful presence.
Are you acting like a curmudgeon today? Perhaps a bit of introspection will help. Don’t let another day go by without honestly assessing your life in light of these three issues. None of us wants to be the crusty, irascible cantankerous old (or young) person who lives next door. Our calling is to “Do all things without grumbling or disputing; that you may prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world…” (Phil. 2:14, 15).