The first time my home pastor invited me to preach was in 1989, and I was 18 years old. Man, I was fired up and ready to roll. He set it up for a Sunday night, which ultimately proved to be a smart move. See, in the Baptist world, most of the Sunday night church crowd is made up of Grandaddys, MeeMaws, and an occasional truck driver that is passing through town. I guess my pastor figured that the crowd was mostly saved and pretty patient, so it would be pretty tough for me, as a rookie, to cause too much damage!
I studied and practiced my sermon that week. Mom starched and ironed my church shirt. Dad helped me polish and shine my church shoes. I figured I looked about as good as Billy Graham in his younger years, and I hoped I could preach at least half as good as him.
Sunday night arrived. The church was Grace Baptist in Sumter, South Carolina. About 75 people were in the pews. My pastor called me up to the pulpit. Then, it happened. I panicked. My heart raced. I forgot to breathe. And I preached my planned 25 minute sermon in 7 1/2 minutes. Then, to top it all off, I didn't know how to end my sermon, so I said, "Well, that's about all I got for tonight. So ... thanks." I walked back to my seat. Silence filled the room. Nobody said a word. I think maybe a cricked chirped and a baby squeeled.
I wanted to crawl under a pew and fall through a trap door. Humiliated is how I felt. Heck, Billy Graham could preach ten times better than that on his worst day, even with his KJV tied behind his back. I blew it, and I knew it.
But I'll never forget what happened next. Gary Parker, my pastor, stood up and faced the congregation. Then he said, "You know, church, sometimes you don't have to say a lot to say a lot. So David, we thank you." Then everyone clapped and gave a hearty "Amen!" The Baptists were happy. My pastor nodded at me with approval. And Mom shed a tear as she smiled. Everyone was so kind and positive towards me as they spoke on their way out the door. I knew they secretly were thrilled to finally beat the Methodists to Baskin Robbins on a Sunday night after church. But they were also intentionally encouraging a kid who was a little embarrassed after his failed attempt at preaching excellence.
You know, I'll never forget how those people lifted my spirits that night. It blessed my soul. And it made me more willing to try it again in the near future.
Folks, never underestimate the power of encouragement. Be positive with others, as much as you can. Look for the good in them and applaud it with gusto. Let them know what you like about them. When you do that, you'll bless them in ways that you may never realize this side of Heaven. Then you'll inspire them to use their God-given talent and follow their God-directed calling.
Yep, I was a 7 1/2 minute preacher that night. But I got over that pretty quickly after receiving all their encouragement. And I walked out that church building under the Carolina stars thinking, "I know I'm not Billy Graham, but I'm ok with being myself." Thanks to that Sunday night group of encourages, I was ok with that.