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Inspire - Posted October 27, 2017 10:43 a.m.
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How to Transform Every Day Life

No matter how hard I try, some days it feels as though all the other humans in this world hate me. I drive the speed limit; people honk at me. I tell my kid he can’t have candy; the stranger behind me in line at the gas station gives me parenting advice. I ask for no tomatoes on my burger; tomatoes only (and I'm 78 percent sure that the waiter spit on my re-made burger). I take my normally calm and well-mannered child to the grocery store; 200 decibel, floor flailing melt-down. Ugh. Do you ever feel this way? If so, I may be able to help.

The year was 2001. I found myself sitting on the front row of a little church in a little village in the middle of nowhere in Kenya, Africa. I was miles from electricity, running water, and Dr. Pepper. The “church” was a small building crafted from sticks and mud. Outside, a decent-size group of people had formed to try to listen through the glass-less windows. Inside, the place was packed. Most of the congregation was standing because there was not enough sitting room.

The church service was uncomfortable for me for a lot of reasons. Don’t get me wrong; the people there were wonderful. However, I didn’t know any of the songs, and I didn’t understand most of what the other church-goers were saying. Also, it smelled. Bad. Then, 45 minutes into the church service, my guide/interpreter gently elbowed me in the side.

“Hey Josh, you’re up.”

“Uh … I’m up? For what?”

“You’re preaching. Get up there.”

“What? OK...”

Apparently, when visiting a remote village in Africa, it is customary for the guest to preach to the congregation. This would’ve been useful information to have prior to the service. Seeing no other option, I walked apprehensively up to the front.

Having not the slightest clue what I was going to say, I opened my Bible and began reading. Frankly, I don’t remember the verses I read. I do remember that I initially avoided eye-contact with the congregation for two reasons. No. 1: I was nervous. No. 2: Many (if not most) of the women were topless. National Geographic-like topless. As you might imagine, this was a wee bit distracting. So I kept my nose planted in my Bible and read for about 20 seconds. Then, I paused to give my interpreter time to interpret. Before the interpreter had a chance, I heard a deeply loud voice shouting from the congregation “BWANA ASIFIWE!” (That’s Swahili for “Praise the Lord!”)

Whoa. The booming voice startled me a bit. I looked behind me. Perhaps Jesus had returned and I was missing it. Nope. No Jesus. So, I looked back out at the congregation. Every person in the room (both topless and clothed) was smiling at me with gigantic grins. What on earth had all of these scantily clad people so excited? Then it dawned on me. These people – every one of them – were excited about me. They were so genuinely excited to hear a random American guest speak that they couldn’t contain it. So, I kept reading to them. Then, I talked a bit. About every 30 seconds or so, I was interrupted by clapping and/or shouts of “BWANA ASIFIWE!” or “ASANTE YESU!” (Thank you, Jesus!). I got more animated. My timid voice got louder. I came out of my shell. I made eye-to-eye contact and avoided eye-to-boob contact. It was awesome.

I don’t remember everything I said that day, but I do remember this: my sermon was bad. It wasn’t that it was theologically bad; it was bore-you-to-sleep bad. I’m not just saying that to be modest. It was dull as bricks. Yet, it was the most fun I’ve ever had preaching a sermon. I was energized because the congregation was excited. Their excitement was contagious.

So what in the heck does this have to do with turning around a bad day? What's the moral of the story?
We have all sat through bad speakers, preachers or presenters. Sometimes, a speaker needs a bit of help getting out of his or her shell. Sometimes, the energy of a speech comes more from the audience than from the speaker. As a speaker, it's really helpful to me when audience members liven things up a bit by making positive observations, clapping, or saying, “Amen!” It’s amazing how a few small comments can transform
a boring speech into an energizing interaction for everyone.

The bigger picture: Every day, life tosses people into our paths who irritate, annoy, bore, pester, or otherwise suck the energy out of us. If you’re a parent, occasionally these people are tiny, look a lot like you, and tend to showcase your greatest flaws in the middle of the produce section at the grocery store. Sometimes you need to be reminded that the world doesn't hate you. The tomatoes on the burger are not part of someone’s evil plot to destroy you. The patrons of the grocery store are not there solely to judge you. Sometimes it just takes a single person’s encouragement to help you to laugh at the little things and let go of the negative. And sometimes it takes you encouraging others to realize that those little things are just that, little things. You can be the one uplifting voice that turns someone else's day around. In doing so, odds are, your day will be better, too.

by Josh Wood

Josh, a native Amarilloan, is a local author, blogger and managing partner at Wood Financial. He and his wife, Careese, are the proud parents of seven kids and active in their local congregation, Paramount Baptist Church.
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