Most, if not all, of us have made excuses at various times concerning things we didn’t do right or things we didn’t do. Excuses are often people’s response to failures of some kind.

If anyone could have had an excuse for failing to succeed in life, it would be a man by the name of Charles A. Tindley. Never heard of him? Well, let me tell you his story, as told by Ruth Tucker in her book ‘Stories of Faith.’

At the age of seventeen, the only word he could read is cat. At the time of his death, he had an eight-thousand volume library and could read in Greek and Hebrew, as well as English. Unfortunately, this remarkable man has been forgotten by the history books. 

Charles A. Tindley was born a slave on a Maryland plantation. After his mother died when he was five, he was separated from his father and sold to a man who wanted to make sure his investment remained passive and hardworking. Recognizing the boy’s intelligence, he forbade him to attend church or learn to read. He did not want him to acquire any notions about racial equality. 

After winning his freedom following the Civil War, Tindley was determined to get an education. He worked long days in the fields, as he had previously, but he was a free man in the evenings. Night after night, he walked fourteen miles to classes for a basic elementary education. But Charles learned far more than any teacher could offer him. He sacrificed necessities to buy books and spent his spare time reading. His thirst for knowledge also led him to church, where his call to ministry followed soon after his conversion. On his own, he began studying for the ministerial exams to enter the Methodist ministry, and when he sat for the exam, he rated second highest in the class. 

Tindley began his ministry at a tiny black church in Cape May, New Jersey, but soon re received a call from another church – a dingy storefront mission in Philadelphia. The opportunities of a big city challenged him, and before long, his congregation purchased a building that would accommodate six hundred people. The building soon had to be enlarged, and when it no longer held the crowds, the congregation acquired a vacant church seating fifteen hundred. Over the years, the congregation continued to grow, and by 1924, it had to be enlarged to seat more than three thousand. 

Tindley was ever a humble man. Once while speaking before a large audience of ministers and educators, he opened with the prayer: ‘Father, speak through me as if I were a telephone, and when you are through hang up.’ This humble spirit was also evident in the gospel songs he wrote, which included, ‘Take Your Burden to the Lord and Leave it There.’


Charles Tindley could have had many excuses, but he certainly didn’t use one. Rather, he made the most of every opportunity. He was never able to go to school, so he learned independently by asking people to tutor him. He enlisted the help of the Philadelphia synagogue to learn Hebrew and learned Greek by taking a correspondence course through Boston Theological School. He was a humble man, and it one time was the janitor of the church where he eventually became the pastor. At one stage, to support his wife and himself, he worked as a hod carrier (a hod carrier totes supplies for builders). Once when there was nothing to eat in the house, he told his wife to set the table. ‘Why?’ she asked, knowing full well that the cupboards were bare. He insisted, and shortly there was a knock on the door. A man had bought them dinner saying that his family had cooked too much.

He was a man of faith in action, and it was not misplaced, giving him success as a minister where his pastorate grew from 130 members when he took over to a mixed-race congregation of about 10,000. He was also a songwriter.


The Bible has many stories of people and their excuses. Moses probably takes the prize for the most excuses, as recorded in Exodus 3. Following God’s call on Moses to deliver the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt, he made excuse after excuse. His first excuse, ‘Who am I?’ Then came the question of ‘Who are you, Lord? What should I tell the people is your name?’ This was followed by ‘Who is going to believe me? They will say the Lord has not appeared to you.’ Excuse four was about his lack of ability to speak, ‘I am not eloquent,’ and finally, he pleaded for God to send someone else. This kindled God’s anger towards him, and God provided Aaron, his brother, to speak on his behalf.

Excuses, excuses, excuses!

What about us today? Do we make excuses for things both big and small? Do we say:

  • We are too young.
  • We are too old.
  • I am no good at speaking.
  • I am not very talented.
  • I haven’t been to college.
  • I don’t have the financial resources I need.
  • I have a wife and family to take care of.
  • We could go on and on.

What is your excuse? If God is called you to do something, do it. Don’t make excuses. Just do it.


Last fall, I attended the funeral service of a man who had been an usher at a church which I had pastored 20 years ago. This man was not called to pastor a great church like Charles Tindley, but he was a humble, faithful servant who served God and people. Of all the ushers that I’ve had across the years, I remember him more than any other. Not only was he a friendly greeter to people when they walked in the door of the church, but he was always serving someone. I remember that after each Sunday morning service, he would go get me a cup of coffee. I never asked him to do that. He just did it.


We are at the beginning of the new year 2020. Make this a great year for God. Don’t make excuses, but rather seek the Lord and ask him to show you what you are meant to do and be in the coming year. Who knows what God may have in store for you, both big and small.

So don’t make excuses! By His grace and for His glory, just do it!


We had a lot of responses to the Christmas Eve story of Ira Sankey. If you live in the Minneapolis area his story just started on WCTS AM 1030 each morning at 10 AM as one of the ‘Stories of Great Christians,’ produced by Moody Bible Institute.