As I reflected on John’s sermon about “kindness” as one of “The Dailies”, and reflected on acts of kindness that have come my way, one story in particular stuck out to me. Unfortunately, it doesn’t paint me in a very good light, but it is beautiful.
During my teen years, I was living in a great deal of emotional pain. My mother had died a few years before. My dad had remarried a widow with four children of her own, all in the same age range as my siblings and me, and life was chaotic for a few years. I can not remember what prompted my outburst, but one afternoon I had a melt down directed toward my dad. I yelled, I said ugly things, and at one point, my grand finale moment, was that I did not want to live with them anymore. I wanted to live in foster care. Then I stormed out of his room and went downstairs. He came down after a few minutes and told me to get my sweater. My heart began to beat a little faster, afraid that he really might be wanting to take me to live elsewhere, but in my pride, I did not apologize or let on that I was nervous. We got in the car and he took me to play miniature golf and then took me to Dairy Queen. He told me that he knew I was hurting, that he loved me deeply and that nothing would ever change that. I deserved punishment. I received kindness. Kindness that didn’t make sense. Kindness that softened my heart and brought a piece of healing to my chaotic, painful life. It was more than an act of kindness. It was a heart of kindness overflowing with love for me. It is one of my most cherished memories.
In 1965, Dionne Warwick recorded the song, “What the World Needs Now”; the chorus goes like this:
What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of. What the world needs now is love, sweet love. No, not just for some, but for everyone.
How true those lyrics still are today, and God’s delivery system plan for that love is us. We, the followers of Christ will take it to the world. It’s why we’re here. What will it look like? It will look like kindness. Kindness is how love behaves.
Ephesians 2:6-7 tells us that “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”
Jesus Christ is God’s expression of kindness to us. Have you experienced his kindness in Christ? Have you experienced the kindness of his forgiveness? Have you experienced the kindness of his presence? Have you experienced the kindness of his love? Have you experienced the kindness of his transforming power in your life?
The world has a very skewed perspective of God. However, as John said in his sermon, the world defines God by what they see in us. I have a much clearer picture of God’s grace, kindness and unconditional love because of my dad’s response to my outburst. The opposite is also true; when the world thinks that God is mean, distant, angry–they get that impression from his followers. They define God by what they see in us. That hurts my heart.
Without a doubt, kindness is an action, but it goes beyond just being nice. True kindness is a fruit of the Spirit. (Gal 5:22) Paul tells us in Colossians 3:12 “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. ” The only way we can clothe ourselves like that is to allow ourselves to be filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit, which means we must crucify our flesh and follow His lead in our lives. Can you imagine how different the world would be if Jesus’ followers really lived this way–If what spilled out of us was compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, love, joy peace?
Currently, a Google search of the phrase “why are Christians so…” brings up words like miserable, judgemental, intolerant, mean…Can you imagine if a Google search brought up words like kind, compassionate, loving, gentle?
And, this kindness…it’s for everyone. Not just the people we like. Not just for the people whose favor we may be trying to earn. Not just for people who are nice to us, or kind to us in return. No–this is a Holy Spirit type of kindness. This is the type of kindness that is expressed when Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. (Mt. 5:44). This type of kindness is impossible apart from the Holy Spirit. But if the world is going to change, if Jesus’ prayer for God’s kingdom to come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven, is going to happen, it is imperative that his followers take–with thanksgiving–the love we have received from God in Christ–so costly, so undeserved, and so life changing–and pass it on to others. This is the kingdom coming on earth. Nothing that we receive from God is for us to horde. It is all to be given away. And what could be more beautiful and world changing than giving away love through kindness every single day–Kindness as a lifestyle, a heart overflow because our hearts are full of the love of God.
Kindness is how love behaves when it displays what Christ has done in us. What has he done in you? Are you willing to pass it on?
Luanne’s last paragraph is short, but powerful. It connects with what has been stirring in my heart since I listened to John’s sermon. She wrote:
“Kindness is how love behaves when it displays what Christ has done in us. What has he done in you? Are you willing to pass it on?”
Willingness, it’s a tricky thing… God has been using the word “willing” in my life very intentionally over the past couple of years. I say that it’s tricky because there’s more to willingness than we initially realize. The first definition for the word willing is this:
“inclined or favorably disposed in mind”
If we use this as our only definition, it is probably a safe assumption to say, yes, we are willing to extend the kindness we have received. Most of us do not set our minds on being unkind. I think we have great intentions and we want to be kind to the people around us. At least in our minds…
But, the second definition Merriam-Webster gives for the word takes us a little deeper into the implications of willingness:
“prompt to act or respond”
When we read the full definition of the word willing, it makes it a lot more difficult to honestly answer Luanne’s question, doesn’t it?
In my mind, I have planned to bake treats and go introduce myself to our neighbors… for the past three years… I have thought about making time to take that person to coffee and give the gift of time several times over the past six months…
If my willingness to extend kindness starts and stops in my mind… I am neither willing nor kind. True willingness is prompt to act or respond. Kindness, as Luanne shared above, is how love behaves. It is glaringly clear that both require action.
How, then, do we grow our good intentions into true, willing kindness?
The answer can be found in a verse John shared in his sermon. Hebrews 3:13 instructs us to:
…encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. Hebrews 3:13 (NIV)
Encouragement is one way we see kindness displayed. This verse exhorts us to encourage one another daily. Today. Before today becomes tomorrow. And therein lies our problem.
I didn’t mean to let today turn into three years of not knowing my neighbors. I didn’t intend to let six months pass without asking her to coffee. I simply planned to do it tomorrow… And when tomorrow became today, my plans moved once again to tomorrow.
There are two problems I see with “tomorrow”:
- It may never come. None of us is guaranteed a single breath beyond this moment.
- Every tomorrow eventually becomes our today. If we haven’t learned and practiced how to live intentionally in the moment we are given, we will not be truly willing. And we will not live out the kindness we ourselves have received.
Hebrews 3:13 tells us clearly why this cycle of “I’ll do it tomorrow” is so hard to break.
…encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
I have learned to pay attention when I see the words “so that” in Scripture. What follows those two words is always important. In this case, it’s a clear warning. If we don’t practice encouraging one another today, we will be hardened and deceived by sin.
Is it sinful to put things off for another day? To plan on doing them tomorrow?
I won’t take the liberty of answering these questions for you. What I do know is that, for me, there is one core reason I put off acting in kindness:
I don’t have time… What will they think of me… I am tired… I don’t want to…
I can come up with eloquent, persuasive arguments as to why I put off extending kindness in the moment. But the root of every argument I could make? Selfishness. And I’m pretty certain selfishness is sin. So, yeah. For me, it is sin to put off until tomorrow what I could do today.
This is difficult to navigate, though, because we don’t often see beyond our good intentions far enough to see our selfishness. And the good intentions in our mind, they deceive us into believing we are kind when our actions (or lack thereof) prove otherwise.
For me, the truly frightening part of this verse is what it says can happen as a result of sin’s deceitfulness…
If we neglect to daily live and act out of the loving-kindness we have received, our verse tells us that we can be “hardened”.
The word “hardened” is translated from the Greek word “skléros”. Included in the definition of skleros are the words:
harsh, intolerable, offensive
Those words sound a little bit familiar… They echo the words that Luanne mentioned earlier when she referenced the auto-fill options for the Google search:
Why are Christians so _______ ?
If we don’t act in love and kindness daily; if we are deceived by our sin, selfishness, good intentions, we run the risk of becoming exactly what the world thinks we are. I’m a little blown away by the fact that a couple thousand years ago, this warning was written to Jesus’s followers. And today, we are bearing the consequences of ignoring the warning. Somewhere along the way, our kindness stopped being kindness and turned into a word we didn’t really know the meaning of. We didn’t know it—and we certainly haven’t lived it. Google proves it.
Now, though, we know. We know that kindness is how love behaves. We know that being willing to give others what we have received from Jesus involves prompt action. We know that living out kindness daily protects us from becoming harsh, intolerable, offensive Christians.
We can change the auto-fills, friends. Let’s start today.