Some say that the American writer Anne Herbert scribbled the phrase "Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty" on a placemat at a restaurant in 1982. The sentiment has since been popularized through film and literature and has become a part of our vocabulary.
The missing note is “Why?” Why should we show kindness to others? For those who follow Jesus, the answer is clear: To show the tender mercy and kindness of God.
There’s an Old Testament example of that principle in the story of Ruth, the emigrant from Moab. She was a foreigner, living in a strange land whose language and culture she did not understand. Furthermore, she was desperately poor, utterly dependent on the charity of a people who took little notice of her.
There was one Israelite, however, who showed Ruth grace and spoke to her heart (Ruth 2:13). He allowed her to glean in his fields, but more than that simple charity, he showed her by his compassion the tender mercy and loving kindness of God, the One under whose wings she could take refuge. She became Boaz’s bride, part of the family of God, and one in a line of ancestors that led to Jesus, who brought salvation to the world (see Matt. 1:1-16).
We never know what one act of kindness, done in Jesus’ name, will do.
Henry Durbanville, a Scottish pastor from another era, tells the story of an elderly woman in his parish who lived in a remote part of Scotland. She longed to see the city of Edinburgh, but she was afraid to take the journey because of the long, dark tunnel through which the train had to pass to get there.
One day, however, circumstances compelled her to go to Edinburgh, and as the train sped toward the city, her agitation increased. But before the train reached the tunnel, the woman, worn out with worry, fell fast asleep. When she awoke she had already arrived in the city!
It’s possible that some of us will not experience death: If we’re alive when Jesus returns, we will “meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4:13–18). But most of us will pass into heaven through death and for some that thought causes great anxiety. We worry that the process of dying will be too difficult to bear.
With the assurance of Jesus as our Savior we can rest in the confidence that when we close our eyes on earth and pass through death, we will open our eyes in God’s presence. “One short sleep past we wake eternally,” John Donne said.
When I was a child I was an ardent reader of L. Frank Baum's Land of Oz books. I recently came across Rinkitink in Oz with all the original artwork. I laughed again at the antics of Baum's portly, irrepressible, good-hearted King Rinkitink with his down-to-earth goodness. Young Prince Inga described him best: “His heart is kind and gentle and that is far better than being wise."
How simple and how sensible! Yet who has not jarred the heart of someone dear to us by a harsh word? In so doing we disturb the peace and quiet of the hour and we undo much of the good we have done that day. "A small unkindness is a great offense,” said Hannah More, an 18th-century English writer.
And here’s the good news: Anyone can become kind. We may be incapable of preaching an inspiring sermon, fielding hard questions, or evangelizing vast numbers, but we can, in time, become kind.
How? Through prayer. It is the only way to soften our hearts. “Set a guard over my mouth,
In a world in which love has grown cold, a kindness that comes from the heart of God is one of the most helpful and healing things we can offer to others.
Several years ago I stumbled across a bit of fishing lore in a second-century
Fishermen still use this lure today. It is called the Red Hackle. First used over 2,200 years ago, it remains a snare for trout by which we “get the better of them.”
When I read that ancient work I thought: Not all old things are passé—especially people. If through contented and cheerful old age we show others the fullness and deepness of God, we’ll be useful to the end of our days. Old age does not have to focus on declining health, pining over what once was. It can also be full of tranquility and mirth and courage and kindness, the fruit of those who have grown old with God.
“Those who are planted in the house of the
High in a fold of Jughandle Peak in the mountains north of our home in Idaho lies a glacial lake. The route to the lake goes up a steep, exposed ridge through boulders and loose scree. It’s a strenuous ascent.
At the beginning of the climb, however, there is a brook—a spring that seeps out of soft, mossy earth and flows through a lush meadow. It’s a quiet place to drink deeply and prepare for the hard climb ahead.
In John Bunyan’s classic allegory of the Christian life, The Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian arrives at the foot of a steep ascent called the Hill Difficulty, “at the bottom of which was a spring . . . Christian now went to the spring and drank to refresh himself, and then began to go up the hill.”
Perhaps the difficult mountain you face is a rebellious child or an abusive spouse; perhaps it is a serious medical diagnosis. The challenge seems more than you can endure.
Before you face your next major task, visit the spring of refreshment that is God Himself. Come to Him with all your weakness, weariness, helplessness, fear, and doubt. Then drink deeply of His power, strength, and wisdom. God knows all your circumstances and will supply a store of comfort, of spiritual strengthening and consolation. He will lift up your head and give you strength to go on.
Numbers 33 is a chapter in the Bible we might pass by without reflection. It appears to be nothing more than a long list of places tracing Israel's pilgrimage from Ramses in Egypt to their arrival in the plains of Moab. But it must be important because it’s the only section in Numbers that follows with the words: “At the
Why keep a record of this? Could it be that this list provides a framework upon which the Israelites emerging from the wilderness could retrace that forty-year journey in their thoughts and recall God's faithfulness at each location?
I envision an Israelite father, sitting near a campfire, reminiscing with his son: “I will never forget Rephidim! I was dying of thirst, nothing but sand and sage for hundreds of miles. Then God directed Moses to take his staff and strike a rock—actually a hard slab of flint. I thought, What a futile gesture; he’ll never get anything out of that stone. But to my amazement water gushed out of that rock! A copious flow that slaked the thirst of the thousands of Israel. I’ll never forget that day!” (see Ps. 114:8; Num. 20:8–13; 33:14).
So why not give it a try? Reflect on your life—stage by stage—and remember all the ways God has shown you His faithful, covenant love.
A number of years ago I wrote an essay about my collection of canes, staffs, and walking sticks and mused that I might someday graduate to a walker. Well, the day has come. A combination of back issues and peripheral neuropathy has left me pushing a three-wheel walker. I can't hike; I can't fish; I can't do many of the things that used to bring me great joy.
I'm trying to learn, however, that my limitation, whatever it may be, is a gift from God, and it is with this gift that I am to serve Him. This gift and not another. This is true of all of us, whether our limits are emotional, physical, or intellectual. Paul was so bold as to say that he boasted in his weakness for it was in weakness that God's power was revealed in him (2 Cor. 12:9).
Seeing our so-called liabilities this way enables us to go about our business with confidence and courage. Rather than complain, feel sorry for ourselves, or opt out, we make ourselves available to God for His intended purposes.
I have no idea what He has in mind for you and me, but we shouldn't worry about that. Our task today is just to accept things as they are and to be content, knowing that in the love, wisdom, and providence of God this moment is as good as it can possibly be.
Desert Solitaire is Edward Abbey’s personal history of his summers as a park ranger in what is now called Arches National Park in Utah. The book is worth reading if only for Abbey’s bright language and vivid descriptions of the US Southwest.
But Abbey, for all his artistry, was an atheist who could see nothing beyond the surface of the beauty he enjoyed. How sad! He lived his entire life in praise of beauty and missed the point of it all.
Most ancient peoples had theories of origins enshrouded in legend, myth, and song. But Israel’s story of creation was unique: It told of a God who created beauty for our enjoyment and childlike delight. God thought up the cosmos, spoke it into being and pronounced it “beautiful.” (The Hebrew word for good also signifies beauty.) Then, having created a paradise, God in love spoke us into being, placed us in Eden, and told us, “Enjoy!”
Some see and enjoy the beauty of the Creator’s good gifts all around them, but don’t “worship him as God or even give him thanks.” They “think up foolish ideas of what God [is] like. As a result, their minds become dark and confused” (Rom. 1:21
Others see beauty, say “Thank You, God,” and step into His light.
Carolyn and I met Phipps Festus Bourne in 1995 in his shop in Mabry Hill, Virginia. Bourne, who died in 2002, was a master wood carver whose carvings are almost exact replicas of real objects. “Carving a duck is simple,” he said. “You just look at a piece of wood, get in your head what a duck looks like, and then cut off everything that doesn’t look like it.”
So it is with God. He looks at you and me—blocks of rough wood—envisions the Christlike woman or man hidden beneath the bark, knots, and twigs and then begins to carve away everything that does not fit that image. We would be amazed if we could see how beautiful we are as finished “ducks.”
But first we must accept that we are a block of wood and allow the Artist to cut, shape, and sand us where He will. This means viewing our circumstances—pleasant or unpleasant—as God’s tools that shape us. He forms us, one part at a time, into the beautiful creature He envisioned in our ungainly lump of wood.
Sometimes the process is wonderful; sometimes it is painful. But in the end, all of God’s tools conform us “to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29).
Do you long for that likeness? Put yourself in the Master Carver’s hands.