When we think of best business practices, what first comes to mind probably aren’t qualities like kindness and generosity. But according to entrepreneur James Rhee, they should. In Rhee’s experience as CEO at a company on the brink of financial ruin, prioritizing what he calls “goodwill”—a “culture of kindness” and a spirit of giving—saved the company and led to its flourishing. Putting these qualities central gave people the hope and motivation they needed to unify, innovate, and problem-solve. Rhee explains that “goodwill . . . is a real asset that can compound and be amplified.”
In daily life too, it’s easy to think of qualities like kindness as vague and intangible, afterthoughts to our other priorities. But, as the apostle Paul taught, such qualities matter most of all.
Writing to new believers, Paul emphasized that the purpose of believers’ lives is transformation through the Spirit into mature members of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:15). To that end, every word and every action has value only if it builds up and benefits others (v. 29). Transformation in Jesus can only happen through daily prioritizing kindness, compassion, and forgiveness (v. 32).
As we grow closer together through Christ’s Spirit, we daily learn anew the true, priceless value of God’s goodwill living in us.
“A thorn has entered your foot—that is why you weep at times at night,” wrote Catherine of Sienna in the fourteenth century. She continued, “There are some in this world who can pull it out. The skill that takes they have learned from [God].” Catherine devoted her life to cultivating that “skill,” and is still remembered today for her remarkable capacity for empathy and compassion for others in their pain.
That image of pain as a deeply embedded thorn that requires tenderness and skill to remove lingers with me. It’s a vivid reminder of how complex and wounded we are, and of our need to dig deeper to develop true compassion for ourselves and others.
Or, as the apostle Paul describes it, it’s an image that reminds me that loving others like Jesus does requires more than good intentions and well-wishes—it requires being “devoted to one another” (Romans 12:10), “joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (v. 12). It requires being willing to not only “rejoice with those who rejoice” but to “mourn with those who mourn” (v. 15). It requires all of us.
In a broken world, none of us escape unwounded—hurt and scars are deeply embedded in each of us. But deeper still is the love we find in Christ; love tender enough to draw out those thorns with the balm of compassion, willing to embrace both friend and enemy (v. 14) to find healing together.
There are several Canada goose families with baby geese at the pond near our apartment complex. The little goslings are so fluffy and cute, it’s hard not to watch them when I go for a walk or run around the pond. But I’ve learned to avoid eye contact and give the geese a wide berth—otherwise, I risk a protective goose parent suspecting a threat and hissing and chasing me!
The image of a bird protecting her young is one that Scripture uses to describe God’s tender, protective love for His children (Psalm 91:4). In Psalm 61, David seems to be struggling to experience God’s care in this way once more. He’d experienced God as his “refuge, a strong tower” (v. 3), but now he called desperately “from the ends of the earth,” pleading, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (v. 2). He longed to once more “take refuge in the shelter of [God’s] wings” (v. 4).
And in bringing his pain and longing for healing to God, David took comfort in knowing that He had heard him (v. 5). Because of God’s faithfulness, he knew he would “ever sing in praise of [His] name” (v. 8).
Like the psalmist, when we feel distant from God’s love, we can run back to His arms to be assured that even in our pain, He’s with us, protecting and caring for us as fiercely as a mother bird guards her young.
Have you heard of #slowfashion? The hashtag captures a movement focused on resisting “fast fashion”—an industry dominated by cheaply made and quickly disposed of clothes. In fast fashion, clothes are out of style nearly as quickly as they’re in the stores—with some brands disposing of large quantities of their products every year.
The slow fashion movement encourages people to slow down and take a different approach. Instead of being driven by the need to always have the latest look, slow fashion encourages us to select fewer well-made and ethically sourced items that will last.
As I reflected on #slowfashion’s invitation, I found myself wondering about other ways I fall into a “fast fashion” way of thinking—always looking for fulfillment in the latest trend. In Colossians 3, however, Paul says finding true transformation in Jesus isn’t a quick fix or a fad. It’s a lifetime of quiet, gradual transformation in Christ.
Instead of needing to clothe ourselves with the world’s latest status symbols, we can exchange our striving for the Spirit’s clothing of “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (v.12). We can learn patience with each other on the slow journey of Christ transforming our hearts—a journey that leads to lasting peace (v. 15).
In a poem that begins, “I’m nobody! Who are you?” Emily Dickinson playfully challenges all the effort people tend to put into being “somebody,” advocating instead for the joyful freedom of blissful anonymity. For “How dreary – to be – Somebody! How public – like a Frog – / To tell one’s name – the livelong June / To an admiring Bog!”
Finding freedom in letting go of the need to be “somebody” in some ways echoes the testimony of the apostle Paul. Before he met Christ, Paul had a long list of seemingly impressive religious credentials and achievements, apparent “reasons to put confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:4).
But encountering Jesus changed everything. When Paul saw how hollow his religious fervor and achievements were in light of Christ’s sacrificial love, he confessed, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. . . I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (vv. 8–9). His only remaining ambition was “to know Christ . . . the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (v. 10).
It’s dreary, indeed, to attempt on our own to become “somebody.” But as Paul discovered, to know Jesus, to lose ourselves in His self-giving love and life, is to find ourselves again (v. 9), finally free and whole.
No one ever died saying, ‘I’m so glad for the self-centered, self-serving, and self-protective life I lived,’ ” author Parker Palmer said in a commencement address, urging graduates to “offer [themselves] to the world . . . with openhearted generosity.”
But, Parker continued, living this way would also meaning learning “how little you know and how easy it is to fail.” Offering themselves in service to the world would require cultivating a “beginner’s mind” to “walk straight into your not-knowing, and take the risk of failing and failing, again and again—then getting up to learn again and again.”
It’s only when our lives are built on a foundation of grace that we can find the courage to choose such a life of fearless “openhearted generosity.” As Paul explained to his protégé Timothy, we can confidently “fan into flame” (v. 6) and live out of God’s gifting when we remember that it’s God’s grace that saves and calls us to a life of purpose (v. 9). It’s His power that gives us the courage to resist the temptation to live timidly in exchange for the Spirit’s “power, love, and self-discipline” (v. 7). And it’s His grace that picks us up when we fall, so that we can continue a life-long journey of grounding our lives in His love (vv. 13–14).
“I measure every Grief I meet,” the nineteenth-century poet Emily Dickinson wrote, “With narrow, probing, eyes – / I wonder if It weighs like Mine – / Or has an Easier size.” The poem is a moving reflection on how people carry the unique ways they’ve been wounded throughout their lives. Dickinson concludes, almost hesitantly, with her only solace: the “piercing Comfort” of seeing at Calvary her own wounds reflected in the Savior’s: “Still fascinated to presume / That Some – are like my own –.”
The book of Revelation describes Jesus, our Savior, as a “Lamb, looking as if it had been slain” (5:6; see v. 12), His wounds still visible. Wounds earned through taking upon Himself the sin and despair of His people (1 Peter 2:24–25), so that they might have new life and hope.
And Revelation describes a future day when the Savior will “wipe every tear” from each of His children’s eyes (21:4). Jesus won’t minimize their pain, but truly see and care for each person’s unique grief—while inviting them into the new, healing realities of life in His kingdom, where there is “no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (v. 4). Where healing water will flow “without cost from the spring of the water of life” (v. 6; see 22:2).
Because our Savior has carried our every grief, we can find rest and healing in His kingdom.
Retired teacher Debbie Stephens Browder is on a mission to convince as many people as possible to plant trees. The reason? Heat. Extreme heat in the United States is the number-one weather-related cause of death. In response, Stephens Browder says, “I’m starting with trees.” The canopy of heat protection that trees provide is one significant way to protect communities. Stephens Browder explains, “It’s life or death. It’s not just about beautifying the community. It’s about saving lives.”
The fact that shade isn’t just refreshing but potentially life-saving would have been well known to the psalmist who wrote Psalm 121; in the Middle East, the risk of sunstroke is constant. This reality adds depth to the psalm’s vivid description of God as our surest place of safety, the One in whose care “the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night” (v. 6).
This verse can’t mean that believers in Jesus are somehow immune to pain or loss in this life (or that heat isn’t dangerous!). After all, Christ tells us, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). But this metaphor of God as our shade does vividly reassure us that, whatever comes our way, our lives are held in His watchful care (Psalm 121:7–8). There we can find rest through trusting Him, knowing that nothing can separate us from His love (John 10:28; Romans 8:39).
It’s like living in a dream you can’t wake up from. People who struggle with what’s sometimes called “derealization” or “depersonalization” often feel like nothing around them is quite real. While those who chronically have this feeling can be diagnosed with a disorder, it’s believed to be a common mental health struggle, especially during stressful times. But sometimes the feeling persists even when life is seemingly good. It’s as if our minds can’t trust that good things are really happening.
Scripture describes a similar struggle of God’s people at times to experience His power and deliverance as something real, not just a dream. In Acts 12, when an angel delivers Peter from prison—and possible execution (vv. 2, 4)—the apostle is described as being in a daze, not sure it was really happening (vv. 9–10). When the angel left him outside the jail, Peter finally “came to his senses” and realized it had all been real (v. 11
In both bad times and good, it can be hard sometimes to fully believe or experience that God’s really at work in our lives. But we can trust that as we wait on Him, His resurrection power will one day become undeniably, wonderfully real. God’s light will rouse us from our sleep into the reality of life with Him (Ephesians 5:14).