One reason acts of kindness are such an effective outreach tool is because they give our message credibility. Even though people may not know anything else about us, they know we have done something selfless for them that is not only unusual, but probably unlike anything they have ever experienced before.
We’re not simply talking to them about God’s love as a foreign concept or a philosophical idea. We’re demonstrating it in a very practical way. James wrote about the importance of demonstrating our faith. He said real faith cannot be separated from good deeds:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no [good] deeds? Can such faith save them?… Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead… I will show you my faith by my deeds. – James 2:14, James 2:17, James 2:18
Christians in America have become very comfortable believing one way and living another. For example, if you took a poll and asked one hundred people whether they believed it is important to eat healthy, the overwhelming majority would quickly agree that we all need lots of green beans and carrot sticks on our plates. Yet do you know what the top food was at the Texas State Fair in 2012? A fried bacon cinnamon roll. If you’re trying to maximize the number of fat grams per dollar, then this item is an incredible value. But if you’re trying to eat healthy, you might as well get Krispy Kreme doughnut batter injected directly into your bloodstream. It’s a fun food to eat, but if you do and still try to say you’re eating healthy, then you’re kidding yourself.
James made the same point about faith.
If you say you have strong faith, but it never shows up in kindness toward others, then you’re kidding yourself.
The evidence of authentic faith is good deeds that reflect a heart of compassion. We have a word to describe the person who says he or she follows Christ, but whose life doesn’t reflect it: hypocrite.
Not long ago I was driving somewhere and had our two youngest boys with me. I gradually realized that the backseat was unusually quiet. Anyone who has spent much time around boys knows the only times they get quiet are when they are asleep or when they’re doing something they shouldn’t. So I asked, “What are you guys doing back there?” One of them replied, “We’re just sitting back here saying good words.” Busted. I didn’t know what they were saying to each other back there, but I now knew it was not good words. Yet they had no problem declaring to me that they were living the good life. They must have learned that habit from their mother. Actually, it is way too easy for all of us to say we are living one way, while we’re actually living something quite different.
When people see compassion and kindness actually being lived out, rather than only talked about, it carries a tremendous amount of weight.
That’s why the dancers and employees at the strip club listen to Erin. She is showing them she cares. When she brings a meal or cupcakes or goodie bags, she is giving them something and expecting nothing in return. They take notice of her selflessness because all of the other people who come into the club are the complete opposite. They’re focused on getting, not giving.
Katie, the former dancer who is now well on her way to becoming a police officer, goes back to the club with Erin to help demonstrate God’s love. One of the dancers recently asked Katie, “How much does the church pay you guys to come down here?” She was still struggling to comprehend why anyone would value her enough to serve her without getting compensated in some way. She couldn’t help but see the light they were shining, but she’s still trying to understand where that kind of love comes from.
When people have such a low view of themselves, it often takes repeated acts of kindness for them to start to believe God could actually love them as they are.
When I make my daily purchase at Subway for the person behind me (or sometimes in front of me), that simple gesture gives me instant credibility. It is completely unexpected for the recipient, and he or she is often not sure how to respond. After I say that lunch is my treat today because it’s how I like to demonstrate God’s love, the recipient will often say something like, “If you had any idea what kind of day I’ve had so far, you wouldn’t believe how much I needed this.” By me investing just a few dollars, God is able to use my gift and break through to another person’s heart, despite whatever circumstances he or she may be dealing with. Whoever I bless sees my good deed and gives glory to God.
I’ll be honest: I still get a little bit nervous every single time. Part of me wants to chicken out and not do it. But I remind myself that what I’m about to do is going to put a smile on someone else’s face and give that person a story he or she will probably tell to five other people before the end of the day. I want God to get that glory. I also remember that ultimately it isn’t about me at all: it’s about giving another individual whom God loves an opportunity to experience that love.
If Jesus was willing to die to demonstrate His love for me, then I can deal with a moment of potential awkwardness to demonstrate love toward someone else.
So I trust that God has put just the right person in line behind me, and I go for it. What is cool is how my small gesture gives me credibility not only with the person I’m serving, but also with the Subway employees. Many days they give me a free cookie. Even if I’m trying to watch what I eat on those days, I have decided this must be God’s way of smiling at me and saying, “Go ahead, big boy. Grab you some chocolate chips.” The way I figure it, if the cookies are a gift from God, then the calories don’t really count. It’s just a theory, but I like it.
You could get started all by yourself and do either of these outreaches. You could take my idea and start paying for the person behind you when you’re going through a drive-thru or in line at the cafeteria. You could emulate Erin’s idea and take treats to the employees at a retail store or a fire station or a school or just about anywhere you can think of. Just make sure to connect the dots for the people you serve so they know you’re showing God’s love, rather than a random act of kindness.
Watch the Video:
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Who in your local neighborhood would Jesus reach out to with kindness? Think creatively: how can you share the love of God with those around you? Come share your ideas on our blog! We would love to hear from you!