When my brother became a junior high youth pastor, he didn’t do it alone. Dog-Bear was by his side—or more precisely, on his dash. Matt had purchased the cheap, plastic bobble head at a thrift store some time during college. Applied with duct tape, the bulbous-eyed creature became a conversation starter and spawned a lively debate as to whether it was, in fact, a dog or a bear.
When Matt and his wife, Anna, began junior high ministry at a local church, Kara, a young woman on Matt’s staff, gave the bobble head its name: Dog-Bear. Dog-Bear immediately became a youth group mascot. And more times than not, when Matt pulled into the church parking lot, Kara would run out to give her regards to the scraggly dash ornament.
A couple years into his ministry, Matt decided to sell his run-down Mazda. "Will Dog-Bear be moving?" Kara asked. Each time she saw Matt, she inquired after the bobble head. So one night after youth group, Matt went out to his car, ripped Dog-Bear from the dash and delivered him to Kara’s hands.
Matt was stunned by her reaction. He had no idea the simple gesture would touch his friend so deeply.
Not So Random
You hear a lot about random acts of kindness these days: scraping a stranger’s windshield on a snowy day, paying for the order behind you at Taco Bell, leaving an anonymous note for someone.
I have been on the receiving end of such kindnesses, and they’ve brightened my day. But there are gifts that hold more power and impact than random good deeds. These acts of kindness tell someone that you know them. They communicate that you’ve noticed their needs. They demonstrate that you’ve made a sacrifice on their behalf.
Specific acts of kindness are potent. It shouldn’t surprise us. The Bible talks about God’s favor to us, and our Creator doesn’t show hit-and-run kindness. His kindnesses are extremely precise.
Ephesians 2:6-7 says: "And 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."
God sending His Son to redeem humanity was the ultimate act of kindness. It recognized our need for a Savior and provided a solution at great personal sacrifice. Such an example raises the bar. It challenges us to move past random to deliberate. The following principles are helpful in discovering meaningful ways to bless others.
Notice details. Take note of the people in your life. What makes them smile? What stresses them out? When might they be in need of extra encouragement?
A specific act of kindness doesn’t have to be a sweeping gesture. Sometimes it may be something very simple—a well-timed word or a well-chosen gift.
One weekend, my out-of-state friend Julie came to visit. One evening we started watching a movie about the life of Audrey Hepburn, one of my favorite actresses. I had recorded the movie off television, and halfway through the recording cut out. I was very disappointed.
Almost a year later I received a package in the mail. Enclosed was a brand new copy of the movie and a note from Julie. "I was at the store," she wrote, "and I saw this and knew you would want to have it." The unexpected gesture meant a lot because it showed that my friend knew me and noticed the little details of my life.
Look for a need. I have been the recipient of many kindnesses that fall into the "bailing out" category. These are instances when I am in a jam, and someone unexpectedly pulls through or does much more than I expected.
Several years ago I was moving to a new apartment. Several friends who had agreed to help me move backed out at the last minute, and I was low on help. As I was in the process of melting down, my friend Deb called. Close to tears, I explained my dilemma.
Deb said, "Don’t worry. I’m at church. I’ll recruit some guys."
An hour later Deb arrived with nine men, three pick-up trucks and a van in tow. I was overwhelmed by the show of generosity. Many of the guys I had never even met, yet they gave up their Sunday afternoon to haul my oak furniture down three flights of stairs. I felt blessed, to say the least. I laughed when I heard the story of how Deb had driven to the restaurant where my church group was having lunch and given a speech on my behalf (evidently a very effective speech!).
I will always remember that day as not only an incredible answer to prayer but an instance where fellow believers were Jesus to me.
Be intentional. Specific acts of kindness require planning and sometimes even research. I have long loved the story of David and Mephibosheth found in 2 Samuel 9. Since becoming king, David has brought the ark of covenant into Jerusalem, conquered a bunch of heathen nations and captured 1,000 chariots. In the midst of all the excitement, he wakes up one day and asks, "Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?"
The sentiment for his deceased best friend’s kin seems to come out of nowhere. David’s servant Ziba tells him about Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth—a crippled young man who is hiding out.
David summons Mephibosheth. But instead of killing this heir to the previous throne, as protocol dictates, David gives Mephibosheth the land that belonged to Saul and invites him to eat at his table for the rest of his life. It’s a true rags-to-riches story.
The thing that stands out to me is David’s intentionality. He didn’t let his busy life of accruing chariots and defeating nations stop him from reaching out to someone who desperately needed his kindness.
Who are the people in your life who need a blessing? Prepare a meal for your pastor’s family. Send a care package to a single mom. Plan a meaningful evening with your spouse.
Be willing to sacrifice. Several months ago I was visiting my grandparents. They are not believers, so I sometimes struggle relating to them. But my grandmother and I have one important thing in common: we share a love of cats. During my visit, she commented on the cute kitty cards I had sent her. "I can never find them!" she said.
Several days later I was at the store when I spotted some darling black and white kitten note cards. It sounds petty now, but I struggled with my selfishness. There was only one box left, and I really wanted to add the cards to my collection. But my grandma’s words were fresh in my mind. Gritting my teeth the entire time, I purchased the cards, placed them in a mailing envelope and dropped them off at the post office.
My grandmother still talks about those cards every time I see her. She was thrilled to receive them. And that action has forged a deeper connection between us. I admit, giving up a $3 set of note cards hardly qualifies as a sacrifice, but it did require laying aside my own desires.
Perhaps a better example would be Kevin, the worship leader at my church, who came in on his day off to lead worship at a small conference I organized. Or my friend Melissa, a talented graphic designer who spent hours designing a professional quality brochure for the event at no cost. Both of these people sacrificed their time to show me kindness through their talents. Whether a sacrifice is big or small, it has the potential to profoundly impact those involved.
Practice kindness. I would like to submit a new bumper sticker with these words: Practice Specific Acts of Kindness.
A random act of kindness, though it may deliver a quick high, has little potential for furthering relationships or building the kingdom. Deliberate acts of kindness, on the other hand, do the good that Paul speaks of in 1 Thessalonians 5:11: "Encourage one another and build each other up."
I cannot name the many times I have been spurred on at just the right moment by someone’s exacting kindness. Part of being a blessing to others is being alert to opportunities. If an affirming thought comes into your mind, say it. If you wonder if someone is in need, offer to help. If you find yourself thinking of a person, go a step further and act. A little deliberate kindness goes a long way.
Three years ago, my brother stumbled upon a meaningful act of kindness when he presented Dog-Bear to Kara. He never imagined the impact that meager show of generosity would have. Dog-Bear accompanied Kara to college and back, and continues to hold a place of honor in her home.
Hearing about the experience showed me that every day holds opportunities to bless people if you just pay attention. A seemingly insignificant kindness may have far-reaching effects. Dog-Bear serves as a reminder of the power of a specific act of kindness.