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Practice Non-Random Acts of Kindness

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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.

She cried.

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.

Kindness Counts

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.

Suzanne Hadley Gosselin is a freelance writer and editor who has written for Focus on the Family, Zondervan and David C. Cook. She enjoys coffee, good conversation and spending time with her husband, Kevin, and 1-year-old, Josiah.

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Suzanne Hadley Gosselin is a regular contributor to Thriving Family magazine and Boundless.org and writes children’s resources for several publishers. After having three children in fewer than five years of marriage, Suzanne and her husband, Kevin, who is a children’s pastor, consider themselves on the family fast-track — a blessing they wouldn’t trade for anything. Gosselin is the author of the newly released, Expectant Parents: Preparing Together for the Journey of Parenthood.

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When Doing Justly, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly Stand at Odds

If your compassion far exceeds your capacity, here’s one way you can be sure to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

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One of my life verses is Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

It is one of my favorite verses because my heart has been so moved by the love Jesus has for me and the sacrifice He made for me that I am grateful to have a way to express my gratitude through acts of justice and mercy while walking humbly with God.

I have found at times, however, the call to do justice and love mercy come in conflict with the call to walk humbly with God. For me, one of the ways to walk humbly with God is to recognize my limitations. I have to put skin to the fact that I am not God which means saying, “no” to ministry requests. It means going to sleep when I could be spending time advocating for the harrowed and helpless in the world. It means limited seats at my table, limited funds in my bank account, and limited energy in my body cannot be ignored but respected and adhered to.

This is hard for me at times, especially when I scroll my Facebook feed and see friends who are caring for their really sick children, spouse, or other family member all while millions of refugees flee war torn countries and babies are slaughtered by the hundreds each day in our country through the abortion industry.

As I scroll, I receive texts about one family member’s surgery gone wrong and another family member announcing a new baby is on the way. I have in mind my neighbor who has inpatient surgery scheduled this week and another neighbor who is trying to hold down a full-time job, care for twins all while battling profound “morning” sickness.

Folks at church are fighting for their lives in physical and spiritual ways, and strangers who pass me on the road are clearly battling something as demonstrated by their impatient honking because I won’t take a right turn on red. I want to meet the needs of all; I want to do justice and love mercy, but I’m daily confronted by the fact that I am so limited.

What am I to do when doing justly and/or loving mercy seem to come in conflict with walking humbly with my God?

God keeps bringing me to this answer: prayer.

God invites us to cast our cares before Him because He cares for us.
God tells us to be anxious for nothing BUT WITH PRAYER present our requests before Him.
God commands us to pray without ceasing.

And, when I walk humbly with God, I see the immense kindness in His command.
He gives us a way to do justly, love mercy WHILE walking humbly with Him.
It is by praying without ceasing.

I cannot take a meal or give money to every sick person or family I know. I cannot extend kindness to all my neighbors all at the same time they’re in need nor conjure up sustainable solutions for the refugee crisis and contact all the necessary world powers to make it happen.

I cannot heal all, but I know the Healer.

I cannot provide for all the needs, but I know the Provider.

I cannot rescue everyone in need, but I know the Rescuer.

I cannot comfort all the broken, but I know the Comforter.

I cannot speak peace over every situation, but I know the Prince of Peace.

I cannot be all to all, but I can go to the Great I Am through prayer, lay all the people, problems and pleas for help before the Omniscient and Omnipresent God of all Creation.

I can do this through prayer.

Recently, via an Instagram contest of all things, I came upon A–Z prayer cards designed by blogger/author/speaker, Amelia Rhodes. It is a simple concept packed with a powerful prayer punch. It has served me personally in this tension of wanting to do far more than I practically can do. It provides prayer prompts starting with each letter of the alphabet along with a scripture that coincides with the prayer focus. It ranges from Adoption to a creative “Zero Prejudice” for the letter “Z.”

The cards are well thought out, color printed on sturdy cardstock with blank lines for the user to write in the names of people and/or organizations that are personal to them.

If, like me, your compassion far exceeds your capacity, pick up a set of these prayer cards and unload your burdens onto a God whose competence matches His kindness, both boundless.

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Facing Our Fears in Motherhood

Do you have fears tied to motherhood? If so, here’s encouragement for you.

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“Are you scared?”

I was taken aback by his question. Scared? Of what?

“Of anything,” he answered.

I had just shared my due date with a new class of trainees.

“He has three boys,” another new hire volunteered. So fear is to be expected, I reasoned. I’m just about to face the most frightening experience in my life.

Of course I was scared.

I was scared…

  • I’ll lose my temper.
  • I’ll whine about sleepless nights.
  • I’ll breastfeed too often or not often enough.
  • I’ll leave piles of unfolded onesies in the middle of the nursery floor because I’m too tired (or lazy?) to fold teeny-tiny baby clothes for the upteenth time.
  • I’ll go with disposable diapers when the better choice would be cloth.
  • I’ll work too many long hours at the office and miss precious moments with her.
  • I’ll sign her up for too many activities and push her to become Miss Achieve-It-All.
  • I’ll pass on to her my ugly pride, self-righteousness, and perfectionism like a dreadful contagious disease.
  • I’ll miss countless little joys in life while pursuing worthless dreams.

Facing Our Fears in MotherhoodIn short… I was afraid I was going to fail miserably as a parent.

And now, holding my second-born daughter in my arms, thinking back on that brief exchange just a few years ago, I realize those fears were well-founded. I’ve failed many times. I’ve lost my temper. I’ve raised my voice. I’ve worked too much and played too little. I’ve seen my own sinfulness reflected in my daughter.

Yes, I’ve failed, but over and above it all, God’s grace has covered my parenting imperfections and made me run to the cross day after day. The writer of Proverbs puts it this way:

Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

When it comes to fears, we have two choices: Will we fear the unknown or will we fear the Lord? Will we allow the uncertain to grip us in its clutch or will we turn to God’s Truth to set us free?

Scared? Oh yeah. There was so much to be scared of that day. And even now, if I’m completely honest, there are still fears nibbling at the edges of my consciousness. Fear that we won’t outgrow the temper tantrums. Fear that the two girls won’t get along. Fear that I’ll mess them up and cause them interminable hours on a psychologist’s couch.

I’m sure you have fears, too.

But rather than allow those fears to consume and paralyze us, we can take them to the Lord, acknowledging His sovereignty over our parenting, pleading His grace over our mistakes, and entrusting His provision over their futures. He is not only able to handle it all — He is far more capable to be trusted with it all.

If I say one thing to that frightened 9-month-pregnant me standing in that room years ago, I would say this: Don’t let fear rob today’s joy with tomorrow’s unknowns. Each day has enough worries of its own (Matthew 6:34).

Instead, let us keep seeking God, running to Him as our secure fortress and resting in the knowledge that He will care for us and our children one day at a time.

What are you scared of today? Name your fears and bring them to the Lord, allowing Him to replace them with His peace that passes all understanding.

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He Gives Shade To The Weary

If anxiety is a struggle for you right now, remember that He gives shade to the weary.

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Do you ever have those moments of fear because you don’t know what lies ahead? When do those thoughts tend to happen to you?

For me, most of those thoughts happen when I lay my head down to sleep at night. The vulnerability comes forth every time. That’s what happened the other night to me. I shut my eyes and immediately anxiety welled up inside me.

What if we don’t succeed in this new venture? What if we have to move? What if we can’t pay our bills?

I laid there with the covers drawn tight over my head (I still think that I am safer if the covers are over my head), praying scripture over my anxious heart. Assuring myself that God sees me and that He cares.

In the morning, I turned to Isaiah 41, specifically verses 10-20.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NASB)

Yesterday, the “what if’s” piled up as I anxiously looked about me. My daughter needs tutoring, however at this point in life, tutoring feels like a luxury we can’t afford. So I listed some items online to sell hoping to make just enough to cover the tutoring. I’m buying groceries on a Visa reward card. I’m holding my breath until the next paycheck comes. But what did God speak over me: Do not fear. Do not look anxiously about you.

“For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’ Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel; I will help you,” declares the Lord, “and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:13-14 NASB)

Why shouldn’t I be anxious? Because God will hold me up. God will help me. When I first read the word “worm” as a description, I took it as a slam against Israel. Like, gesh, God. What animal does He relate me to? But through further study, He calls them a worm because worms are helpless. They are viewed as insignificant, despised and weak. God will help me — seemingly insignificant, helpless me — because He is my Redeemer. He is my go’el — my next of kin. The Redeemer is the one who provides for all my needs. Rent. Car payment. Credit card bill. Gas. Food. Clothes. Debt. God will redeem.

He Gives Shade to the Weary

“Behold, I have made you a new, sharp threshing sledge with double edges; You will thresh the mountains and pulverize them, And will make the hills like chaff. You will winnow them, and the wind will carry them away, And the storm will scatter them; But you will rejoice in the Lord, You will glory in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:15-16 NASB).

God is transforming me from a helpless one to a powerful one. The description of that type of threshing sledge is like a modern day earth mover. Powerful. Strong. Immovable.

“The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, And their tongue is parched with thirst; I, the Lord, will answer them Myself, As the God of Israel I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 41:17, NASB)

He will come to our rescue. God, Himself, will answer you and me. Can you hear how personal that sounds? Have you ever pleaded with someone important whether your boss, public figure, or even a parent, and they responded to the need themselves? You expected for them to send their assistant, but instead they — the most important one — responded to you.

“I will open rivers on the bare heights And springs in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water And the dry land fountains of water. I will put the cedar in the wilderness, The acacia and the myrtle and the olive tree; I will place the juniper in the desert Together with the box tree and the cypress.” (Isaiah 41:18-19, NASB)

This passage describes the wilderness-like times in life. You are barren. You are thirsty. You are hot. You are in need. God will provide what you need. God will quench your thirst. He will provide shade when you are weary. During those times, God can provide in creative, innovative ways. He can provide something out of nothing. Doesn’t that give you great hope? Even when you can’t answer how He will do it, He is creative enough to figure it out even when the odds are stacked against you.

“That they may see and recognize, And consider and gain insight as well, That the hand of the Lord has done this, And the Holy One of Israel has created it.” (Isaiah 41:20 NASB).

God will do all of this so that His glory will be put on display. People — including yourself — will see that He is powerful.

So you can see how after a night of wrestling with fear and anxiety, reading this was like shade and water for my soul. God is a god who sees. And God is a god who acts on your behalf.

What do you need His help with today? What are you fearful about today? What keeps you awake at night? Where do you need some shade?

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Practice Non-Random Acts of Kindness

by Suzanne Gosselin time to read: 6 min
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