Have you heard of the BELLS challenge? Michael Frost, Australian missiologist, wrote a simple book entitled “The Five Habits of Highly Missional People” (a free copy here) to help followers of Jesus grow in habits, simple everyday activities, to grow more proficient in witnessing God’s Kingdom to the people we interact with. The habits are:
- Blessing others – showing acts of kindness, to cultivate a heart of generosity.
- Eating together – sharing meals with those I interact with, to grow in hospitality.
- Learning Christ – intentional study of Jesus’s works, words and person, to grow Christlike.
- Listening to the Spirit – intentional waiting on God, to grow in discernment of God.
- (Being) Sent – daily reflecting how I recognize my participation in God’s mission.
The reality that each of us have to face is this: if I live like I lived yesterday, I will have the same witnessing power that I had yesterday. And for me – I assume for many of us – this is a sobering thought.
Our habits reveal our faith, but conversely, our faith is also shaped by our habits. That’s why Frost identified these simple, everyday, easily doable habits which increases our witness of Christ and His Kingdom.
People long for Kindness
Our world is a harsh place, and humanity is a vulnerable condition. Because of our imperfections we lack, we suffer, we cause harm. We are in need of care, of help; we are in need of kindness.
Sadly, modern man strives for independence; especially Western society aspires to not elf-sufficiency, to be strong and not need anything or anyone. But humans are flawed, and when we fail, we have lack, we hurt or cause harm. We rely on the kindness of others: to receive what is undeserved.
Relationships flourish in kindness
What makes human relationships flourish? This was what Drs. John Gottman and Robert Levenson have studied in their “Love Lab” for the past four decades. In the process of observing how newlyweds interact with one another, and again recalling them six years later, they grouped these couples into two groups based on their interaction.
The disasters showed patterns of aggression and criticism in their relational dynamics. Their relationships deteriorated quickly over time and was characterized by contempt, criticism, and hostility. In contrast, the masters’ demeanor towards one another was characteristically warm and inviting – even during conflict. The masters learned to create an atmosphere of trust and intimacy that made the relationship safer and more comfortable.
Based on these findings and follow-up studies Gottman deduced that the key indicators in marital success (with about 94% certainty!) come down to two characteristics: kindness and generosity. Indeed, “love is kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4), and “love is the bond of perfection” (Colossians 3:17).
In an environment of kindness people thrive, because in the care and compassion cultivates true connection and cooperation in trust. In contrast, the absence of kindness breeds distrust, fear and shame, causing the other to withdraw and withhold him-/herself – the very opposite of thriving.
Our God is kind-hearted
Humankind is like the rebellious son who foolishly packs his bag and walks out the door, believing he can enjoy living life all on his own. Our sin-infested world is harsh, and we were never meant to be independent – we will lack, we will fail. But, as the tale of prodigal son so beautifully illustrates, it is the knowledge of “the kindness of God that leads us to repentance” (Romans 2:4).
We are – and will always be – in need of God’s kindness, as the Psalmist rightly sings:
Psalm 145:8-9, 14-16 (CEV)
You are merciful, Lord!
You are kind and patient
and always loving.
You are good to everyone,
and you take care
of all your creation…
When someone stumbles or falls,
you give a helping hand.
Everyone depends on you…
Jesus also taught us to rely on God’s kindness, to freely and shamelessly be dependent on Him: “Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:11-13)
Our God is kind, moved with compassion, to console and care for his creatures.
Jesus is kindness personified
The greatest sign of God’s kindness is the sending of His son Jesus. Paul refers to the incarnation of Christ as the time “when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared” (Titus 3:4). Indeed, Jesus embodies and personifies the kindness of God! He “went about doing good, healing all who were oppressed” (Luke 10:38). Like his Father, Jesus healed “the ungrateful and the wicked” (Luke 6:36), without expecting anything in return as we see in his healing of the 10 lepers (Luke 17:11-19).
But the apex of God’s kindness is the substitutionary suffering and death of Christ on the cross, who although “He was despised and rejected by men… He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows… He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The punishment for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed…” (Isaiah 53:3-5). Indeed, God so loved the world: He had compassion on us, His enemies, and showed kindness in the sending His only Son to forgive our debts and deliver us of oppression!
Marked by kindness
The kindness which Jesus Himself modelled to us, He also commanded us to do emulate. And in showing kindness to all – even our enemies! – we will be identified as “Sons of the Most High, who is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked” (Luke 6:35). Like our Master, our kindness is a mark of the Father. Our acts of kindness therefore are a witness to our God, and a witness to our allegiance to Him.
You might ask “Almost every religion inspires kindness to others. How does a Christian’s good deeds point to God?” This is a thoughtful question one should consider.
Firstly, we recognize that the source of our loving-kindness is not of ourselves. As Christians we recognize that we are fallen, that our capacity to care and show love is limited. That is why Jesus taught his disciples to “abide in Me, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). In Paul’s words, kindness is a fruit of Christ’s Spirit (Galatians 5:22) – we become kind persons who naturally do kind deeds through intentional fellowship with our kind Saviour. “As we behold him, we become like him” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Secondly, the goal of our kindness is to point to God’s kindness. Jesus taught his followers to “not sound the trumpet in the street” when showing kindness (Matthew 6:2); the goal of giving is not to receive praise, not to make us feel good, but to point to God. Likewise, the motive for forgiveness is “as God in Christ forgave” (Ephesians 4:32) – again pointing to God’s kindness in Christ. As we give and forgive, we look for opportunities and ways to point to God, “that men may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Kindness brings us home
Our world is a harsh place, at times even hostile. The lie of self-sufficiency causes isolation, the reality of insufficiency causes fear and shame. But God is kind, who generously gives to those in need, eager to guide the lost and restore the fallen, graciously forgiving the sinner. To this end Jesus invites us to show the same kindness to even our enemies, that we may be known as children of God. That even our enemies may come to know “the kindness of God which leads us to repentance” (Romans 2:4)