We who represent Him have a part in demonstrating to everyone we meet just what He is like. So, what does He want us to show? He gives us the answer in Jeremiah 9:24: “But let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD. The first thing on the list, the thing that is the most important to Him that we communicate to others, is that He is a God who delights in kindness. In fact He says that if we are going to boast about anything, let it be that we know the “kind” God.
In hopes of understanding a bit more about this extraordinary trait, I checked with my thesaurus. Synonyms listed for kindness include: “affection, altruism, benevolence, courtesy, forbearance, gentleness, goodwill, goodness, grace, graciousness, patience, hospitality, humanity, solicitude, sympathy, empathy, tenderness, understanding, unselfishness, tolerance, respect, helpfulness, consideration, heart, tact, thoughtfulness, compassion, mercy.”
As I stared at that list, I realized that it is a list of all of the things the Bible tells us about God. It is no wonder He chose the words He did in Jeremiah 9:24 to encapsulate, in a nutshell, what He is like.
We live in a world that often does not reward or affirm kindness. Our culture has been marinated in the idea of the survival of the fittest; the belief that the person who makes it to the top and ends up with the most toys is the winner – even if you have to step on others to get there. Kindness on television does not sell advertising – unless it’s on the Hallmark Channel; it doesn’t win Oscars or Pulitzers. The kind kid at school is considered the wimp; the person who cares for the underdog or the kid on the outside of the group is ridiculed and isolated. The one who stops to change a tire for an exhausted mother and is late to the game is considered out of it; and the kid who refuses to join in bullying at school is considered a loser. The person who steps up and puts his arms around the scared migrant when the crowd is jeering; or the person who refuses to condone the politician who glorifies a dog-eat-dog approach to living is not the person that most in our world look up to. The woman who chooses not to gossip about the single mother with three kids who struggles to just survive and who invites her over for coffee and conversation may never find themselves included in the most popular circles in the neighborhood; or the guy at the convention who chooses to notice the man sitting all alone and leaves his buddies and joins him and invites him later to join him for supper may not end up being in the inner circle of the “cool people.” But they are the ones who are intentionally choosing to live out the life of extraordinary kindness God calls us to.
Take a look in the mirror for a moment. Would your coworkers say that you are one of the kindest people at your place of employment; would your neighbors describe you as “kind” and “gracious?” How about your spouse, or your kids, or the people at your place of worship?
Kindness is a choice; it is a state of mind and heart that we choose. And when we do, it pays incredible spiritual dividends.
Bill Rippey was a surgeon at Portland Adventist Hospital back in the 70s when I worked there as a chaplain. He was known as a very skilled surgeon, and he had an engaging and calming bedside manner. But neither of those things was what he was known for or famous for.
Dr. Rippey realized that most people face surgery with a lot of fear and trepidation. It is one of those few times when we are totally out of control – someone else breathes for us; our body is completely in the hands of someone with a very sharp knife and who knows what other instruments. We often lie naked, exposed to whoever is in the room, and the rest of our body’s functions are carefully monitored and controlled by someone else. And there is always the possibility, generally small, that we could die or be turned into a vegetable “on the table.” (You know it’s true because of all of the hold-harmless papers you have to sign before they will even schedule the procedure.) I’ve seen the most macho of men shaking in their proverbial boots just thinking about it.
With apologies for the generalization ahead of time, most surgeons are not known for exhibiting the most tender, kind and gracious personalities. (In their defense, they are used to being right, whether they are or not, in the surgery suite. They make life and death decisions concerning other’s lives on a daily basis and have to expect that when they say that they want something done, it will be done with alacrity and no resistance. It must be hard to set that all aside when you leave the operating room and go home or to church or the country club!)
Anyway, Bill Rippey was different. He was known for being the kindest person in the whole hospital. It showed in all kinds of ways. When you saw him, it showed on his face – you knew he loved you and wanted the very best for you. It showed in his intentional willingness to really listen to you and to understand your concerns. And it showed when he came into your room before every surgery and asked if he could pray with you – that God would be in the operating room with the two of you. He prayed that you would have peace knowing that He was guiding his mind and hands as he worked.
His patients loved him for it; the operating room nurses, who can sometimes be a bit jaded, loved him for it, as did the rest of the staff – down to the lowliest janitor who he always took the time to talk to and express an interest in.
Patients, family members, staff – all alike were moved just a little closer to Jesus in every interaction with Bill Rippey. That is what he lived for, what he prayed for, and that is his greatest legacy.
There is only one way to live that will reveal who we live for. “Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, “Follow Me.”
That brief statement in the little book, “The Ministry of Healing,” should be an affront to all of the money we spend on television advertising and major crusades and program after program that takes the focus off of the extraordinary acts of ordinary kindness performed by individual followers of Jesus that are the only real ways of bringing about the return of the Kingdom of God to this world. And the really good news is that they don’t cost hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. They just cost us choosing to live our lives like Jesus wherever we are in this world.
We talk about being obsessed with reaching the world with the Gospel so Jesus can return the second time. I am convinced that when we begin to live lives of extraordinary kindness, we will not be able to build churches fast enough to contain the people drawn to God through us, and we will, to use an old-fashioned Adventist phrase, “finish the work.”
Dan Appel writes from Northern California.