Acts of kindness
Compiled from an Acts of Kindness seminar
presentation by Western officer Lt. Colonel Jolene Hodder (then Major), now serving overseas in Africa.
The thought of paying the toll of the person behind you in line or the dinner of a family seated at a nearby table in a restaurant is mostly unheard of these days.
Yet, these little, random acts of kindness have begun to grow in popularity. There are entire books, movies and websites dedicated to the idea of random kindness. Though relatively simple, the act of performing an unexpected act of kindness for a stranger is challenging.
When I was in elementary school, many years ago, we learned the value of kindness both in our everyday behavior as well as on special occasions. I will always remember the annual emphasis on May Day. As a young, innocent child, I was unaware that this holiday is dedicated to unions as a celebration of the labor forces. Instead, every May 1st we celebrated May Day by decorating a paper basket, or simply paper rolled into a cone shape, and filling it with wild flowers. The idea was to surprise neighbors with the flower basket by hanging it on the door, ringing the bell and hiding in order to remain anonymous. My sisters and I would often argue about who got to surprise our favorite neighbor—but as the oldest, I usually ended up braving delivery to the scary, mean neighbor. What fun we had hiding in the bushes and watching to see the reaction of the unsuspecting victim of our kindness.
This isn’t elementary school
Scripture teaches us to be “kind and compassionate to one another,” but the reality of today’s society is not what it was when I was in elementary school. Nowadays, the rare occasion of being treated kindly stands out in stark contrast to our everyday life.
Just a few years ago I was surprised and even embarrassed by an act of kindness shown to me. My son and I were on our way home from the corps, rushing through the grocery store to pick up a few items for a quick dinner before returning to church for evening activities. I was in uniform and trying desperately not to be impatient while standing in line. I placed the little plastic barrier between my items and the groceries of the gentleman in front of us. As his groceries moved closer to the cashier, he moved the barrier from between our items to behind my groceries. I made some sort of comment that those were my items so that the checker would not be confused. The man said, “I’m taking care of that.” I stumbled over my words, indicating that was not necessary, but he insisted, saying, “My gig pays better than yours.” What a pleasant surprise this was, in the midst of a busy day as a corps officer.
And yet, how much easier it is to give kindness rather than to receive it.
One of the things that I enjoy most about being a Salvation Army officer is the opportunity I have for giving similar acts of kindness on an almost daily basis. In fact, the history of The Salvation Army abounds with acts of kindness. From the early days in East London, we have used kindness as a means of sharing the love of Jesus Christ. Our reputation as “Christians with our sleeves rolled up” goes all the way back to the Great War, when we ministered to the soldiers. And let us not forget the Slum Sisters, who went into the homes of the poor families in London, showing them a symbol of life cleansed of sin and shame by cleaning the houses of the disadvantaged women and children. Years of League of Mercy activity, now known as Community Care Ministries, have continued to the present.
The Salvation Army does not, however, have a corner on the kindness market.
Jesus receives kindness
Throughout Scripture we see Jesus using acts of kindness to reach out to those whom the Father called him to minister. In John 4:1-42, Jesus requests a drink of water, an act of kindness, from a Samaritan woman. While the culture of that day provided women many opportunities to show kindness to men, it was unheard of for a Jew to even speak to a Samaritan, especially a Samaritan woman. As we know, Jesus was not interested in simply satisfying his own thirst. He not only spoke to the Samaritan woman, he wisely and strategically used this request for an act of kindness as a means of addressing the thirst of this woman’s soul.
This seemingly short encounter with a stranger produced big results. The Samaritan woman was so affected by Jesus’ words of kindness, wisdom and love that she left her water jar by the well and ran into town to tell everyone she knew of her encounter with this special man. John 4:39 says, “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.”
It is only as we follow the example of Christ that our acts of kindness serve the purpose for which they were originally designed. Our service, or kindness, should not be an end in itself, but rather a means to an end. Each act of kindness bears an opportunity to open the door of relationship. If used wisely and lovingly, this relationship may afford us the privilege of sharing the ultimate act of kindness—the sacrifice of Jesus as the atonement for our sins and the way to be reconciled to God.
When Steve Sjogren, pastor and author, wrote in his book Conspiracy of Kindness, a Refreshing New Approach to Sharing the Love of Jesus with Others, “It seems people don’t necessarily remember what they are told of God’s love, but they never forget what they have experienced of God’s love,” he hit the nail directly on the head.
From legacy to strategy
As Christians and as Salvationists, we have a legacy of kindness that has been passed on to us from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as well as our Army predecessors. We even have a specific program designed to give us opportunities to exercise our kindness muscles—the Community Care Ministries. But we must not be satisfied with a program, or statistics, or even a good reputation based on our history. Our challenge today is to impact the world for Christ with strategic acts of mercy and kindness in order to introduce our best friend Jesus and what he has to offer all mankind. Acts of kindness done without the gift of Jesus’ love may be remembered, but will not necessarily change the world. Let us be doers* of God’s Word, remembering the purpose for which God sent it—salvation for the lost.
Try an act of kindness today
“Therefore encourage one another
and build each other up…” I Thessalonians 5:11
- Give an unexpected hug.
- Record a cheering crowd and play it for someone when they enter the room.
- Compliment someone three times a day for a whole week.
- Pack a picnic lunch and surprise someone. Too cold outside? Have a picnic on the floor inside.
- Celebrate someone’s half birthday with half a birthday cake and half a glass of punch.
“Share with God’s people who are in need.
Practice hospitality.” Romans 12:13
- Invite a college student over for a meal.
- Give someone a mug with an invitation to stop by whenever they want to talk.
- Have someone over to test a new recipe. Rent a movie and invite someone over to watch it.
“May the Lord make your love increase
and overflow for each other and for everyone
else, just as ours does for you.” 1 Thessalonians 3:12
- Do someone else’s chore and leave a little colored heart for them to find.
- Take an elderly person shopping.
- Offer to baby-sit for a stressed-out mom.
- Take someone out for breakfast.
When you buy coffee at Starbucks, pay for coffee for the next person to walk in the door.