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Meaningful Acts of Easily Forgotten Kindness
I have been on Facebook for a few years. It started as a way to oversee and engage with my children when they first joined Facebook. I am not a fanatic, but I do enjoy the occasional interaction with a friend or reconnecting with someone from high school or college that I have not spoken to in thirty years! I recently reconnected with a former college student from my days as a campus minister. He sent me this message:
Tim, I do not know if you remember me from your campus ministry days. I just wanted to let you know that you gave me my first Bible. This story is dear to me and I tell it often: You were making an announcement about free Bibles for kids in low-income neighborhoods. I had just become a Christian through a retreat the week before. I asked you if I could have one of those Bibles and you gave it to me. I read one chapter every night during that semester and wept over the pages. I just wanted to thank you for being faithful. It changed my life!
Wow, all I did was hand this student a Bible! Thankfully, he said that it wasn’t me who changed his life; reading God’s word changed him. Yet God involved me in getting a Bible into this young man’s hands. It was such a simple act on my part, not even remotely heroic. But it was an opportunity and I could have responded differently. I could have acted on these thoughts, “These are for the kids, not you.” Or, “Can’t you afford to buy one? You aren’t in our target population.” By God’s grace, I didn’t. I stretched out my arm and handed him a Bible. That’s it.
So why do I share that story? It certainly doesn’t lend itself to my own fame and personal glory. I share it because this simple encounter highlights something that we emphasize at CCEF: you don’t have to be a formal counselor to have deep impact in people’s lives. Why would someone who works for an organization that seeks to equip wise counselors emphasize this? Because it is biblical! Formal counselors are needed, but the body of Christ is a powerful community and God uses everyone in many different ways.
I teach a class that takes all of what we believe at CCEF and stresses how we have countless opportunities to incarnate the grace of Christ on any given day, within the context of our daily relationships. You don’t need a formal degree in counseling or an office with stated hours of operation to help and encourage others. During the first class, I ask students this question, “Who has had significant influence in your life?” You would be astounded to know that I hear the same answers year after year. It never changes! Some of the usual suspects are a parent, relative, friend, Bible study leader, sibling, or informal mentor. Very common people.
I then ask students to describe ways the person wielded influence. I commonly hear responses about patience, humility, gentleness, kindness, vibrant faith in Christ in the face of hardship, pursuing love, or compassion for hurting people. Very common virtues.
It is rare that anyone names a formal counselor or even a pastor. You will get the occasional youth leader, probably because that is such a formative season of life.
These consistent responses reveal that God delights in using ordinary people who exhibit simple gospel virtues. This is where God does his miraculous work as he quietly and persistently builds his kingdom.
Let me tell you about one person who impacted my life in a miraculous way. Mr. Prince was an elderly southern gentleman who taught me when I was in junior high Sunday School. That’s light. Mr. Prince was brave enough to take on a class of ten junior high boys and teach them week after week. Can you imagine what it must have been like to teach junior high boys the Bible? We would fidget and joke with one another within three feet of Mr. Prince, somehow thinking he couldn’t see us! Occasionally, Mr. Prince would say in a calm southern voice,
“Boys, I want you to listen to Mr. Prince. He loves you and wants you to grow up to love Jesus.” Understand that Mr. Prince was no pushover. He owned his own business and was well acquainted with the push and pull of life. But he was calm, gentle, and patient with us week after week. When I didn’t show up one Sunday, he would send me a card saying he had missed me.
I look back and wonder what I might have done if Mr. Prince had come down hard on our boyish antics. It is highly likely that I would not have come back or used it as an excuse to keep God at arm’s length (as if we can really do that!). Instead, he loved us well by showing up week after week, exhibiting simple, yet miraculous, gentleness and patience. I remember these things about Mr. Prince—these very relational, personal demonstrations of love—yet I don’t remember anything he actually taught us! His love for us is the enduring take-away from my days in junior high Bible study. More than anything else, his love is what spoke the loudest. I think he knew that.
So, who influenced you? Or better still, who are you influencing?
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