In Praise of Simple Things
Last Friday, I was out of the country at a conference in Spain. My wife, Marianna, was driving to Portland with her brother and little sister. She noticed the steering was funny and then realized she had a flat tire. She randomly pulled into the first side street she saw and found herself in front of a mechanic shop.
But it was 7 p.m. on a Friday and the shop was already closed. The two mechanics inside had just finished sweeping and mopping the floor from a long day’s work. “Sorry, we’re closed,” said one of them. But then the other mechanic said, “I’ll fix it for you.” The other one whispered to him, “But we’re closed.” “I’ll do it for free,” he said. My wife was totally surprised.
Cultivating an awareness of the practical needs of those around us is among the most basic virtues of the Christian’s experience.
I know it seems so small and simple. But that’s the point. That act of kindness lit her up. That man had no idea what was going on in her life. He knew nothing of the burdens she’d been shouldering that week. His act of kindness was a godsend, literally.
That experience reminds me of the simplicity of the gospel. It’s practical. It finds its clearest expression in the small, simple things. And those small, simple gestures often have big, far reaching effects.
We don’t know the burdens that are on the hearts of those that surround us daily. A simple gesture can go a long way.
Keep it Spontaneous
According to the New Testament, cultivating an awareness of the practical needs of those around us is among the most basic virtues of the Christian’s experience. Jesus made a big deal about this in Matthew 25:31-46. It’s a pretty dramatic vision of the end of the world when the Son of Man is sitting on His throne and the whole world is summoned before Him.
At that time there are only two categories of people: the sheep and the goats. This is the moment of truth when everyone’s true colors are shown. Christ tells the sheep, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (v. 34).
Along with this awesome invitation, they are given the reason they received it:
I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me. (Matthew 25:35-36)
The reaction of the righteous is worth noting. “What?” they say, “When did we do all those things to you?” You can almost see the confusion on their faces. I get a sense that if given more time they would have protested and announced that there’d been a mix up of the names and they were mistakenly elected.
But it’s in their confusion that we see the certainty of their qualification. They lived a life of spontaneous compassion and kindness. It was a natural impulse from a heart touched by the love of God. They didn’t have to try; it was merely a gospel induced, knee-jerk reaction. Don’t miss the subtle point Jesus is making: they were unaware that they were getting credit for what they did.
Ellen White chimes in on this theme in Christ’s Object Lessons, page 384:
Love is the basis of godliness. Whatever the profession, no man has pure love to God unless he has unselfish love for his brother. But we can never come into possession of this spirit by trying to love others. What is needed is the love of Christ in the heart. When self is merged in Christ, love springs forth spontaneously. The completeness of Christian character is attained when the impulse to help and bless others springs constantly from within. . .
These righteous souls had demonstrated a sincere encounter with God by the way they involved themselves in the lives of others. They had passed the test without even knowing they were being graded for it.
In the next scene Jesus replies with those well-known words:
Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me. (Matthew 25:40)
That’s a beautiful summary of the essence of Christianity. The principles of the kingdom have social implications right here, right now. May God help us to immerse ourselves so deeply in the love of God that we’ll be confused when our deeds of compassion are noted in the afterlife. May the gospel spring forth spontaneously from our words, from the expression on our faces, and from our random acts of kindness!