I am hoping against hope that the California megachurch that “decided to shower its community with gifts of love and service for 25 days” this Christmas is spending January helping each participant debrief the experience and think individually about what they learned and how the Holy Spirit may build upon each experience in the year to come.
My experience has been that we churches are not so much inclined to reflect on and learn from our efforts to do good, however, which explains why we may not be so great at doing good well.
We have a tendency to think that doing good is relatively easy when we get around to it, and the challenge is really just making the time. But in a training I did this past month of missionaries serving in some of the toughest places on earth, I led a seemingly simple “do the Word” exercise with them. I gave them $10, two hours, and the text of Isaiah 58. Then I divided them up into teams of two and dispatched them out into a pouring rainstorm and told them, “Having heard this Word, now go and do this Word, to the glory and praise of God.”
They all returned an hour and a half later, absolutely drenched but praising God for the works he worked through them…and noting how amazingly challenging it was to do good well.
And that is one of several distinguishing differences between random acts of kindness and doing the Word:
Random acts of kindness lead people to feel a little better about themselves and a little more grateful to God, while making the world a little bit brighter. But doing the Word leads the disciples of Christ to deny themselves, take up their crosses daily, and mirror his image ever more fully into an ever more hostile world.
This principle is well illustrated in These Are The Generations, the book I wrote with third generation underground Christians from North Korea. The parents of one of my co-authors, Mr. Bae, are in a concentration camp in North Korea as a result of their Christian activities. Mr. Bae’s wife, Mrs. Bae writes that this is no tragedy but rather the direct result of a lifetime of doing the Word at greater and greater levels of faithfulness and reliance on God:
When my husband was little, my husband’s mother asked my husband’s grandfather, “Dad, did you really hear God’s voice?” When he told her yes, she pressed him for all the details. He shared how God’s voice had been especially clear to him when he had been fasting, praying, or sleeping. My mother-in-law told him that she’d like to hear God as he had heard. She was sad that she couldn’t hear God, and she prayed for a faith as deep as his.
When my husband was a boy, he and his family were exiled to the barren countryside when his mother refused to turn away even a criminal in need. And when her husband reminded her that it was this kindness that had consigned the family to such a place, she replied, “We should always live out our faith every moment and never let it be shaken.”
When things worsened, she asked her family matter-of-factly, “Why am I supposed to be afraid of anything? God is on my side, and he’ll make a way for us. Even in the hard times, he’ll solve all our problems. Why should we focus on the difficulties?”
Somewhere in a concentration camp in North Korea today, a prisoner is hearing for the first time about Noah’s Ark, Sodom and Gomorrah, and the way people were created, all because God loves people so much that he will even send his short, stoop-shouldered eighty-year-old messenger into a concentration camp to tell them the good news.
In this month of preparation, let’s resolve to take the randomness out of kindness. Acts like the ones that drove Mr. Bae’s mother into a concentration camp are quite literally the least random things on earth.