With the fourth core spiritual habit, we’ve reached a significant shift. Up until now the spiritual habits have focused either on our relationship with God or our relationship with the church. In other words, the first three core spiritual habits are inward focused. The fourth habit, though, takes Jesus’ command to love our neighbors seriously.
When I speak of this spiritual habit in congregations, I regularly get plenty of affirming nods and hear anecdotes of how their church has been active in its practice. All that changes, however, once I begin peeling back the layers of this core habit. We often forget that Christians and the church are not unique in their commitment to being kind. Every major world religion has a commandment concomitant to Jesus’ reminder to “love your neighbor.” And people don’t even need to be particularly religious in order to commit themselves to doing deeds of kindness and goodness to others. In other words, this core spiritual habit may begin with doing kindness, but it doesn’t end there. There’s that pesky clause “done in Jesus’ name” that has to be dealt with.
There’s a harsh reality that it’s about time the North American church faced. Although it’s “nice” to do anonymous acts of kindness, we simply can’t afford to do that anymore. Perhaps there was a time when at-risk public school kids understood that when they were gifted with the backpack of school supplies, it was given to them from the church and in the name of Jesus… I doubt it, but perhaps.
Today, however, when the church does a selfless, anonymous act of goodness, then anonymity gets the credit. That’s not a win for the church or for the kingdom of God. Is it a “nice” thing to do? Indubitably. Can the North American church, the one that’s been losing nearly a million members a year, really afford to be nice for the sake of being nice anymore? Hardly. Unfortunately, there’s a biblical precedent for doing anonymous good deeds – it’s nearly always applied out of context – but truth be told, that’s seldom stopped us from doing so anyway. In Matthew 6:3–4 Jesus says “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Never mind that Jesus was specifically condemning publicly doing good works in order for an individual to garner the praise and admiration of those who might be watching. In fact, in Matthew 5 Jesus admonishes us to do our good deeds where everyone can see them and “they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (5:16). In other words, do good works and make sure Jesus gets the credit!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against doing good things for people – and if you are personally going to do something, if the Spirit leads you to do it anonymously, then God bless you: go for it. But with the reputation that both the church and Christians have in our society, isn’t it about time someone started doing good works in Jesus’ name? Of course, I’m also not suggesting that being annoying about involvement in doing good as a Christian is okay either. The goal here is to get a plus-one in the Jesus column. I think the best training I’ve ever received on this particular spiritual habit came from Steve Sjogren. Do good, and when someone questions you, instead of blushing and saying, “Thanks,” say something like, “Just showing God’s love in a practical way” or “I’m practicing my ‘What Would Jesus Do’ habit.” Over the years, I’ve let other shoppers – sometimes folks who are in hurry but have a full cart, to goahead of me. When they ask, “You sure?” I just nod and reply, “Jesus suggested I needed some practice in patience today.” Sometimes a conversation ensues, sometimes not – but either way, I gave the credit away.
Question: What good work have you done in Jesus’ name this week? Share yours in the Comments section below.