Not-So-Random Acts of Kindness: Discovering Divine Opportunities
When it comes to God, nothing is random—a reason lies behind everything. He is developing a larger story, even when we do not understand or recognize it from our limited point of view. The story below from my father-in-law, David Watson, about a not-so-random act of kindness exemplifies this.
On the night before Valentine’s Day, I was looking over my message for our church service in the morning, when God impressed upon me to go out and buy a dozen roses. But I didn’t want to go out—I wanted to go to bed—so I argued with God that all the stores were closed. Then I remembered Dillon’s grocery carried flowers and was open 24 hours. Although I did not know His reason, His message was clear, so I went.
When I arrived, all the roses were gone. When I asked the clerk, she said, “We have one last vase of a dozen roses in the back.” She brought out a beautiful bouquet with a note that someone had reserved them, but had called an hour before and cancelled the order. Since God had clearly saved a bouquet for me, I bought it and immediately went to the church and put the flowers on an organ speaker off to the side.
As I was getting ready to preach my message the next day, I walked up to the pulpit and saw the roses out of the corner of my eye. I realized there was something I needed to do before I began preaching. I picked up the roses and explained to the congregation the story from the night before. I told them, “I would like to give these dozen roses to someone today.”
As I stepped down from the platform, the Holy Spirit put a thought in my mind: Not on the left side, but on the right side—a visitor. I began walking, not knowing who I was going to give them to, but I noticed a lady I had never seen before. I assumed she was a visitor. As I approached her, another thought came to me: Tell her that I love her, and I am proud of her.
I said, “Ma’am, I just want you to know that God directed me last night to buy these roses. As I walked toward you, the thought came to me that God wanted me to tell you that He loves you and He’s proud of you.” Immediately, she began to cry. I still had a message to give, so I had to walk back to the pulpit. Off to the side, the woman waited patiently as I prayed with people after the service.
When I was available, I asked, “Can I help you?” She said, “You already have. Would you like to hear the rest of the story?”
She said, “I am a postal carrier. This week as I was delivering all the Valentines to people on my route, I thought about my life—in particular, how I always wanted to please my dad. He was one of those people who really didn’t show love, yet I wanted so badly for him to hug me, and appreciate me, and tell me he loved me. So, as I was delivering the mail, I stopped, looked up to Heaven, and said, ‘If there is a God in Heaven, I want You to tell me that You love me and that You’re proud of me.’ When you came up the aisle with those flowers, and you said those exact words . . . that was the answer to prayer from God Himself.”
And here is the wonderful truth: We all have opportunities like this— divine opportunities disguised as random acts of kindness, or perhaps random acts of conversation, that God can turn into transformational experiences. I also believe we miss far more of them than we realize.
Think about it: Many people walk through city streets, hallways at work, and walkways of school campuses protected by all sorts of relational armor that restricts them from engaging in meaningful conversation with others. Even at APU, I see students every day rushing to and from class wearing large sunglasses, carrying a cell phone in one hand and a drink in the other, with a thin white cable running from their cell phone to their ears. The only thing missing is a nose plug to successfully block the majority of their senses. Each layer of relational armor makes it less likely that people will even attempt to penetrate our social shield.
Consider the last time you stood in line at a grocery store or a coffee shop. Did more people interact with their phones or the people around them? We have reached a place in society where it’s more acceptable to ignore each other than to engage each other. Some students admit to pretending to text or listen to music, and to taking fake phone calls, so they can dodge casual conversations. The hard truth is that we never know what God might do in the midst of small talk. Perhaps God intends to turn that exchange into a divine appointment.
I challenge you to let God direct you and use you in seemingly small conversations with strangers, family, friends, or colleagues. Listen for cues that allude to possible needs and areas of attention. Follow up with people, listen intently, and ask them how you might be of assistance. Do not forget about the small things you can do for the Lord by reaching out to strangers in conversation—in doing so you just might be entertaining angels (Hebrews 13:2). Saint Teresa of Calcutta said, “Do small things with great love,” and I believe that is a perfect motto for approaching conversations in everyday life.
Despite how much time I spend researching, writing, and speaking about divine opportunities, I realize I am still quick to forget about daily opportunities to engage. To guard against life’s distractions, I created a screensaver for my phone so that anytime I tap, touch, or turn it on, the first things I see are the words “Serve Who How” across the screen. This reminds me that I need to look up, look out, and lean into the opportunities God presents each day.
The “Serve Who How” prompt has become my divine spark, and it can be yours as well. Service is the first simple step toward a divine appointment. Here are a few questions that may allow God to point you in the direction of service: Are there people I can introduce myself to and simply acknowledge their presence? Is there someone who needs a listening ear? Is there someone who needs encouragement? Is there someone who needs a prayer? It’s our job to pick out something small to do, and it’s God’s job to turn it into something big.
This thinking led me to implement an assignment in my Interpersonal Communication class called Not-So-Random Acts of Kindness. Students perform five such acts for family, friends, classmates, or strangers. These must be overt, specific deeds they would not have otherwise performed.
I provide the students with a few examples—handwriting a personal letter to someone; dropping off flowers with a note of encouragement; or visiting an old friend. What they choose to do is less important than the manner in which they do it—with intentionality and thoughtfulness. The students’ reflections afterwards have provided evidence of God’s hand in these efforts, reinforcing God’s nearness and His eagerness to use us—if we are willing.
Sara, a junior at the time, wrote, “This is my third year at APU, and I had yet to visit my grandparents who are in their 80s and live in Santa Barbara. It was an out-of-the-blue visit; the only motive for me to drive there was this assignment and the realization that it had been a long time since I had seen my grandparents. As I was driving, my mom called me to tell me that doctors had discovered a tumor in my grandpa’s liver. I was hit by emotions and thought to myself how amazing God’s timing was. I spent the whole weekend with my grandparents, going out to dinner, shopping, and staying up late to watch TV with my grandpa. My grandpa, who already has Alzheimer’s, looked at me after dinner on Saturday and said, ‘Sara, I love when you come visit.’ The trip was divine, and it had an impact on the relationship I have with my grandparents. During a stressful time, I was able to distract them with my presence. Just a couple of days ago, I learned the tumor is cancerous. My grandma told my mom how thankful she was that I got to see my grandpa for what could have been one of the last times.”
Another student in my class, Tiana, wrote, “I chose to send a thank you card to my grandmother. A little background: my mother passed away in 2007 from her battle with breast cancer, so my grandmother, who is a widowed pastor’s wife, held a prominent parenting role in my life. Well, my grandmother received it today and called me, in tears, as I was leaving your class. She was truly touched by the card and was vulnerable with me in a way that she has never been before. I wanted to say thank you, as it has motivated me to send more ‘love letters’ to my grandmother, and I want to encourage my siblings to do the same. Honestly, I did not expect anything to come from it, but now I am able to build a deeper relationship with my grandmother that I will cherish for a lifetime.”
In light of these stories, I invite all of us to consider: What role will we play in the daily opportunities God puts along our path? Will we shed our relational armor and discover those opportunities with a servant’s heart?
Adapted from Divine Opportunity: Finding God in the Conversations of Everyday Life (Credo House Publishers, 2016) by Ryan Montague, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies.
View Ryan Montague's TEDx Talk.
Posted: April 3, 2017