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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Being Nice

This morning on the ride to work I was thinking about the things I've always liked about the Christmas season. As a Christian, there is the celebration of the birth of Christ, which I LOVE, but there's something else. Ideally this time of year, people seem to try a little harder to be nice to each other. There's this "Well hey, I'll do that for you... it's Christmas!" thing going on. As if we are required to have an excuse to do something helpful or friendly to someone! Being nice at Christmas is even a big part of our holiday entertainment selections, such as the story about the Grinch and the one about Ebeneezer Scrooge. Of course, at Christmastime we have historical precedent for "being nice at Christmas" in people like Saint Nicholas (not Santa Claus... the canonized Saint) and Duke Wenceslas (yes, he was real, but no, technically he was not a king, no matter what the song says) who took the opportunity of the season to be very generous to others. But I doubt either of them would want acts of kindness to be limited to the last month of the year! If they were here today, doubtless they would tell us to extend our kindness and generosity every time the opportunity presented itself, whether in December or some other month.

But there's something about this "Christmas spirit" that's imperfect. The problem is that we so often do our kind and generous deeds because we want to be kind and generous people... or even worse, we do them because we feel like we have to. And in reality, good deeds that are done because we feel somehow compelled to do them, or because we want to feel warm fuzzy feelings inside... those good deeds just don't measure up for God. To us, those good deeds seem very altruistic, and certainly they do make a difference to others, but God sees them as dirty, nasty clothes that badly need washing (Isaiah 64:6). (And if you really want to know just how "polluted" those "garments" are, do a little research! Trust me, Isaiah was painting quite a negative picture there!)

But there is a way to do good deeds that is acceptable to God. The key is simply to let those good deeds flow to others, via ourselves, by inspiration from God. As though we were wires carrying power from God to the persons we are ministering to. And how do you know if you're doing something that way or some other way? Well, you certainly need to be in tune with the Holy Spirit, and you get that way through worship and prayer and Bible study; that's just Being A Christian 101. I suspect that while we are on this imperfect world with imperfect bodies and not-quite-totally-renewed minds, there will always be at least a small element of selfishness in doing something nice for someone to whom we owe nothing; after all, it does feel nice to do something kind and then be appreciated for it. But I think that the more in tune we are to the Holy Spirit, the less that matters to us and the more it matters that we are doing what is pleasing to God. And in a nutshell, that is what the Christian Life is all about: doing what is pleasing to God, no matter what happens as a result and no matter what the cost.

As we move out of the "oughts" (I look forward to telling kids in future years that "I remember the great Tulsa blizzard of ought-nine!" hehe) into the twenty-tens and -teens, here's an idea: let's seek to daily be more like Jesus. Let's seek to do only the Father's Will. But let's not do it because we know it's the right thing to do and make up our minds to do it; let's do it because we are so close to God and He has influenced our attitudes so much that it has become natural for us to do His will. Because His nature has become our nature. Not because we are trying to act like Him, but because we have in reality become a little more like Him!

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