My pastor’s advice to believers who want to go deeper in their faith is to cultivate thankfulness, generosity, and kindness. Of course, you don’t have to believe in God to be thankful, generous, and kind. But if you have been touched by the grace of God, there should be evidence that you have been changed.
The Vine and the Branches
To “cultivate” means to develop a quality or sentiment or to prepare the soil for a crop or garden. The second meaning reminds me of the parable of the vine and the branches. Jesus is the vine and the Father is the gardener. Followers of Jesus are the branches. The branches do not bear fruit alone; they only bear fruit if they remain attached to the vine. We remain in the vine when we keep the words of Jesus in our hearts and keep his command to love each other as he loves us.
Jesus wanted his followers to cultivate fruit of the spirit, qualities like kindness and compassion, that flourish when you are deeply rooted in love. When we cultivate good fruit, we “spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere (2 Corinthians 2:14).”
In a letter to the Colossians (2:7), the apostle Paul wrote, “continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”
Why do those who have been redeemed by Jesus overflow with thankfulness? Because he touched us and made us whole. Because we were once lost, but now we’re found. Because we were blind, but now we see! Because we have been promised a kingdom that will not be shaken!
As I know too well, it is easy to forget to give thanks when you’re going through something difficult. Paul reminds us to be thankful in all circumstances. No matter how bad things are, do not be anxious. The Lord is always near.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:4-7
As a child, I was taught that what you give comes back to you. This is the wisdom of Proverbs 11:25: a person who blesses others will be abundantly blessed. Jesus said, “For if you give, you will get! Your gift will return to you in full and overflowing measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use to give—large or small—will be used to measure what is given back to you (Luke 6:38, Living Bible).”
Even if you are poor and have little to give, God will bless you for giving. Jesus promised that God will provide whatever you need. If you have the means to give and you have no pity on people in need, how can the love of God be in you?
Kindness is underrated. A simple act of kindness or a kind word can mean the world to the person who receives it. Kindness is a gift that every person can afford to give. To be kind is to be gentle, caring, considerate, helpful, generous, gracious, merciful and forgiving. Kindness is uplifting and encouraging.
If you have been encouraged by Christ, if you have received any comfort from his love, if you have been touched by his tenderness and compassion, then be like-minded. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others (Philippians 2:3-4).”
Kindness is more than just being nice or pleasant. The essence of kindness is the ability to look to the interests of others, to treat other people the way you want to be treated. Let someone else go first. Let someone else have something that you wanted for yourself. Bear with each other. Forgive others for not being perfect just as you are not perfect.
Paul describes the spiritual attire of a person who is dearly loved by God and shows how grateful they are by being kind, compassionate, humble, gentle, forgiving and patient:
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. – Colossians 3:12-17
Pay it forward
The phrase “pay it forward” is credited to Lily Hardy Hammond who wrote (The garden of delight, 1916), “You don’t pay love back; you pay it forward.” Long before she coined this phrase, Jesus showed us how to pay his love forward. Be Jesus-minded. Be kind. Be merciful. Be forgiving. See to it that no one misses out on the grace of God.
2 Corinthians 2:14, 9:11
Philippians 2:1-4; 4:6
Colossians 2:6-7; 3:12-17
1 Thessalonians 5:18
1 Peter 3:9
1 John 3:17