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Passing On Kindness

March 2017
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There’s a story in the Old Testament about a friendship that went beyond the grave. It is a story many of us are familiar with, but the lasting effects of that friendship might not be as well known. It is the friendship between David and Jonathan, who was the son of King Saul, the first King of Israel. The story is found in 1 Samuel 17-20, and opens with the story of David, as a teenage shepherd boy, slaying the Philistine giant known as Goliath. David’s popularity among the people after he slew Goliath created much jealousy in King Saul, who then tried to kill David over the next several years. In the midst of this situation is Jonathan, King Saul’s son, who became a very close friend with David.

In an article titled, Epics Friendships: David and Jonathan,” by Cecily Paterson, an author and editor, she gives us a brief description of the history of their friendship:

One of the most famous friendships of the Bible has to be that of David and Jonathan. When they met, David [a young shepherd boy] had been chosen by God to be the future king of the Israelites, but Jonathan’s father (Saul) who was the king at the time, wanted to kill David.

However, Jonathan took a real liking to David.  He made a promise to him, he loved him, he gave him presents and provided for him. He warned David about plots against him by his father, he spoke out for him to his father and he used his influence to keep him safe.

Friendship requires self-sacrifice.

It’s not surprising that Jonathan was the main player in the relationship at first, because as the son of the king, he was the one with the power in this relationship.

But it is a power that he used for the good of his friend – and at a cost to himself. Every time he kept David safe or promoted his interests, he was destroying his own chances of inheriting his father’s throne. Jonathan’s friendship with David was at the cost of his own career and reputation!

Friendship requires loyalty.

Jonathan was a friend with some pretty impressive qualities. His loyalty to David, and courage in the face of political pressure, and an angry, murderous father was unquestioned. He had the humility to say openly that he would never be king. He followed up his commitments, he was generous and he did it all ‘before the Lord’. He showed genuine affection, loyalty and openness. He was the friend everyone would love to have!

But David was not just a passive ‘taker’ in all of this either. As time went on their friendship grew so that by the end it was definitely a two-way relationship between equals.  When the pair had to part, the story says that David ‘wept the most’. At Jonathan’s death, David showed immense grief.

Friendship requires real commitment.

One of the particularly beautiful aspects of this friendship was the way David and Jonathan promised to do good to each other’s family and descendents. They knew that as technical rivals to the same throne, it was more than likely that their families and heirs could grow to hate each other and try to eliminate their opponents. They took steps to stop the cycle of rivalry and hate – and as time went on, it worked. . . .

Most of us today are unlikely to be in a situation where we become best friends with our greatest rivals, but we may stand to lose status, money, or power because of a friendship. Are we willing to put our friends first? (Quote source here.)

The story of King Saul’s jealousy of David starts from the time David slew Goliath (1 Samuel 17) when he was a teenager, and lasts until King Saul’s death by suicide in a battle that kills his sons, including Jonathan (see 1 Samuel 31). During those years from the time David was a teenager until he took the throne of Israel at the age of 30 (see 2 Samuel 5:4), King Saul had tried a number of times to kill David, and twice David had the chance to kill King Saul but he didn’t take it as David always viewed King Saul as “God’s anointed.” The entire story is found in 1 Samuel 17-31.

David laments the death of King Saul and Jonathan in 2 Samuel 1:17-27, and David is anointed King over the tribe of Judah at which time a war breaks out between the House of David and the House of Saul (see 2 Samuel 2-4). In 2 Samuel 5 David becomes King over Israel and conquers Jerusalem and defeats the Philistines.

At this point I want to bring the story back to the friendship between David and Jonathan. As noted in the story above, “One of the particularly beautiful aspects of this friendship was the way David and Jonathan promised to do good to each other’s family and descendents. They knew that as technical rivals to the same throne, it was more than likely that their families and heirs could grow to hate each other and try to eliminate their opponents. They took steps to stop the cycle of rivalry and hate – and as time went on, it worked.” That story is found in 2 Samuel 9.

In 2 Samuel 9:1, King David asks, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” Kevin Gerald, founder and lead pastor of Champions Centre in Tacoma, Washington, has written about the kindness of King David that extends beyond the graves of both Jonathan and King Saul in his book titled, Good Things: Seeing Your Life Through the Lens of God’s Favor,” (2015). In Chapter 14 titled, “Favor Forward,” he writes (pp. 115-117):

There’s an illustration of this kind of above-and-beyond caring for others in the life of the great King David.

The thoughts of David, once only a lowly shepherd boy, were swimming in pools of remembrance. The story seemed almost too good to be true–where he was now compared to where he was then–staggering! Somehow a dynasty reserved only for those in the bloodline of royalty had opened up to include him. He knew the events that had led up to his becoming the king of Judah [and Israel], but he was still incredibly fascinated by how it had all happened.

Obviously, God’s favor was on his life.

Perhaps that’s what he was thinking about on this day when waves of gratitude overwhelmed him and he suddenly blurted out a question, which caused all of those around him to scurry in search of an answer. It was an unexpected, spontaneous question prompted in a moment of reflection, and no one in his immediate airspace knew the answer. So they went looking for someone who did, and it wasn’t long until a man named Ziba came to stand before the king. David asked him the same question: “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” (2 Samuel 9:1).

We’ve all experienced some unsolicited kindness, when for some reason people wanted to show us kindness, to grace us with their favor–perhaps parents, mentors, teachers, coaches, relatives, neighbors, pastors, and friends who played significant role in helping us get to where we are today. They showed us favor we had not earned, and maybe now because we’ve lost touch with them, it’s impossible to thank them personally. Or maybe it’s just hard emotionally to express accurately the gratitude we feel.

So the greatest expression of gratitude we may have available to us now is to pay it forward–to pass on kindness to another person.

This is exactly the state of mind David was in as he remembered his friend Jonathan, the son of the previous king, Saul. Jonathan had been the heir apparent to the throne David now occupied. Their relationship had been cemented by an agreement to preserve and protect each other no matter what. This is what David was recalling that day when he asked his question. He was on a mission that no one in the palace could fully understand or comprehend.

I love the simplicity of David’s question. He did not ask, “Is there anyone who is deserving? Is there anyone who could help me in the business of the kingdom? Is there anyone with skills? Is there anyone who is qualified to lead our military?” No, he simply asked, “Is there anyone? Just anyone of the house of Saul?”

Ziba, the servant who had been summoned, knew about only one son of Jonathan–a young man who had suffered a severe fall that left him crippled for life. Ziba said, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is lame in both feet” (2 Samuel 9:3).

Why did Ziba add the information about the injured feet? Maybe he thought this deformity would eliminate that son as a candidate for the king’s kindness. Perhaps he thought the king would be embarrassed in some way by having a crippled man in his presence.

But the words were hardly out of Ziba’s mouth when King David quickly asked another question: “Where is he?”

“He is at the house of Makir son of Ammiel in Lo Debar,” Ziba answered (verse 4).

Lo Debar was a desolate place, known for its extreme poverty and barely survivable conditions. Now all the personal, unpleasant, and unappealing information that Ziba knew was out on the table. This son of Jonathan was definitely not the kind of person one would expect a king to be interested in. But David never showed an ounce of hesitation.

So King David had him brought from Lo Debar from the house of Makir son of Ammiel.

When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honor.

David said, “Mephibosheth!”

“At your service,” he replied.

“Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table” (verses 5-7).

The difference a day can make! The marginalized, disenfranchised, socially excluded Mephibosheth had been lifted out of Lo Debar by the extravagant kindness of the king. Typically, when we consider kindness, we think of offering greetings and smiles, opening doors, buying someone coffee. But when David said he wanted to show someone kindness, he was thinking way outside our normal box. To David kindness meant much more than a small act. To him it was a complete game-changing, life-altering demonstration of favor that would impact the recipient’s life continually from that day forward. (Quote source, Good Things,” pp. 115-117).

From this story we get a clear picture that one act of kindness can sometimes lead to some incredible places and life changes. However, I don’t want us to get our normal concept of “being nice” (which is way too common today and requires nothing from us personally including any real compassion on our part) as being confused with or as a substitute for “being kind.” The two concepts are diametrically opposed.

Here’s a second story taken from Harvard Business Review titled,Why Is it So Hard to Be Nice?” (2010) by William C. (Bill) Taylor, a writer, speaker, cofounder and founding editor of Fast Companythat speaks to the issue of kindness from a business perspective:

Every so often, you have a small experience in business that teaches big lessons about what really separates winners from losers. I had one of those experiences a few weeks ago, and I think the story is worth telling, not because it is so exciting or dramatic, but because it is so true to how the world really works — and because it underscores how those of us who think about business often make things more complicated than they are.

So here’s the story…

Two weeks ago, my father turned 75. I wanted to give him a special gift to mark the milestone, and I got an idea. How does a red-blooded American male do something nice for his Dad? Why, he buys him a Cadillac, of course! So I called my father, whose 2001 Cadillac was showing its age, and gave him the news: You visit the showroom, pick the model, negotiate the price (that’s half the fun, right?) and I’ll take care of the rest.

He was thrilled. So he drove his old Cadillac to the dealer, test-drove the new models, chose the options he wanted, and started talking price. Towards the end of those discussions, he reminded the dealer that he’d received a $1,000 customer-loyalty discount in the mail, which he planned to apply to the car. This was on a Friday afternoon. Turns out, the dealer told him, the loyalty discount had expired — on Thursday, less than 24 hours before the visit. “But I assume you’ll honor it anyway,” my father said. “I’m a loyal Cadillac customer.” Sorry, the dealer told him, but the terms are the terms.

Needless to say, that reaction stalled the conversation. My father drove away, a little confused and very disappointed, and decided to look around more — not at other Cadillac dealers, but at other brands. The next Friday, he drove by a Buick dealership and decided to stop in. A Buick Lacrosse — which, it turns out, is a super-popular model right now — caught his eye, and he struck up a conversation with the dealer. He told the story of his expired loyalty certificate. The dealer checked the computer and confirmed that the certificate had indeed expired. “But no problem,” he said, “we’ll honor it. We’ll knock a thousand bucks off whatever price we agree to.”

Impressed, my father decided to take the Lacrosse for a ride. He liked the experience, but he told the dealer he wished he had stopped by earlier in the day, so he could drive it longer. “Then take the car with you for the weekend,” the dealer said. “Bring it back on Monday and we’ll go from there.”

It was a great plan, until Monday rolled around and my father found himself being rushed not to the dealer but to the hospital, with what turned out to be a medical problem that required surgery (he’s doing great now, thanks.) As he was lying in his hospital bed, thinking about whatever it is we think about in these moments, he realized that the Buick Lacrosse was sitting in his garage! So he called the dealer from the hospital and asked how he could get the car back. “Don’t worry about the car,” he said. “Just get better.” And the next morning, what should arrive at the hospital but a lovely bouquet of flowers and a nice note from the Buick dealer!

So here’s the first question: Which car do you think my father bought? If you said the Buick Lacrosse, you would be correct. Here’s the second question: Since that purchase, what do you think one my father’s favorite topics of conversation with friends, associates, and me has been? If you said, the incredible treatment he received from the Buick dealer, you would be correct again.

Now here’s the third question: Why is it so rare for businesspeople to behave like the Buick dealer, and so common for businesspeople to behave like the Cadillac dealer? It’s a mystery to me, but there’s nothing mysterious about the results of those contrasting behaviors. Success today is about so much more than just price, quality, reliability — pure economic value. It is about passion, emotion, identity — sharing your values.

Nobody is opposed to a good bottom-line deal — “cold beer at a reasonable price,” in the immortal words of Bruce Springsteen, who prefers his Cadillacs pink. But what we remember and what we prize are small gestures of connection and compassion that introduce a touch of humanity into the dollars-and-cents world in which we spend most of our time. Translation: The ROI on that bouquet of flowers and the thought behind them was pretty darn high.

Last spring, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos gave the Baccalaureate address to Princeton University’s Class of 2010. He told a little story of his own, about how a 10-year-old Jeff Bezos showed his grandparents how smart he was, in a way that upset his grandmother. His grandfather pulled young Jeff aside. “My grandfather looked at me,” the now-billionaire CEO recalled, “and after a bit of silence, he gently and calmly said, ‘Jeff, one day you’ll understand that it’s harder to be kind than clever.’”

That sounds like a good takeaway from the story of my father’s new car. What is it about business that makes it so hard to be kind? And what kind of businesspeople have we become when small acts of kindness feel so rare? (Quote source here.)

As Jeff Bezos’ grandfather stated to him, “It’s harder to be kind than clever.” It’s also harder to be kind than nice. So why is it, as Bill Taylor stated at the end of his article, that “small acts of kindness feel so rare?” Is it because we just don’t care anymore? That can come with a pretty big price tag. “One act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted” ~Aesop.

And one act of kindness. . .

Can change. . .

The world. . . .

YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac:

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