A few days ago, a friend asked me if relational wisdom isn’t simply “being nice.”

He’d recently read my “Serving a Barista” post, which gave him the impression that relational wisdom applies only to the easy, pleasant encounters of life.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” I told him.

Not that it doesn’t apply to casual encounters. It certainly does. That’s one of the things I love about relational wisdom: you don’t have to wait for a conflict to apply it.

From the time you wake up in the morning to the time you go to bed, you can practice relational principles, such as “READ Yourself Accurately” and “SERVE Every Person you Meet,” again and again in every human encounter … whether with a lazy teenager, a discouraged spouse, or an insecure or forgetful coworker. As 1 Thessalonians 5:14 teaches,

“And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all …. “

This “throughout-the-day” applicability of relational wisdom gives you frequent opportunities to practice the principles so they become more and more natural … which prepares you to apply them in the midst of major conflicts and relational crises.

The crisis-resolving power of relational wisdom is beautifully illustrated in Victor Hugo’s classic story, Les Miserables. Early in the story, Jean Val Jean (played by Liam Neeson in the movie clip below) has just been released from prison after serving twenty years for stealing a loaf of bread. A kind-hearted bishop gives him a meal and place to rest as he journeys to the city where he will serve his parole.

Having no hope of a meaningful life under the harsh parole system, Jean Val Jean assaults the bishop in the middle of the night and steals his silverware. Watch how the “nice” qualities this bishop cultivated for a lifetime enable him to do what is utterly unnatural in the midst of this crisis. (If video screen does not appear below, click here.)

Debrief

Most of us, if faced with this situation, would have still been so consumed with anger and resentment that we would have gladly turned Jean Val Jean over to the gendarmes. Only later, after we had cooled down, would we have realized we had missed the opportunity to imitate the mercy of God.

But, as Victor Hugo implies, the bishop had been dwelling on the mercies of God all his life. This inspired him to cultivate the mind and character of Christ, which led to his exercising kindness, patience, and gentleness—or, in other words, being nice—in countless human encounters.

As a result, when a major conflict erupted, he was able to master his emotions and return good for evil, thus fulfilling the more challenging call of 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15:

“And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.

Being nice to people in the casual encounters of daily life may not seem to be of great significance, but it all adds up. Being faithful in the little things is what prepares you to be faithful in the big things (Luke 16:10).

– Ken Sande

Reflection Questions:

  • Note how many passages of Scripture call us to exercise relatively “easy” character qualities as a prelude to, or even preparation for, exercising more difficult qualities (e.g., Col. 3:12-13; Phil. 2:1-11).
  • How does being kind, patient, gentle, empathetic, or encouraging to people in casual encounters prepare you for handling major relational crises?
  • What is it that makes a Christian’s being “nice” different from a nonbeliever’s being “nice”? (Hint: our motivation is fundamentally different; see, e.g., Rom. 12:1; John 13:34-35)
  • Tell a friend that you want to practice either the READ principle or the SERVE principle in the casual encounters of your life every day for two weeks, and that you will email him or her a brief daily report on what you are experiencing and learning.

Permission to distribute: Please feel free to download, print, or electronically share this message in its entirety for non-commercial purposes with as many people as you like.

© 2013 Ken Sande

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