Religion that stops at words is useless, ineffective and hypocritical

I read a story during my morning devotional this week that brought conviction to my heart. The anecdote touched me even more because it spoke of a subject that I had just been tested on the day before: steadfast kindness.

It’s the story of an old man who always carried a small can of oil wherever he went. If he came across a door that squeaked, he would squirt a little oil on the hinges. If he tried to enter a gate that was rusty and hard to open, he would promptly oil the latch. Everywhere the man went, he made it a point to make it easier for those coming after him to open doors that were noisy and gates that were hard to open. Instead of ignoring the hard spots, he made them easier for those who came behind.

He was an ambassador of kindness, healing and helpfulness in a world filled with selfishness, pain and hardship.

The story made me think of difficult people or tough circumstances that we encounter, which tend to incite negative responses from us.

It’s the natural law of cause and effect. If someone is negative and harsh, our normal response is to defend ourselves, fight back, often adding insult to injury. If a situation is difficult, our natural tendency is to fear, act impulsively, or sometimes despair.

But I believe that it is in those hard places that the strength of our spirituality is truly tested.

Not when doors open without a noise, people in our lives are helpful and easygoing, and our days are carefree; but rather, our faith is tested and proven when we meet tough obstacles and negative responses.

It is then that we have an opportunity to measure the strength of our spiritual convictions, or the duplicity of our faith.

“I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.”

The apostle Paul wrote these words in his letter to the Roman church, describing the eternal struggle between the flesh and the spirit, our natural tendencies and our God-given convictions.

In other words, we know how we should react when we face difficult people and circumstances, but often find ourselves doing the very opposite of what we preach.

We know we should not judge others, and yet, we do. We should forgive, then again, we find ourselves sustaining old grudges, holding people hostage to their mistakes.

He calls it a war between the spirit and the flesh, and I believe it is a war indeed.

How many times do we start a conversation with the intention of offering peace, only to find ourselves arguing, raising our voices and saying things that we later regret? How many times do we know that we need to help someone, but out of laziness or lack of time, choose to do nothing at all?

The problem is, because it is a war, we will never win it, unless we make a deliberate decision to tame our flesh and allow God to direct our response. We do that by pausing before reacting, praying before acting, and holding our tongues.

Just as the man in the story, who purposely spread kindness wherever he went, we must make a willful decision to tame our natural responses, thus reflecting in our actions the spiritual truths we preach about.

Religion that stops at the words we speak is useless, ineffective and, worse of all, hypocritical. And unfortunately, we are all guilty of that at some point in time.

But in a world filled with rusty gates and squeaky doors, I’d like to be remembered as someone who chose to spread a little oil in the rough places, rising above any natural tendency to speak carelessly, fight ugly, and always win.