Several years ago a movie was released called “Pay It Forward,” based on the novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. It stars Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and the adorable Haley Joel Osment, as a 12-year-old boy, Trevor McKinney
In the movie, Trevor is given an assignment by his social studies teacher, Mr. Simonet, to find a way to change the world and put it into action. Trevor conjures up the notion of paying a favor not back, but forward. In other words to repay good deeds not with payback, but with new good deeds done to three new people. Do something good for someone then that person pays it forward.
As it catches on we see people engaging in acts of kindness to others only to say, “Don’t pay me back – I’m looking for nothing in return – pay it forward.”
Trevor’s efforts to make good on his idea bring a revolution not only in the lives of himself, his mother and his physically and emotionally scarred teacher, but in those of an ever-widening circle of people completely unknown to him.
Today the phrase, “Pay it forward,” has become iconic. And it is often reported in random acts of kindness by complete strangers in everything from paying for a meal at a drive-through restaurant, to paying the toll of a person behind you, to paying off a stranger’s Christmas lay-a-way gifts.
Actually the heart of “pay it forward” is based on one of the great verses of the Bible Matthew 7:12, often called “The Golden Rule.” Jesus said, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
The Golden Rule is simple, but profound. It calls on us to treat other people the way we want to be treated. It releases the love of God in our lives. It enables us to care for others. To help. To serve. To make a difference.
In order to apply this age-old adage, 5 things are necessary.
1. Take the focus off of Yourself
People who are self focused are rarely successful in building positive, lasting relationships. It is true in our homes. Churches. And social relationships. The wise man advised, “A man who has friends must himself be friendly.” A good way to begin is to listen. Really listen.
2. Genuinely care about others.
It is almost a proverb that “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Paul’s admonition is appropriate. “So that there may be no division in the body, the members must have the same care for one another.” When we care we rejoice in others successes and weep when they hurt (Rom 12:15).
3. Don’t underestimate anyone’s value.
Look who God used. Moses who was a fugitive from justice. David a shepherd boy. Esther a Jew in exile. And consider the people who came to Jesus. Matthew the despised tax collector. Peter the common fisherman. And women who had no social standing in that society. Remember that everyone has worth. Value. And dignity.
4. Be credible.
Few things damage a friendship or fellowship more than breaking trust. When a person is inconsistent, unreliable, and untrustworthy, relationships are harmed, if not severed. Be honest. Honorable. Truthful.
5. Be cheerful.
No one likes a sourpuss. I’m reminded of the quip, “Some folks brighten a room just by entering. Others by leaving!” Be the former. Not the latter. The wise man was right, “a joyful heart makes a cheerful face…” Yes, smile. Often. And genuinely.
The world is full of critics, political pundits and consumer advocates whose job is to criticize. What folks yearn for is a kind word. Encouragement. A smile. A pat on the back. “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification,” penned Paul.
Jesus doesn’t suggest we limit our actions to just three people – but to adopt it as a way of treating everyone we meet. Make Pay it Forward a way of life.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman