Monthly Archives: September 2016

How to Be Nice – Authentically

Blind Faith (No. 39, 2016)
Weekly Devotional for September 29, 2016
How to Be Nice – Authentically

Partisan politics is a subject I avoid in these devotional
thoughts. Recent comments, however, have raised the crucial issue of what it
means to “be nice.” Copious examples continue to demonstrate what it means
to be not nice at all! I wrote about the need to be nice and to know clearly
what that means several years ago. “Be nice” is still an important dictum
for me. So, I am reposting my take on the vital necessity of being nice –
and how to be nice authentically:

Of all the words of advice I have ever given – solicited or not
– the most profound, prodigious, perennial counsel is this: be nice. That
pretty well sums up what you need to get along with others, to win friends
and influence people, to avoid or settle conflicts, and in general to be
able to be the person you want to be. Be nice.

The only problem with offering “be nice” as universal advice is
defining what you mean by nice. Most people have a fairly clear mental image
of what a nice person is like. We are pleased to go to a nice restaurant, or
to stay in a nice hotel, or to wear nice clothes, or to earn a nice income.
But be careful that you know precisely what you are talking about with this
advice or any other. Words can have hidden meanings.

Several years ago an administrative assistant in the office
where I worked was a delightfully vivacious, engaging, perky personality.
One day she came into the office with a dramatically different hairstyle.
She was obviously pleased with her new look – lots of curls and a different
color replacing her former conventional style. Any eye-contact with her
invited comment. I said nothing about her hair through the morning, goading
her finally to ask me what I thought of her new haircut. I answered, “I
think it’s . nice.” “Thank you,” she said, adding as she walked away, “I
thought you hadn’t noticed.” A few minutes later she came back, as I hoped
she would. “Why did you say it that way ‘. nice’?” she wanted to know. “Look
up nice in a good unabridged collegiate dictionary and find the archaic
definition and you’ll understand,” I replied. The archaic meaning of nice is
“wanton; foolish; silly,” from the Latin root nesc: “to be ignorant.” When I
walked by her desk later she slugged me on the shoulder and said, “You’re so
bad!”

If “be nice” is to succeed as a positive word of advice for all
situations, the meaning of the term must be clear. I remain convinced that
it can be a concise, memorable word to live by and that following the advice
could make a phenomenal difference in the course of anyone’s life. Defining
what nice actions and attitudes are for a follower of Christ is the key.

Cultivating the attitudes and actions that help us to reflect
the grace and love of Jesus in everything we do is essential for us to be
nice as followers of Jesus. The foundation for such frame of mind and
behavior is our faith. Both Paul and Peter offered lists of characteristics
for living nicely.

Attitudes determine actions. If we orient our thinking toward the positive
values, motives, and grace we receive and learn from faith in God we are
prone to think nice thoughts and to approach other people with nice
intentions. Paul put it this way: “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say
you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble,
reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious-the best, not the worst; the
beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.. Do that,
and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most
excellent harmonies.” (Philippians 4:8-9, MSG) A fuming, resentful,
vindictive attitude consumes enormous amounts of personal energy and leaves
little desire to be nice to anyone.

Once our frame of mind is rightly adjusted we can channel our
energy intentionally to be nice with whatever we may do. We can move beyond
nice thoughts to nice deeds on behalf of others. Being nice transforms our
own lives and behavior as well as offering life-changing grace to anyone
affected by our conduct. Near the end of his life Peter reflected on the
enormous difference faith in Jesus had made in his own heart, mind, and
actions. He counseled cultivation of qualities that I believe to be
essential for truly living nicely as a follower of Christ: “Make every
effort to add integrity to your faith; and to integrity add knowledge; {6}
to knowledge add self-control; to self-control add endurance; to endurance
add godliness; {7} to godliness add Christian affection; and to Christian
affection add love. {8} If you have these qualities and they are increasing,
it demonstrates that your knowledge about our Lord Jesus Christ is living
and productive.” (2 Peter 1:5-8 GWT) Actions that demonstrate these
qualities fulfill the positive dictionary definitions of nice as that which
is pleasant, agreeable, of good character, reputable, or discerning. The
source of such nice living is God’s gift of faith. When our minds are
actively in training to think graciously as God thinks toward us our actions
naturally follow to demonstrate God’s grace nicely in all that we do.

Be nice. Too often we absent-mindedly slip into archaic senses
of being nice – being foolish or out of control with our behavior. The
starting point for being nice positively is to commit ourselves afresh daily
to our faith in God and to make our attitudes and actions reflect God’s
goodness.

Pick out someone to be nice to today. Be nice to your spouse or
friend. Be nice to a child. Be nice to your parents. Be nice to your
co-worker. Be nice to anonymous people who share life with you at the gas
station, or restaurant, or in traffic. Be nice, and remember that the
foundation of your nice attitudes and actions is the Spirit of God who is
always with you. (Be sure to remember, too, that when you slip into the
wanton/foolish/silly old nice, God is still right there with you! Leave the
archaic nice alone.) Be as nice to everyone as Jesus would be to you.

– J. Edward Culpepper

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