When I first moved to Minnesota, I used to joke that there was a church on every corner. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, of course, but it seems that most major thoroughfares are dotted with them.
For several years, there was a church that I passed almost every day. Like most churches, it had a message board out in front. Unlike most churches, this message board actually contained messages.
Even more unusual, the messages were changed a couple of times every week so there was always a new one to check out.
Some of the messages were attention-getters like the one that said, “Satan loves a dusty Bible.” Others were funny. My favorite one said, “Trouble sleeping? Try a sermon.”
Mostly they were lovely philosophical reminders to be kind and to contribute to making the world a better place.
One day I was pondering some troublesome problem that had me stumped. As I passed the church, the sign board declared, “Love is the answer.” I burst out laughing. That was exactly what I needed to solve my problem.
One day I called the church and said, “In case no one has told you this, I want you to know how much your message board is appreciated by those of us driving by.” The secretary said they’d gotten many positive comments on it, then added that the senior pastor went out at 5:30 in the morning to change the board.
“Please thank him for me,” I said.
Several months later, I passed by the church again and saw a gathering in the yard. A fancy new message board had just been installed. It had a burgundy and charcoal frame and was lighted from within.
It was pretty spiffy, but I noticed that the message simply listed the times of their services. That’s the way it stayed. I hardly noticed it anymore.
What’s the point of posting the times of their services? Those hours never change and surely their members already know when services are held.
If the point of posting them is for the convenience of nonmembers who might want to join them, I’m not sure there’s any obvious reason to pick this church over any other.
I’ve tried to imagine what happened here. Maybe the senior pastor retired and nobody else wanted to do it, I thought. Maybe not enough people let them know that they liked the effort.
Or perhaps, and I hope I’m wrong here, the church forgot that it’s really in the inspiration business. Most likely, somebody decided it was too much bother to keep the messages up and in making that decision lost an enormous opportunity to contribute some random good.
“The difference between people who exercise initiative and those who don’t,” writes Stephen Covey, “is literally the difference between night and day. I’m not talking about a twenty-five to fifty percent difference in effectiveness; I’m talking about a 5000-plus percent difference, particularly if they are smart, aware and sensitive to others.”
What Covey is talking about seems to be a big secret: if we want to get great results we can’t wait for others. We have to practice generosity first.
As Amazon founder Jeff Bezos once told an interviewer, “It’s not our customer’s job to lie awake nights figuring out how we can serve them better. We have to take responsibility for improving.”
We always have the choice of creating a life that is grim or glorious. If you want to make this coming year the best one you’ve ever had, take the challenge now to discover and share as generously as you can.
Whether you’re repairing small engines, teaching yoga or designing Web sites, you’ll find there’s no shortage of opportunities to inspire and encourage other people—if you are so inclined.
Inspire them by your joy, inspire them by your commitment, inspire them by caring about their success. When you’re focused on ways to be generous, you’ll be dazzled by all the abundance you’re getting back.