How Love in Action Changes Everything: What I Learned from Bob Goff

Bob Goff

photo by Julie Rains

If you are fortunate to hear the message of Bob Goff, attorney, best-selling author, diplomat, and founder of human-rights organization Restore International, you’ll likely be changed. Yet his message is simple: love does. That is, love is best conveyed as a concrete action, possibly an impulsive, spontaneous action that expresses warmth, appreciation, grace, and whimsy.

I first happened upon Bob’s work via Twitter. Through his @LoveDoes account, he sends thought-provoking messages such as these:

  • Someone’s praying right now that we’ll develop a greater fear of inaction than of failure. Be not afraid.
  • When the music stops, the only one sitting on a throne will be God. We don’t need to spend life scrambling for chairs.
  • God doesn’t look at our failures and think He’ll look bad; He looks at our lives and hopes we’ll look real.
  • I used to think God wanted us to make the world a better place; now I think He also wants our hearts to be better places.
  • We measure growth by our height; God measures it by our depth. We measure what we have; God measures what we’ve given.
  • When we ask God to eliminate the uncertainty we have in our lives, we’re saying it wouldn’t be enough to just have Him.
  • Jesus didn’t invite us on a business trip with Him, He invited us on an adventure. Pack the right stuff.

Next, I read his book Love Does, which became a New York Times bestseller. More recently, my husband and I went to hear him speak one Sunday evening at an event sponsored by the divinity school of a local university.

I have distilled a handful of his ideas about how we should live and and how those actions and expressions can transform our lives, our relationships, and the world:

  1. Take action, especially leaps.

    I’ve mentioned that small steps can lead to big changes. Bob encourages folks to take leaps, not just small steps. I think you know when you need to make that leap, and you may have a sense of fear or anxiety surrounding the decision and the subsequent action. But after you’ve taken the leap, you’re glad you did. Very often, you can see how God had prepared people and circumstances to support you, increasing your faith and capacity to keep moving.

    Reading Bob’s book about how his actions led to greater connections, more capers and deeper friendships, and so on (and specifically to taking on the position of Honorable Consul for the Republic of Uganda to the United States and founding Restore International) reminds me of Jesus’s parable about the talents.

    In a parable found in Matthew 13, a master gives talents to three servants before leaving for a trip, dispensing an uneven amount to each one; when he returns, he learns that two have multiplied their talents (presumably by taking actions) whereas the one with the fewest (just one talent) has not increased its value at all. This person has not even taken the safe route of putting money in the bank to draw interest, but has buried his talent.

    Jesus teaches in Matthew 13:12, “Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” He acknowledges that playing fields in life are not always level but then describes that action begets action, leading to exponential growth in ways that we may not anticipate or plan.

    The idea, then, is that as you practice the habit of taking action and making leaps, more activity happens around you, more people connect with you, and you have access to greater and greater opportunities. And because you become accustomed to taking action, you keep acting and responding, receive more and more, and become part of more and more meaningful projects.

    So, Jesus (and Bob) are not admonishing us to use our talents or else, but showing us how God works through us and our actions.

  2. Express your love and appreciation for those close to you and others you encounter.

    Wherever he goes, Bob awards medals to kids and grown-ups alike to demonstrate how valued they are. These spontaneous gestures affirms God’s love for us.

    Many folks struggle with feeling unworthy, undeserving, unloved. The idea here is not to help people become worthy, deserving, or loved but to let them know they are valued for being who they are, period. When someone truly feels valued, she is more likely to have the confidence and conviction to take action.

  3. Hold people close, not accountable.

    Bob jarred me with the idea of holding people close, not accountable, in his Sunday evening talk. He wasn’t saying that people shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions. But he was emphasizing that people often respond more positively to love, understanding, compassion, and closeness than to sternness and pressure.

    There are definitely moments when you have to draw a line. But in weighing closeness with accountability, I realized that many folks need to be truly known, understood, and loved before they can experience forgiveness, pursue holiness, and become more disciplined. They may need to come to terms with past failures, talk about their frustrations, and express their fears before gaining the courage and resolve to address the problems in their lives.

  4. Initiate conversations and really listen to people.

    After reading Love Does, I felt more inspired to talk with people and engage more deeply in relationships. Mostly, though, I became more aware of serendipitous moments and more willing to embrace those naturally. And, I have been more open to urging my young adult children to seize connections (while still exercising motherly caution).

    For example, last year, my youngest son and I met a graduate student on campus while visiting prospective colleges. All three of us ate lunch together and we learned more about the university and campus life in friendly conversation with the student.

    Meanwhile, my oldest has learned about interacting with Muslims from a retired U.S. general via a keynote speech at a conference on solar energy and a subsequent private conversation. The general has overseen troops in Islamic countries and shared insights that could help my son as he participates in urban ministry projects stateside.

    It’s difficult to advise young adults. The steps they need to take may be unclear or momentarily unavailable. But I can easily encourage them to set aside their reservations and take action, initiating conversations, gathering information and wisdom from those who are more educated and experienced, and being receptive to opportunities that arise.

  5. Be childlike.

    One of the cornerstones to Bob’s message is the inspiration to act whimsically and be childlike. One of my favorite tweets conveys this idea:

    Evidence of faith isn’t power, position or status; it’s thankfulness. Jesus invites us to sit at the kids table with Him.

    I’ve written about becoming more childlike, not childish. Enjoying the moment and being expectant without acting entitled are hallmarks of being childlike.

    Bob’s approach, though, involves bringing our friends and others we encounter along with us as we revel in day-to-day living. And again, the more people we touch, the more we are part of transforming work in the world.

To give you a better understanding of how Bob applies the love-does notion, in his book he shared how he unexpectedly became the Honorable Consul for the Republic of Uganda to the United States, seemingly through a series of whimsical actions that involved loving people more and more deeply, and acting more and more boldly.

During his talk, he explained how he champions the rights of children. He revealed how he prosecuted a man who orchestrated human sacrifices and then reluctantly befriended this person, who now ministers to others while serving a prison sentence for his crimes. The stories are told from the lens of simple, person-to-person interactions, not corporate machinations.

Bob also told a story about befriending a limo driver who was hired to transport him for a speaking engagement; Bob gave the driver the ride of his life by taking over the steering wheel of the limousine. Almost as an afterthought, he mentioned that he believes the man will go home and tell the woman he lives with that he felt loved by a man who is a Christian, not condemned because they are unmarried but living together, hopefully giving them a glimpse of God’s grace and love.

Bob is a Christian with a distinct Christian message. He is not a theologian but rather gives us insights into how we might become more childlike and happy, demonstrate love, extend grace, and be evidence of Jesus’s presence in our lives.