For the last week of our forty days together, we’ll be hearing from some other voices in our church. Today’s entry comes from Associate Pastor Ryan Proudfoot.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
MATTHEW 22:36-40 (ESV)
You have heard it said before, and I’ll say it again, “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”
You know, I’ll be honest. I struggle with that idea at times. You see, I am a talker. I talk a lot, and honestly I talk pretty loudly. Typically I enjoy chatting folks up, telling people about Jesus, and engaging in Kingdom Conversations, even though I’m not always as bold as I should be if I’m honest. But - and this a big but – sometimes loving people doesn’t involve talking, or at least as much as I can imply it does.
I have recently been convicted about my relationships with my actual neighbors, like the ones who live on my street. Granted, when Jesus speaks of neighbors, he is referring to everyone with a pulse. God is calling us to love everyone, no matter their race, background, faith, social status, or how much money they make. Jesus commands all of his followers to literally lay down their lives for their neighbors. But today I’m talking about our neighbor-neighbors.
You know what I’ve found? They’re not impressed with a sermon. My immediate neighbors do not care that I can quote scripture faster than Caleb Saenz (though I’m still proud of it). One of my neighbors a few years back, Greg, actually came to faith in Christ. I got to baptize him, which was cool, but for the most part, folks like Greg don’t really ask me about church stuff, faith, or Jesus. Yet it’s my job to love them. It’s a commandment!
I’m not saying words don’t matter, because they absolutely do. I mean, that’s why I preach. I want to speak every time God gives me a chance, but there’s something about how close proximity with people really intensifies the need to see Christ in action, not just hear about it. Sometime you have to let your love speak. I think this is why Jesus said "A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” For some reason, people who are really close to you are less likely to hear what you say and more likely to see what you do.
So with that in mind, how do I love my neighbors?
First, I need to start praying for them more. The fact that I don’t pray for my neighbors enough is a direct revelation that I am not loving them enough. I’m just not caring for them enough. I am being selfish, not intentional or believing God to open doors for relationship. Maybe here prayers starts with just asking him that he would give me a heart to have a deeper relationship with my neighbors.
Second, I need to serve them. I need to step out of my selfishness, go to their houses more often, strike up conversations, mow their lawns, invite them over for dinner, bake them cookies (I’m a stud with pre-made cookie dough), and buy them some dang Christmas gifts. I think if Jesus had lived on my block he would know everyone, and everyone would know him. His presence would be felt, and his love would be experienced. And if he moved away everyone would mourn the loss of his involvement in the community. Can I even name all the neighbors on my block?
Third, I need to look for ways to speak love to them. As you build relationships you get opportunities to share with people, and I want to look for ways to really love them with my words. I have found that rarely do people really love others with their words. Most people make every conversation about themselves, looking for ways to highlight, encourage, or boast about themselves. When I get the chance to converse with my neighbors, I want them to feel like they are loved. I want to genuinely shower them with encouragement and grace. I want every conversation we have to be so seasoned with salt that they are left wondering where in the world this person came from. Maybe they would wonder what would prompt me to want to speak so much life and love over them? I never want to shy away from sharing the gospel with people. I’m always ready for that, but I also want to just show people I love them with my words. That matters too.
But there’s a catch to all this. The only way I’m going to get that chance is if I start being more intentional with my neighbors. When I’m exhausted from a long day, I have to stop closing my garage door as quick as I do. I have to start staying outside and engaging with them more frequently. I have to start looking for ways to just bless them, speak love over them, and be generous towards them with my life and time.
Why is it that it’s often easier to love a stranger than a neighbor? Help me, Lord.
Jesus, give me the strength to step out of my comfort zone and selfishness and to pour my life and love into my neighbors. To pray for them, serve them, and speak love over them. I pray that when they engage with me, they see Christ in me, the only thing I ultimately have to offer them. AMEN.
Pray for your neighbors today. Go learn their names, as many as possible, and write them down. Then go back and pray for them again.