Proximity means risking intimacy. Last week I shared about the importance of loving our actual neighbors. This does not excuse us from loving ALL peoples and treating everyone like our neighbor, but I think that in many ways it is harder to love those who live near you. It is good to love those across town or around the world (I try to do both), but when you serve in those contexts you eventually go home. When you invest in your neighborhood, you are home! That means you have to risk rejection on a more personal level.
A little over three years ago my family relocated to a new state and a new neighborhood. Brandie and I were convinced that we had not loved those in our last neighborhood well. We repented of that sin and committed to doing our best to live out the gospel among our neighbors. We weren’t sure what that meant, but we knew we wanted to glorify God by living differently. Our journey is going to be a long one here, and we’re still learning lessons of what it means to have genuine community, but here are five of the very simple principles we have learned that I hope you will consider adopting in order to fall in with love your neighbors:
1. Pray: “Give me my neighbors or I die!” When we moved, I wanted to have the same burden for my neighbors that God has for them, namely, to see them come to repentance and fall in love with Jesus. I wanted to share the gospel with them but I wanted to do it out of devotion and not duty. I had to ask Him to give me that burden. During those early months I read about Scottish reformer John Knox. Knox was so burdened for the souls of his countrymen that he prayed, “Give me Scotland or I die!” So, I began to pray that prayer for my neighbors. As I started praying John Knox’s prayer and substituting the name of my subdivision, the Holy Spirit started to melt my heart until I meant the words of the prayer. I can honestly say that God has given me a sacrificial love for my neighbors. I love them so much I don’t want to see them separated from eternal life in Jesus Christ. As I have gotten to know many of them that love has truly increased. Which leads to point number two.
2. Meet your neighbors. This sounds too elementary to list, but it’s easy to get so focused on your family that you forget to meet those around you. Learn your neighbors names and try to find out some of their stories.
3. Be faithfully present. We haven’t always done this well. Faithful presence means that you show up and make a commitment to keep showing up. Show up without any agenda but to build relationships. In missional circles, this is called being “incarnational.” It simply means to give flesh to something. We want to “give flesh” to the gospel by being involved in the lives of our neighbors. That means going to parties we may not normally go to. We don’t compromise who we are, but we don’t expect them to change who they are, either. It also means putting priority on being in the neighborhood over other good choices, including spending time at church.
4. Share your life. This includes our imperfections. The best compliment one of my neighbors has given me is to say that I’m “real.” We need to be genuine, even when we mess up.
5. Share the gospel. We don’t want to be silent on the message of Jesus. We cannot truly love our neighbors if we don’t share with them the hope we have found in Jesus. Some have embraced Christ, some have returned to Christ, and some are still wrestling with the claims of Christ. Our friends know where we stand, but more importantly they know we are sharing with them out of love, not as a task. I will write more on how we do this later.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:8, Paul reminds his friends that he didn’t just share the gospel with them but his very life as well. I have come to the conclusion that we really can’t share one without the other. We love God and we love our neighbors. It’s only natural, then, to want to introduce them. It really is that simple. We could be doing more to show our neighbors we love them, I’m sure. But we have taken a step into missional living and we can’t imagine going back.
So, how about you? Will you start to love your neighbor for the glory of God?