Think about the people in your everyday life — colleagues, friends, neighbors, classmates.
How did they come to be part of your life? Some you’ve chosen. But many are there because of where your life has taken you.
Have you ever wondered if it was God who put those people in your life? And if was him, have you ever wondered why he put them there?
My family and I moved into our neighborhood about five months ago. We were new. We knew none of our neighbors.
Shortly after moving in, my wife Maxine told me she’d just read the second great commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“I think this literally means our neighbors around our neighborhood circle,” she said.
“That’s great! I’m sure we’ll meet them soon enough,” I replied.
I thought that was the end of the conversation, but Maxine persisted.
“What should we do for them?” she asked. “Maybe bake them all brownies?”
“Wait, what? For all of them? That’s a ton of brownies and we’re the new ones,” I said. “They usually come to welcome us, right? We do not even know them.”
But nothing in Jesus’ command suggests he meant only one neighbor, Maxine explained. God was calling us to love all our new neighbors.
Reluctantly, I agreed.
Love your neighbor… Wait — all of them?
I did not know what was involved in loving our neighbors, but both my wife and the Bible were telling me to do something. When the verse says “love” my mind runs all over the place. The nearest equivalent I have is the people that I really love — my family.
It’s strange to think of loving your neighbors in the same way you love your family, right?
Despite all my second-guessing and contemplating, my wife kept the love-your-neighbors train moving. That week we met 10 neighbors and invited three of them over for dinner. During one of those dinners we heard a neighbor remark,
“We’ve lived here for six months and really did not know anyone. Then you guys came along and now we know everyone.”
God used us to help some of our neighbors feel like they belong, which was a good start. A sense of belonging is a significant part of feeling loved.
In the past five months, we’ve gotten to know five of the 10 neighbors more than the rest, and we’ve really gotten to know two of them quite well. Getting to know these neighbors was not magical. It was not like an episode of “Friends” where we all just show up to the same bar and have fun conversations.
In reality it took inviting them over for multiple dinners, going out together, having our kids play together and so on.
Extend love to all, knowing only some will receive it.
Since moving into our house, we’ve spent a lot of time playing outside. Why? Because it’s hard to meet your neighbors if you do not go outside.
So we climb the trees out front, ride bikes around the circle, sit on the driveway and take walks. We’ve done all these things with the hope of getting to know neighbors.
This also means stopping to talk to people. It means going beyond the “hello,” realizing that the walk, the bike ride and the tree-climbing are not the point. Each of those activities are opportunities to love your neighbor.
Loving our neighbors — a new normal
We’ve spent hours hanging around outside, and it’s worked.
As neighbors would come out with kids to play, I’d walk over to talk. I began noticing certain neighbors choosing to linger in conversation. I took those as cues to pursue friendship.
The ones that linger are the ones God is specifically calling me and my family to love.
Here’s what loving two of our neighbors has looked like:
- Babysitting their kids so they could run errands.
- Persistently inviting them over for dinner.
- Inviting them to birthday parties.
- Praying for them.
- Praying over dinner with them.
- Asking personal questions that help me understand how they’re doing.
- Spending time outside the house so they have opportunities to connect with us.
- Inviting them into our other friendships.
- Being Facebook and Instagram friends.
Expect God to move them — expect God to move you
About a month ago, one of the neighbors we became close with moved away. My whole family felt sad. We had a going-away dinner.
And as I’ve thought about their move it’s occurred to me that God has moved me too. He did not move me physically, but he moved my heart toward love. I realized that I loved them enough to feel a sense of loss, something I had not expected.
I believe God also moved those neighbors spiritually through my family. Their increasing desire for friendship and their openness to talk about issues they faced in life were evidence that as we moved toward them with love, they were experiencing Christ through the love we gave them.
Look for whom God has put in your life
I do not know your circumstances. But I do know that God has planned the details of your life — like where you live and who lives next door — for a reason.
He’s designed you to be the one to bring them love.
So how do you respond?
Well, let me make two simple suggestions:
- Ask God to show you whom to love and how to love them.
- Start to look for God to show up in your interactions.
I use MissionHub as a way of being intentional about loving my neighbors. Why? Because it helps me choose different steps of faith for my family to take with each of the people we’re focused on loving.
As you think about who your neighbors are and how to love them, downloading MissionHub can help you.
Whatever you’re doing with your neighbors, I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment and let me know how you’re doing.
Photo by Joanna Nix