And Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” … But the lawyer, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
While the command of Jesus in Luke 10 (above) is clear and direct, the truth is we often receive it as just an abstract concept. That is, we agree to it with our hearts and minds but never ask what practical steps we can take to actually obey it. But Jesus very much intends for us to work out what his commands translate to in practice and he very much intends for us to put them into practice. We are being called to love our neighbors in real, tangible ways.
Not only is our love supposed to be tangible, it’s supposed to be proactive. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us, “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them (Matthew 7:12).” Notice it does not say to “avoid doing things to others that you dislike”. Nor does it say “when someone does something nice for you, return the favor”. Both of those are fine sentiments. But Jesus calls us to assess, by looking at our own longings, how we can take initiative and make the first move to show love to our neighbors.
Great. But where to start? And what do we mean by “neighbor”, exactly? It is true that “neighbor” can and should refer to all people everywhere, across geographic and cultural lines. We ought to view all men, women, and children as if they were friends deserving of dignity and love. We ought to always be asking how we can extend charity to people groups and communities. But in broadening the discussion like this, we need to be careful that we don’t get overwhelmed in a way that stifles our efforts before they begin. We can end up playing the game of semantics that the lawyer in Luke 10 does, which then leads to us not actually doing anything.
So let me suggest this. Jesus calls us to love our neighbor. Why don’t we just begin with our actual neighbors? I mean your literal neighbor, the person or family who lives next to you. Do you know them? What’s their story? Do you have a sense of a way you can be praying for them or tangibly bless them? If you’re wondering where to start, start there.
We have a broad Outward Focused approach that includes structured efforts and partnerships with other organizations. But the people of the church (you), loving your literal neighbors in proactive and tangible ways, is as important for the advancement of the gospel as any large organized effort we can structure. The witness of the church in Scottsdale is primarily built on our people modeling Jesus in the normal flow of their everyday lives in their neighborhood.
“Being rooted is about “staying put and paying attention.” It is coming to know your neighborhood and becoming one of its characters … There is no controlling technique, no magic code or habits of highly effective people that can take the place of practicing love, friendship and Spirit-led collaboration within the neighborhood.” – The New Parish
What does it look like to love our neighbors? Well, first and foremost it means getting to know them (don’t check out yet, introverts). We will only be able to love our neighbors well if we are engaging the realities at play in their lives. Getting to know them we can understand what their burdens are, as well as what makes them come alive. We can see what bridges to the gospel emerge and what things we have in common.
The truth is it’s easy to go through life on auto-pilot and not notice the people around us or the realities of our context. But when we do that we miss opportunities to “let our light shine (Matthew 5:16)” and pursue the common good. So what we really want to do is cultivate new eyes to really see where God has us, who is here, and how we can model the love of Jesus in Scottsdale. To that end, here are some really practical things you can do to begin to cultivate new eyes, build new relationships, understand your context, and see where God might be leading you to love your neighbors in practical ways. Introverts, you’ll even find some things to do below.
Learn your neighbors’ names and stories. Listen for ways to pray for them and/or tangibly bless them. Have them over to your house.
Take a walk (or ride a bike). Slow down enough to pay attention to who you see and what is really happening. The world looks completely different when you’re not in your car.
Photo-document. Capture something unique, sometimes seeing through a lens helps us see things differently.
Go somewhere new. Step outside your comfort zone to experience a place (or people) that you have ignored or avoided. There’s no telling what God might show you.
Become a regular somewhere. Frequent a business enough to build a relationship with the people there. It’s amazing how this builds community.
Participate in clubs, teams, etc. Join a rec sports team, volunteer in your kids’ classroom, go to a neighborhood picnic or City Council meeting.
Practice gratitude. Look for things you take for granted, give thanks to God for them. This has an amazing tendency to open our hearts and minds to the place God has us.
Research. Investigate and learn things about the history, politics, or culture of your city. You’ll uncover ways that you can contribute to the common good.
Pray. Come before the Lord and ask that his will be done in Scottsdale as it is in heaven. Ask him to reveal how you can take tangible steps to love your neighbors.
This really is the bread and butter of Christian mission: loving God in the flow of everyday life and loving the people he has placed us with. So be encouraged. Take steps. Love your neighbor well. Then grab others and invite them to do the same.