Three months ago I was pulling up to my driveway at home after a day of meetings and work at the church office. As I was pulling in I saw two of my neighbors talking in one of their driveways and I decided to go say, “Hi.”
As I approached, one of them said, “Hi stranger! We’ve missed you. We hardly see you anymore since you starting working.”
It was an honest comment, but a slightly different version of it ran through my head for the next three days: We hardly see you anymore since you became a pastor.
I became a pastor a year ago and my neighbor’s comment got me wondering if I might have been a better pastor before I became a pastor. Was I more present as a minister among my neighbors and in my neighborhood before I became a paid minister in a church?
When a Pharisee asked Jesus which of the commandments was the greatest, 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 22:37-39, NIV)
Jesus said that all of scripture hangs on this: Love God with everything in you and love your neighbor.
But what Jesus stated simply, we’ve complicated (and ignored).
We’ve done this by making Jesus’ words metaphorical. We’ve made the mistake of broadening the definition of neighbor so much that we think he meant everyone everywhere.*
And how has this played out? When everyone in the world is our metaphorical neighbor, do we actually try to develop a loving relationship with every person in the world? Of course not.*
When we’re faced with an impossible task, we usually get overwhelmed and do nothing, or very little.
In other words, by believing that we’re supposed to be neighbors with everyone, many Christians end up being neighbors with no one.*
It’s a sad reality that most people know very few of their neighbors. In fact, most people don’t know the names of the people who live in the 8 houses or apartments closest to them.*
How can we love our neighbors if we don’t know them?
In Denver, Colorado, a group of 20 pastors met with the mayor of Denver to ask how their churches could best work together to serve the city.*
So the mayor started talking about the various problems that most cities face. He spoke of child hunger, drug and alcohol abuse, dilapidated housing, elderly shut-ins who have no one to look in on them, and the list went on and on.
And then the mayor said this: “The majority of the issues that our community is facing would be eliminated or drastically reduced if we could just figure out a way to become a community of great neighbors.”
When the meeting ended, the pastors felt stunned and embarrassed. Here they were asking their mayor how they could best serve the city, and he basically said it would be great if they could get their churches to obey the second half of The Great Commandment—if they could inspire followers of Jesus to do what Jesus said.
In the prayer that Jesus taught the disciples (The Lord’s Prayer) the kingdom of God gets quite a bit of airtime:
“‘Our Father who is in heaven. Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’” – Matthew 6:9b-10, NASB
Four out of the nine lines in this prayer have to do with God’s kingdom.
Jesus talked about the kingdom of God more than anything else and taught his disciples to pray for his kingdom to come. I think it’s safe to say that Christ wants his kingdom to be a high priority to us—something that we spend time thinking about, praying about, and talking about.
I’d like to challenge us to start a new habit.
We’re most likely to successfully create a new habit when we attach it to an existing habit, so here it is: I challenge you to say The Lord’s Prayer every time you brush your teeth.
(It’s probably best to say it silently in your head, because it could get messy if you try to say it out loud.)
I also challenge you to localize it.
If you live in Newberg, Oregon, for example, when you get to the third line you’d say, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, in Newberg as it is in heaven.” Include the name of your street as well: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, in Newberg and on Sheridan Street as it is in heaven.”
That’s the simple challenge. Say The Lord’s Prayer every time you brush your teeth, and apply it specifically to your city and street.
Since most of us brush our teeth in the morning and at night, the flourishing of God’s kingdom will become one of the first things we think about as we start each day and one of the last things we ponder as we end each day.
Try it and see what kingdom fruit may come of it.
* From The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon