Three simple steps to connect with those closest to you
When a scribe asked Jesus about the greatest commandment of all, he said there are actually two: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and to love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:25-28). When pressed to define what he meant by “neighbor”, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan — a man who went out of his way to show love and care to someone who, by cultural standards, he should not have even associated with.
For most of my life of following Jesus I’ve taken the first commandment very literally. I’ve learned about God, read Scripture, worshipped, and prayed. But the second commandment I always read a bit more figuratively. I took it as more of a suggestion than a direct order, that is until the last couple of years. Recently I’ve started to wonder: Could God have strategically planned for my family to live in our neighborhood as ambassadors of his Kingdom? Is it possible that I’ve lived the past 20 years walking with Jesus and have completely overlooked that my greatest mission field is right outside my front door?
A fellow CRM staff person once told me, as we walked the city where she ministers, that we carry the presence of heaven wherever we walk. The fact is that Jesus has promised us his authority, and we are accountable to use what we’ve been given. Jesus longs for us to be the sweet fragrance that draws all nations to himself. He wants us to pray for our streets, our communities, our cities.
Where my family and I live is no accident, and I’m ashamed that I’m just now picking up on that. Over the past two years my wife and I have been asking God to show us what it would look like for us to love our neighbors. If you are anything like me, I needed a place to start.
Here are three tips to start living out the second commandment no matter where you live:
1. Start with prayer
Nothing good gets started until we connect with the most strategic mind in the universe: Jesus. My first step (no pun intended) was to walk up and down the streets around our house praying for the families I knew and thanking God for the things I saw. I noticed toys in front yards and said hello to people as I passed — people who probably thought I was crazy since I appeared to be talking to myself. I asked God to draw people out of their houses.
Sometimes nothing noticeable happened, and other times a specific word or feeling would come to mind. I trusted that this might be God showing me how to pray, so I started to bless my neighbors’ marriages, their safety, their health, their kids. As time went by I developed a care and concern for our neighbors, and I caught a vision for how their lives might change if Jesus was a part of them.
2. Draw a map
It’s hard to love your neighbors when you don’t know their names. I’m really bad at names, and embarrassingly I often resort to, “Hey there!” I started using Evernote to jot down names and facts about our neighbors’ lives, and now I look like a superhero.
Another thing that helped us was to draw a crude map of our immediate streets and write down the names of people we knew lived nearby. This was a great practice that helped us remember names, and it also acted as a prayer prompt.
3. Play “out front”
If you are lucky enough to have a front yard, start “playing” and spending time out front rather than inside or out back. We often set up our lawn chairs in the front and watch the kids ride their scooters, throw the frisbee, or play tag. It’s amazing how many kids will start to come around by just playing out front. One of the main attractions was picking up a used Power Wheels and letting all the kids take rides.
So get creative. Even if you don’t have kids, get out some sidewalk chalk, play with your dog, have breakfast on the front porch, or buy a cheap fire pit and have “bonfires” in the front yard. The key is that the environment changes when we spend time in front of our homes playing and connecting. It creates a safe place for others to strike up a conversation.
3a. Host a neighborhood BBQ
Okay, this one’s extra credit. When you’re ready to really lean in on loving your neighbors, start spreading the word to the surrounding streets that you’re hosting a community BBQ. We tried this in our neighborhood, and the simple shared event allowed us to have conversations, gain access into the lives of those around us, and show love. Since our first BBQ, I’ve painted my neighbor's living room, built furniture, coached the kids’ soccer team… all of which has given me an opportunity to begin spiritual conversations. Because of the trust built, I can talk about Jesus in a casual, personal, and meaningful way.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Casey Caston and his wife, Meygan, live in Irvine, Calif. with their two small children. When not prayer walking or memorizing his neighbor’s names, Casey serves on CRM’s Partner Development Team.