“All of us, at some time or other, need help. Whether we’re giving or receiving help, each one of us has something valuable to bring to this world. That’s one of the things that connects us as neighbors—in our own way, each one of us is a giver and a receiver.”
Love Your Neighbor
"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, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.’ " -Luke 10:27
Love God. Love your neighbor.
Two fundamental commands repeated throughout the bible.
Over and over Jesus spoke these words to the people around Him.
But the majority of Jesus' recorded teaching days were spent living a nomadic lifestyle. He bunked with friends, followers, and strangers, never settling in his own home. He didn't have a permanent address. He lived with bags packed, ready to move when called.
So why was it Jesus repeated the command: "love your neighbor" when He himself was most known for a life on the go?
Before Jesus’ nomadic days began, He lived in the same town, around the same people. He had a routine, He slept in the same place every night. He had neighbors.
And for that part of his life, those 30 years living in the same town, I think He got really good at knocking on His neighbor's doors. I think He saw the pain of His neighbors when they buried their child unexpectedly.
He saw the heartache of the widow across the road from Him. He visited the sick. He talked to the broken. He watched as the older man across the way took one too many drinks at night. He watched the young girl down the road give her body away recklessly.
In every conversation and situation, He could perceive what the person was going through and while it was not time for Him to reveal His miraculous power and "fix" their pain, I think He got really good at neighboring well. I think He went to people with a heart full of empathy and said I know you are hurting, I can't take away your pain, but I can walk with you through your heartache. I will be here for you and with you. I can’t fix this but I’ll walk with you through it, you are not alone. You are not alone.
Neighboring and Knocking
Last year there was a verse from Revelation that in many ways haunted me.
20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
Over and over I saw this verse.
Over and over I heard this soft whisper in my heart: I am knocking on the door of your heart, will you let me in?
These words were written to a church who had grown lukewarm in their faith. They were neither hot nor cold. They professed their faith, yet they were stagnant. They were not obedient. They walked to the beat of their desires all the while claiming God had access to the deepest part of their hearts. They wanted to experience the miraculous power of God but they also wanted to do as they please.
The verse surfaced early in 2018 right after my Mom received a dementia diagnosis. My heart was breaking at the sadness of her situation. I wanted miraculous healing for her. I wanted restoration. But all we received was more bad news about her diagnosis.
But in the midst of all this, I felt that knocking on my heart. The one beckoning me to keep trusting. To keep hoping. To keep believing. To keep opening the door to my heart to let God in. At times, I would open that door and I would see God in the pain.
But watching my mom's mind slip with each visit hurt too much to keep trusting God was working in the midst of it all.
So I locked the door to my heart, threw the key away, and said I will deal with this loss in my own way. I'll walk to my own beat. I'll find comfort in the sure things of this world: financial security, image, work.
I intentionally grew lukewarm. I still believed God was God but I stopped responding to His knocking. I loved and trusted Him to a degree but I loved and trusted Him at an arm’s length.
And the knocking stopped. There was only silence.
Then the miscarriages happened.
The day we received the news we lost the second baby, I went home, and shut the world out. I closed the blinds and begged for everyone to stay away. I wanted to be alone.
But then I heard a knock at my door. I figured It was a random delivery: a one knock and done kind of thing. But the knocking kept coming. It wouldn't stop. Reluctantly, I got up, answered the door, and laid eyes on my next door neighbors. Over and over I tried to utter: I'm okay, it's okay. But the tears and the emotion took over and I fell apart in their arms.
Ever since that day, our neighbors, they have kept knocking on our door. They've checked in, they've leaned in, they've met for coffee, they've kept coming over unannounced, and they have carried us through this season.
A lightbulb finally came on in my head regarding Jesus' command to love your neighbor and that "knocking" verse I kept running into last year.
Before the miracles, before the feeding of the 5,000, before the resurrection, before the world ever witnessed the miraculous power of God's glory through Jesus...He knocked on His neighbor's doors. He sat with them in pain and in loss. He wasn't afraid to knock on their doors. He wasn't afraid of what was going on in their hearts.
Neighbor or Miracle Performer?
There's an interesting thing that happens in Jesus' traveling days, when the miracles are happening everywhere He goes. He returns to his home town. He goes back to his people, his neighbors, his friends. By that point, his town had heard about what He was doing. They heard how He healed the sick and brought life to the dead. So when He showed up, back on the scene, they expected those same kind of miracles too. Because if anyone deserved to experience the impossible, it was the people Jesus knew and loved and had grown up with.
But Jesus didn't perform one miracle. And because He wouldn't perform for his hometown, His people, they rejected Him. They drove Him out.
I think they were irritated. Irritated because they knew Jesus. Perhaps many of them had heard his knocks on their own door as He sat with them in the aftermath of their loss and heartache. And now they knew Jesus had the power to fix their situation all those years and He didn't.
Yes, He showed up. Yes, He knocked. Yes, He came in and was as good of a neighbor as they come.
But He didn't fix when He had the power to fix.
And because He didn't fix, those people, His neighbors, they wanted nothing further to do with Him.
Their hearts grew lukewarm.
What We Don't Talk About
There's a reality about God "the church" doesn't talk a lot about. And that reality is sometimes God will come as a comforting neighbor, knocking on your door promising to walk with you in the pain instead of a miracle performer who can take away your pain.
Sometimes He chooses not to heal and restore and then sometimes He chooses to do the impossible.
The tension as a believer is can we deal with both? Can we accept this reality about God's nature and trust Him in the lowest valley and also on the highest mountain top?
I realized my heart grew lukewarm because I only accepted part of this reality. I was like the people in Jesus' hometown: I only wanted the miracle performer and not the good, comforting, "knocking" neighbor.
Last week we gathered with our neighbors. We broke bread, we laughed, we cherished our time together.
As I laid my head down on my pillow that night, I was overwhelmed by God's goodness. I was overwhelmed by His presence this year. As the night grew darker and my mind grew still, this truth was spoken into my heart:
Don't you see now? You thought I had stopped knocking. You thought I had stopped pursuing you. Because the miracle didn't come. But instead, I changed it up. My knocks, my pursuit of you, they came in and through your neighbors. I knew your heart didn't need bible carrying, scripture reciting versions of me to show up at your door in this season. I knew you were heartbroken because I didn't miraculously step in and fix the situation...and because of that, I knew you needed a different version of me. You needed people who didn't look like and sound like something out of a Bible box. You needed neighbors. People who simply said over and over again, we can't fix this, but we will walk with you through it.
And walk they have.
When friends, loved ones, and neighbors are walking through hell, the common response is to stay away. We never know the perfect words. We fear doing and saying the wrong things.
But can I challenge you to knock on their door anyway? To keep pursuing and leaning in. To keep reminding them, you can't take away their pain, you can't fix the situation, but you can walk with them through it. They don't have to go through it alone.
It will be uncomfortable and awkward at times but it is oh so worth it.
To the person reading this who feels as though God has abandoned them in their storm, I pray with all my heart someone, anyone will knock on the door of your heart today to remind you: You are not alone. The miracle may not come but you are not alone. He is there. Keep looking for Him. Keep begging Him to show Himself to you. Don't let your heart grow lukewarm.
To our neighbors: the ones who loved us through the woods and kept knocking in the dead of night- our hearts have been wrecked in the best of ways by the way you have loved us.