Do You Know Your Neighbor?1
I want you to try a little thought experiment with me. Take out a blank sheet of paper. Did you get one?
Now, draw a box in the middle of the paper. Write inside the box, “My house,” (or “My apartment”) like this:
Second, draw a house for your two neighbors on either side of your home.
Now that you have your two neighbors, draw a box for your neighbor across the street from you, and the neighbor that touches your property directly behind you. You should have something like this:
(Hey! I never claimed to be an artist…)
Finally, draw in the four (or more) homes that your property touches tangentially (whether across the street or not). Here’s mine:
Great job! We all can probably draw boxes (most of you better than me!). But now the most difficult task comes. Can you fill in the names of every home that touches your property? Go on, give it a try.
Most likely you know the names of the people living on either side of you. But do you know the one across the street or behind you? How about those touching your property diagonally? And now for a real test…do you know the names of the neighbors who live two doors down, three doors down, or how about four?
At one time, I could. But I must confess that I no longer can. In fact, there are two boxes on my grid that are completely empty. I have no idea who lives there. I’ve seen them from afar, but never up close.
This should not be.
Will you pray with me that God would grant me the boldness to make time and learn those names to fill in those empty boxes?
God has placed you and me in a neighborhood for a purpose. I encourage you: use those natural connections you have (e.g., neighbors bordering your property!) to reach out and build relationships. Don’t think you have to “share the gospel” the first time you meet. Instead, invite them into your lives. Better yet, let them into your home! This Christmas, take a small step and invite over a few neighbors for desert. Show them that they are worth your time. And in so doing, you will begin showing them the Christ we celebrate at Christmas.
If you want some help on thinking about hospitality and your neighbors. I encourage you to read The Gospel Comes with a House Key, by Rosaria Butterfield. Pastor Rich and I both read this book and found it very helpful (and convicting!). Here is how Butterfield thinks about hospitality with our neighbors:
Radically ordinary hospitality is this: using your Christian home in a daily way that seeks to make strangers neighbors, and neighbors family of God. It brings glory to God, serves others, and lives out the gospel in word and deed. If you are prohibited from using your living space in this way, it counts if you support in some way some household in your church that is doing it. The purpose of radically ordinary hospitality is to build, focus, deepen, and strengthen the family of God, pointing others to the Bible-believing local church, and being earthly and spiritual good to everyone we know. (31)