I Was Not a Good Neighbor
by Rick Rusaw
One night I heard some noise. I looked out the window and saw my neighbor. He pushed his jeep down the driveway, and after it was out of the driveway and down the street a little, it started and he drove off. It seemed a little weird to me, but I shrugged and went back to bed. The next morning, I saw the police were at the house. As I stood in the driveway, watching and wondering what was happening, an officer approached and said, “Your neighbor’s jeep was stolen last night. Did you hear anything?” I had to admit that I not only heard it, I watched it being stolen! Needless to say, I wasn’t a good neighbor.
But even after that crazy incident that happened many years ago, I admit I still wasn’t very good at seeing what was going on with my neighbors. I wasn’t a bad neighbor, per se. I didn’t play loud music, paint the garage door bright pink or let our dog use the other yards. But is that what God really wanted from me? To be known by what I didn’t do to my neighbors, rather than what I could do for them?
Jesus said, “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” (Matthew 22:37-39). I had been defining “neighbor” as the people I worked with, sat on boards with, or just “people” in general, but ignoring this command when it came to my actual neighbors. What if Jesus meant love my literal neighbor, the people living on either side of me, behind me and in the house in front of me? Wow. Now that changes things. I don’t get to choose who to love. I am to love the person next to me. That might prove to be a little more challenging and take some intentional effort, especially when I didn’t even know some of my neighbors’ names (or, as I came to find out, had been calling one neighbor by the wrong name!).
Three years ago, I began to change my prayers. Nearly every morning I have asked God, “How can I love you better today than I did yesterday and how can I love my neighbors better today than I did yesterday?” Instead of closing my garage door right away when I come home, I’m committed to always striking up a conversation with our neighbors if they are outside.
One night it was after 10 p.m. when I got home and I had not even had dinner yet. There he was. My neighbor was outside, still doing yard work. At 10 p.m.? It seemed a little weird to me, but instead of shrugging it off and going in, I walked over and we had a normal, short neighborly conversation. After I had been in the house for a little while, he texted me, asking me to pray about something important. That wasn’t happening to me before. Other good things have happened because of engaging with my neighbors, too, but part of loving my neighbors is keeping confidence and trusting one another, so I’ll just stop there.
What good is a door with just one hinge? You need two hinges to get a door to work or it’s just no good at all. Jesus said we are to love God with all our heart, soul and mind and love our neighbors as ourselves. Loving God is the top hinge and loving our neighbors is the bottom one. Jesus finished the Greatest Commandment saying, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:40). In Jesus’ words, everything God had said up to this point (the prophets) and every command God had ever given (the law) hung on these two things: love God and love your neighbor.
Neighboring, as we call it in our church, has turned out to be one of the most exciting and creative ways to follow Jesus. It is interruptive and unpredictable and I think it is a big deal to God, because He loves my neighbors. I can’t say with 100% certainty if loving my neighbors has been good for them, but I sure know it’s been good for me. If you want the door of your life to swing more freely, love God and love your neighbor.
Rick Rusaw is the Lead Pastor at LifeBridge Christian Church. He is co-author of several books including his newest release The Neighboring Church: Getting Better at What Jesus Said Matters Most. Prior to serving at LifeBridge, Rick was a Vice President at Cincinnati Christian University. Rick and his wife, Diane, have three children and five grandchildren and reside in Longmont, CO. Get to know Rick and the practices of neighboring by visiting www.theneighboringchurch.com or follow on Twitter @NeighborChurch.
We’d like to hear from you. Please share your comments below or like us on your Facebook page. Be sure to check back each month for more articles and products available at your local Christian bookstore.