Good neighbors are one of life's great blessings

Good Neighbors Are One of Life’s Great Blessings

A friend up the street passed away early yesterday morning. When a family member called and asked if Pam and I would make a visit, we went straight there. Not so much because we’re in the ministry but because we’re neighbors. Good neighbors are one of life’s great blessings.

The challenges to being a good neighbor

Almost everyone wants to know their neighbors but in today’s world it’s easier said than done. People are busy. Life is hectic. There’s little time for the kind of leisurely conversations where you really get to know one another–even though most of us have front porches we rarely use them. Our connection with the people who live around us often amounts to little more than a friendly wave when we pass on the street, a few comments about the kids when we bump into one another in the grocery store or a quick hello while we’re working in the yard on the weekend.

But all that changes in a crisis when we see first-hand how good neighbors are one of life’s great blessings. People step out of their routines and take time to reach out. They call or send cards. They visit in homes they’ve never been in before. When word spread of the death of the woman in our neighborhood, a group got to work right away and put meals together for her family.

We need neighbors

We yearn for community, the sense of belonging that goes with close relationships, because life is hard; and without people to lean on we won’t make it through. While extended families, networks of friends, school connections and church groups help, neighbors are the most obvious place to look. When you live next door to someone, you can build the kind of connection that comes only from occupying the same space over time.

Good neighbors are one of life’s great blessings because the day will come when a loved one dies and we need comfort. Or a storm knocks down a tree and we need help getting it off the roof. Or the car battery dies and we need a jump. Or we grow tired of sitting alone in the house and long for the simple joy of a few minutes’ conversation.

Many go on mission trips to share the love of Jesus out of this same sense of being neighbors to people in need. One of my previous blogs, “Helping Hurting People,” tells the story of how that worked on one of our church’s medical mission trips to Peru.

The Bible is filled with encouragements for us to be good neighbors:

Jesus says the Great Commandment is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)

Jesus concludes his Parable of the Good Samaritan by asking, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?…You go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37)

Proverbs tells us that “Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner.” (Proverbs 14:21)

Bobbie Schaeperkoetter has a good teaching on “10 Verses that Teach Us to Be a Good Neighbor”

A great neighborhood is where people find joy helping one another

Good neighbors are one of life’s great blessings, but it’s a two-way street. What we need from others is also what we’re willing to provide to them and for every time we invest the time and effort in reaching out to someone on our street who needs our help there will be times in our own lives when someone around the corner will do the same for us. The secret of a great neighborhood isn’t a bunch of impressive amenities, the size of the homes or beautifully landscaped yards but people who find joy in helping one another.

But good neighbors don’t have the qualities we might expect. Instead, a recent survey actually shows a more counter-intuitive list of traits that Americans look for:

  • Trustworthy (59%)
  • Quiet (50%)
  • Friendly (46%)
  • Respectful (43%)
  • Clean/Neat (36%)
  • Mature (26%)
  • Helpful (25%)
  • Friendship (14%)

The survey reveals the fascinating truth that we value a different a set of traits in our neighbors than in our friends, traits that have a spiritual feel when taken as whole. That’s why I believe one way to describe what happens with neighbors is to look back into church history to Martin Luther, the great church reformer of the Middle Ages. He pushed back against the abuses of medieval Catholic priests by calling for the early Lutherans to practice what came to be called the priesthood of the believer—the conviction that all Christians have the capacity to minister to others. In his vivid way, Luther described the doctrine by labelling each ordinary Christian a “priest at my elbow.”

I think a secular version of Luther’s teaching may give us a deeper understanding of what it means to be a neighbor. It’s when we reach out to people near us in times of crisis, loneliness or failure. When we’re a voice of compassion when life doesn’t go well. When we listen to hurting people even as we need someone to listen to us.

When pastor and neighbor become one and the same

The family who lost their loved one asked me to officiate at her memorial service next week. I agreed but won’t do it as religious professional or the pastor of a church across town. I’ll do it as a neighbor.

Good neighbors are one of life’s great blessings.

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