Expand Your Neighborhood

All of us have been placed by God in specific spaces where we can connect with people consistently and redemptively. Unfortunately, we often limit our “neighborhood” to where we sleep at night. Maybe it is time for us to expand our thinking on our neighborhood and our neighbors.

I began thinking more deeply about this topic a couple of years ago when my wife Sherry started referring to airplanes as “one of my neighborhoods.” We both travel a lot for ministry and to visit family members. So, along the way, Sherry discovered that if she is attentive, her flights can give rise to redemptive moments.

My prayer is that reading these reflections and stories will free you to expand whom you consider to be your neighbor.

1. Where You Live

On 9/11, our neighbors on Richfield Court in Byron Center, Michigan, gathered in our home to call out to God. Some were deeply devoted followers of Jesus. Others were mildly religious. There were also many who were not people of faith. All of them ended up in our living room talking, sharing, crying and praying. 

We did not call for a prayer meeting. We made no formal announcement. But our neighbors knew this was a place of prayer and grace. When your home is a place of passionate prayer, people will be drawn there. Through the years Sherry and I have sent out notes to our neighbors letting them know that we love to pray and that if they ever desire prayer, we are available.

A neighbor who loves others as they love themselves will pray often for those who live near them. Pray when you drive by homes. Pray as you walk your dog through the neighborhood. Pray with people who know Jesus and with those who do not. When someone in your neighborhood suffers a loss or encounters great joy, simply say, “I would be so honored if I could take just a moment and pray for you.” Almost everyone says yes when asked this. Then, the Holy Spirit shows up in beautiful ways right in the middle of these moments. 

Make where you live a place of prayer that everyone knows is always open as a place to call out to God (even if some of your neighbors are not totally sure if God exists). You’ll be amazed at how many nonbelieving people are open to prayer (and even quietly pray on their own).

2. Where You Eat

I was sitting at a small table at a restaurant working on an upcoming sermon. Nearby, two women were having a very loud, profanity-laced conversation on the topic of meth. Their backs were to me, but I could hear everything they were saying. They were seeking to encourage one another to choose better lives and make wiser decisions. 

I began praying for them. One had been off drugs for some time and was telling her younger friend to hang in there and refuse to be ruled by past addictions. She said three times, “I am so proud of you.” This woman’s friend had been off meth for only a short time, but had gotten a job and was doing her best to put the pieces of her life back together. As I prayed for these women, I felt a nudge of the Holy Spirit to pay for their lunches. I quietly asked my server to include the cost of my new neighbors’ meals.

Before I left, I let the women know that I was so struck by their tenacity and commitment to live better lives and help each other that I had covered the cost of their lunches. Before I knew what was happening, the younger woman popped out of her chair and gave me a big hug. They both thanked me, and I told them I am a pastor and that I would be honored to pray for them. After some initial hesitation, the older woman agreed. I prayed, then we chatted a bit more before we said goodbye. 

The younger woman assured me she would visit the church where I pastor in the next couple of weeks. The older woman said she would never visit any church by herself. But if her friend went, she might just come along to support her. As I walked out of the restaurant, I had a profound sense that I had just met my neighbors. 

If you often dine in the same places again and again, you can get to know the staff and other patrons and pray for them. If you take time to listen to people and ask questions about their life, over time you become neighbors.

3. Where You Travel

Sherry was on a cross-country flight heading to speak at a women’s event. Once she was in her aisle seat, a man behind her yelled, “Hey, can someone with an aisle seat trade with me? I got a bum knee, and I need an aisle seat.” It was clear to everyone that this guy was inebriated. Sherry prayed, Lord, is this a chance for me to serve for your glory? She felt the nudge of the Spirit and offered to trade her aisle seat for his middle seat.

As Sherry slid into her new and less comfortable spot on the plane, the gentleman next to her asked, “Why in the world would you give that guy your seat?” Without really thinking about it, she simply said, “I am a Christian and felt the need to serve him.” Sherry’s new neighbor said, “Oh, you are one of those blankety-blank, blank Christians.” She simply responded, “Actually, I’m just trying to be like Jesus.” 

What followed was four hours of deep theological conversation about heaven and hell, the nature of God, the source of salvation and much more. Sherry’s new neighbor had questions and kindly, but firmly, kept them coming. By the time they were getting off the plane, my gracious wife said to her new friend, “I am going to pray that someday you will meet Jesus.” He smiled at her. “Maybe I just did.” 

Sherry served an inebriated guy with a bum knee. She also served a man who was brimming with questions and just needed the right moment to share them with someone who would respond with kindness. 

Serving others stands out. When we do it with no strings attached, God opens many doors for the gospel and new friendships. Being neighborly and serving should go hand in hand. So, when you are traveling, look for opportunities to serve others. Because when we serve our neighbor, God can open doors for deep spiritual connections.