By Brian Jennings
It’s so easy for us to become absorbed in our own little worlds. How can I help myself and my family see the needs in our own community?
You are spot-on in observing our tendency to ignore the needs right across the street. Many of our “luxuries” become the enemy of community. Cool backyards, basketball goals, and privacy fences can keep us away from parks, playgrounds, and, thus, neighbors. Overextended schedules and budgets can crowd out good intentions of noticing others. It’s hard to care for others when our own lives feel like a train, perilously speeding around corners. The bottom line is that we all struggle with selfishness. Others’ problems cramp our style.
So how do we break through the barriers to community engagement? How do we foster a concern for our community like Jesus did?
1. Jesus stewarded his time.
He knew the value of spending alone time with the Father (Mark 1:35), but he spent most of his time with people. You’ve been given 24 hours a day—the same as everyone else. How do you steward it? Do you rest well so that you can serve well? Are you generous with your time? Do you have space in your schedule to care for your community?
2. Jesus brimmed with compassion.
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them” (Matthew 9:36). Not only did Jesus embrace being around crowds, he saw people as created in the image of God.
Not long ago our church hosted an event that attracted hundreds of guests. I read Matthew 9:36 that morning and prayed with my kids that we could see people like Jesus did. I emailed our volunteers, encouraging them to do the same. However, during the event I overheard a loud-talking guest. If I made a list of things that annoy me, I could’ve put a checkmark next to every box under his name. My inclination was to avoid this guy, but I noticed who was listening to him—a couple of new church members. Their hearts looked more like Jesus’ than mine. I silently confessed and thought about Matthew 9:36. Jesus never promised anything about how pleasant the crowd would be.
I know this for sure: If I leave it up to my inclinations, some people won’t see the compassion of Jesus in me. We need to constantly ask Jesus to fill our hearts with compassion. Prayer produces compassion.
3. Jesus was intentional.
Jesus made plans to care for people. He told Zacchaeus, “I’m coming to your house,” and then he carried out his plan to share God’s love to a crowd of partiers.
It’s easy to become engulfed in a Christian bubble. Our family is better when we ask, “Which activity/league will allow us opportunities to interact with people who may or may not know Jesus?” This question doesn’t decide everything, but it sure does help. Without it, we could easily remove ourselves from the needs of people without Christ. We wouldn’t trade anything for the lives we’ve been able to impact through things like youth sports teams.
4. Jesus made his words count.
We waste lots of words. We’re so good at small talk, but we can’t seem to say something that matters. Jesus said powerful, life-giving, world-changing words. We disrespect the Holy Spirit when we act like he can’t speak powerfully through us.
A while back I met a lady who told me of her family’s struggles. She expressed thanks for our church’s food pantry and said she wanted to get her daughter involved in church. My temptation was to graciously close down the conversation and move on to the next thing, but I sensed God prompt me to speak his words. So I said, “I know life’s been a struggle for you, but I also know this: God loves your daughter and he loves you too. He has a plan for your life, and I hope you don’t give up.” She physically changed in that moment. Her shoulders relaxed, her eyes glistened, and she said, “Whew, I needed to hear that.” I’m not sure when she’d last heard words like it, but she recognized as I did—those words weren’t from me.
You and your family should be prepared to have God use your words and actions to give hope to your community. They need you, and God has sent you to them. Don’t miss that great privilege. Spend some time today praying and talking about what God’s plans are for you in your community.
Brian and his wife, Beth, and their four children live in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he preaches at Highland Park Christian Church and writes (brianjenningsblog.com).