Nearly every day, I take my dog on a walk around my neighborhood in my adopted city of Denver. In just a two-mile loop, I see so many needs. There’s a man in a wheelchair struggling to cross the street before the traffic lights change. There is a single mother among a group of grocery-store coworkers, picketing for a better wage in frigid temperatures outside the store. There are the diverse riders of the public transportation system, waiting at the bus stops on several corners along my route.
I walk past a homeless family huddled under the minimal shelter of the side entry to a local church, the entirety of their possessions contained in a shopping cart, the young children trying to stay warm in ragged sleeping bags. There are several neighbors with mental illness, their porches and yards piled high with clutter. And there are refugee families, eking out a living with government assistance and praying their kids have a chance for something better.
Just two miles. So many different people. So many needs. So many on the margins. So many dividing lines. Honestly, it’s often overwhelming. We know that in a fallen and broken world, there will always be pain and poverty, sickness and sadness. Yet as followers of Christ, we are called to bring hope and healing to those who hurt, and there ought not be margins in the Kingdom of God. What, therefore, is our responsibility to alleviate suffering and promote flourishing this side of eternity? With so many needs everywhere we look, where do we start?
I would like to suggest four key practices, based on biblical principles, that can help us better show God’s love to “the least of these.” Following each practice, I provide questions to move you and your church toward concrete action in that area.
1. Know Your Neighbor
“Who is my neighbor?” asked the expert in religious law, wanting to justify himself (Luke 10:29).
This inquiry directed to Jesus, which he responds to with the parable of the Good Samaritan, is not voiced only by the expert of the law. We, too, are prone to draw boundary lines, to justify ourselves, to shirk responsibility. But God’s eyes do not see any border—be it a street in your neighborhood, a section of your city, the color of someone’s skin, a political party, or national citizenship—as the delineation between “neighbor” and “not neighbor.” We are called to love all whom God has placed in our lives.
To do that, we must get to know them. We must not turn away, avoid interactions, or view others as “less than.” When we are not in proximity to those in need, we are not only unable to meet their needs; we may be unable to even see their needs.
- When you think of your “neighbors,” who are the first people who come to mind? Where are they located? As you reflect a bit longer, who else does God bring to your mind?
- How will you invite “strangers” into your life in the next week, the next month, the next year?
- How and where can you come closer to those on the margins through proximity, interaction, and relationship instead of turning away or distancing yourself?
2. See Others as God Sees Them
Scripture states that humans are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). No other creation of God is said to be made in his image. To be marked with the image of God—the imago Dei—is to be imbued not just with unique substance (gifts and capacities) and function (actions and relationships), but to be marked with a royal status.
Being human means having an intimate family connection to God. In a sense, we are all his daughters and sons—and brothers and sisters with one another (Acts 17:28). We all have the family connection. We all share this no matter what choices we make in life, no matter what we say, think, or do, no matter what family we are born into, or which culture or cultures inform us.