This post is part of my “stories” series. In this series, I share stories of how people live their lives in response to the gospel and as a demonstration of God’s love in order to teach us and to provide an example to provoke us to love and good works. (See “stories: A New Series” for more information about this series.)
A friend of mine moved into a new neighborhood almost two years ago. He bought a house that was in need of many repairs, and, in fact, he’s still working on the house now. In less than two years, he has met most of his neighbors, inviting them to dinner at his house. He has started friendships with several neighbors, some of whom are Christians and some of whom are atheists. Although he doesn’t necessarily enjoy fishing, he has been fishing with one neighbor a few times. He has also helped several of his neighbors work on their houses. Spending all of this time with his neighbors has meant that the work on his house has taken alot longer than expected. But, he thinks that spending time with his neighbors is important.
Another friend moved from the United States to another country a few years ago. She spends most of her time with local college students teaching them English. Some students come for one or two lessons, other students come back several times. One or two students have been attending her English classes for over a year. She is building relationships with these students as she is able, even inviting them into her home and spending time in their homes. It is very difficult for her to live in a strange culture, to learn a new language, to break old habits, to leave behind family and friends and comforts and familiar things. But, she thinks that it is important for her to travel around the world and spend time with these college students.
Another friend and his family spend their Saturday mornings at the community center of a local government housing project. For the most part, they spend hours playing with boys and girls. They play on the playground equipment, ride boys and girls on their shoulders, play football with the older children, and even provide lunch. They have spent so much time with the boys and girls that they have gotten to know many of them – and some of the stories will break your heart… stories of broken families, abuse, neglect, missing parents, drugs, alcohol, prostitution. But, they think it is important to insert their lives into the broken lives of these boys and girls.
Another friend spends much of her time helping people with nutritional, health, and lifestyle issues. She spends hours every week talking to people, praying with them, encouraging them, and helping them recognize the importance of living a healthy life. She shows them alternatives to over-medicating and teaches them how to thrive in spite of constant pain. Although it is stressful to deal with hurting people all of the time, and although she doesn’t get paid for these services, she feels that it is important for her help people live physically and spiritually healthy lives.
Another friend and his family have “adopted” a couple of people who are struggling both physically and financially. Several times this family has found money, or furniture, or food that someone needs. They have given people rides to the hospital or the doctor’s office, even if the trip lasts several hours. This family takes care of people together, with the entire family getting involved. Perhaps some would think that this type of service would take too much away from “family time”, but they think that it is important for them to care for those who need help.
There are many other friends that I could mention – brothers and sisters who consider it important to give up something of their own lives in order to serve others – both those who are part of God’s family and those who are not in God’s family. I could mention the brother and sister who moved their family to an urban area to demonstrate God’s love in a desperate situation. I could mention a brother who gives up nights and weekends to work on people’s cars without charge. I could mention many brothers and sisters who cook dinners for those who have been sick or need a break for other reasons.
Which of my friends are living missionally? I think all of them are. They are living the love of God as he has provided opportunity and means and passion. And, they are all inserting their lives into the lives of other people. Their lives have been changed by God through the good news of Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and they desire to demonstrate God’s love and proclaim that same good news to others in tangible ways.
There are dangers in describing the lives of some of my friends in the way that I have above. First, I definitely left out some people and some examples. God has surrounded me with many, many friends who are attempting to live the love of God in their lives. I could not mention all of them. Second, it is possible that someone could read my description of their own life and become proud. Knowing the people that I described above, that will probably not happen. Most will be embarrassed that I mentioned them, saying that they are not doing anything special. Third, there is a danger that someone will read my descriptions above and assume that those are the only ways that God works through his people into the lives of others. I would like to finish this article on this point.
Missional living means living the love of God in a way that impacts other people. As Paul said, we have been reconciled to God, and we are now to serve others with the goal of seeing them reconciled as well. This reconciliation affects all aspects of our lives, beginning with our relationship with God, but also affecting our relationship with other people.
However, the common grace of God and our common reconciliation with God does not mean that we all serve others in the same way. God has gifted us differently. He has given us different talents. We all have different opportunities. God has given us different passions and interests. Thus, we will serve others in different ways. There is a danger, especially among leaders, in thinking that every Christian will serve in the same way that I (or the leader) serves. This is not the way that God works.
Thus, missional living will look different for different people. However, in all instances, a life that mirrors the mission of God will live the love of God in the lives of others in order to reconcile them to God and to one another.