I have called you friends.
JESUS, IN JOHN 15:15 NIV
Your neighborhood may have fences or lawns that adjoin. You might live in an apartment, with people above and below you. You could live on a farm, so your nearest neigh-
bor is a quarter-mile away. There are many unique ways we share this big green-and-blue ball we call earth.
Sometimes our “neighbors” are those who share that geography with us, but we can also expand our definition to include those within our sphere of influence.
The Bible uses the Greek word oikos. The basic translation is “house,” but there is another meaning. Oikos can also describe a group of connected people—your immediate household, your extended family, but possibly also neighbors, coworkers, and friends. To put it another way, your oikos includes those with whom you have regular contact. We could call this our sphere of influence.
After casting a mob of demons out of one man, Jesus told him to go back to his oikos and tell the story (Luke 8:39). The apostle Paul told his jailer that trusting Christ would bring salvation to him and his oikos (Acts 16:31). And this is repeated often in Scripture. A government official (John 4:53), a synagogue leader (Acts 18:8), and a tax collector (Luke 19:9) each come to faith in Jesus—and the blessings extend to each man’s oikos. Whatever that sphere of influence was, we can see that salvation spread quickly through the social circle. While the restored demoniac wanted to travel with Jesus and the disciples, Jesus sent him back to his friends and family. They would know better than anyone the transformation that took place. That was the man’s best place of ministry.
Nowadays, people are tempted to live in a singular, separated, individual way, in cocoons of our own making. There is terror on the news and in our schools, so we have deadbolts and fences. Electronic devices compete for our private attention every waking moment, but even online chats turn into arguments. We over-medicate to numb ourselves from life’s accumulated losses. We are lonely, even while surrounded by people.
This is the state of humanity—desperate for community, but clueless about creating it.
The Bible reminds us that community is often the best arena for the Good News of Jesus. Faith tends to fill a household, overflowing to a whole sphere of influence. Jesus can still “move into a neighborhood”—through you.
How will this happen?
It starts with the simple connections that create community. Be present for your neighbors—for all those with whom you work, live, study, or play. Be a friend, a loving, caring, listening friend.
Are there people you see regularly? Maybe they are the parents of the other players on your son’s soccer team. You sit with them every couple of days in the summer. What about the barista at your favorite coffee shop? Do you often see the same checkout lady at the department store? Could you learn their names? Could you start a conversation? Could you be available if God wants to touch their lives through you? How could God use you to carry his love?
Who Is in Your Oikos?
Much of this connecting can happen naturally, once you open the door. But it wouldn’t hurt to do some thinking about it. Who does your oikos include? Ask God to bring to mind people in your sphere of influence. Write down their names and pray for them by name. As you pray, consider what God has in store for those people.
Is there a group to which you feel called? Or is God sending you to an individual? How is the Spirit prompting you?
Perhaps God has placed you where you live, work, study or play for a specific purpose you haven’t considered yet. You may be the only believer in someone’s life, or you may be part of a tag team, sharing God’s message over a period of years.
In our marketing-savvy world, we sometimes turn the Good News into a sales pitch, and our friends into targets. Steer clear of that. God places these people on your heart because he loves them and wants a relationship with them. Your mission is to share that love with them.
So presence is more important than perfection. Be genuinely interested in the life of these friends, before you try to interest them in your pursuits. Listen. Ask open-ended questions. Reserve judgment. Invest. Lean into their concerns. Don’t have an agenda except for God’s agenda. Have the patience to see what God will do.
And then be ready for whatever happens.
Adopting Your Neighborhood
One of my neighbors, Lorenzo, who is a follower of Jesus, was thinking of moving away from our community when a piercing question came into his mind. He believed it came from Jesus. Are you going to move before ever investing in your neighbors?
Tears came to Lorenzo’s eyes as he realized he’d lived in his neighborhood for years but rarely reached out to his neighbors with God’s love. Within the next two weeks, he and his wife, Kassie, were intentional in sharing God’s love in natural ways. They took a meal to a person fighting cancer. They took cookies to a new couple that had recently moved in. They ended up praying for another couple and even got to share their faith in Jesus with another—all because they began living intentionally.
Now they’ve adopted their neighborhood as the mission field to which God’s assigned them.
The Prayer, Care, and Share Lifestyle
Some of us have been taught that following Jesus equals going to church on Sunday, as if that is our highest calling. We think discipleship means joining a Bible study group. If we use our spiritual gift in the church, we reach the zenith of spirituality. Or so we’ve heard.
But the life God wants for us is so much more.
We might learn something from the practice of dieting. In an effort to become healthy, some people will go on a crash diet. Paleo, South Beach, Mediterranean, DASH—you can count calories, add protein, work out, or whatever, and chances are that you will lose weight.
But then what? Will you make long-term changes to your life- style, or will you revert to long-standing patterns? We all know that the best way to stay healthy is to address our lifestyle choices. Eat smaller meals more often. Drink plenty of water. Get adequate sleep. Exercise early and often. Cut back on sugar. There are many who lose twenty pounds on a diet and then put on thirty when they get back to their normal routine—because they’ve never committed to changing their lifestyle.
Adopting your neighborhood is a lifestyle. It’s a mindset. For many believers, it’s a paradigm shift. It’s not a list of religious things to do; it’s a commitment to loving God and loving others in every area of your life. It is spiritually healthy living.
In the next few chapters we discuss this community-creating, neighborhood-adopting lifestyle. We call it “prayer, care and share.” You’ll see numerous stories, best practices and illustrations, but please don’t view them as tactics to learn. Prayer, care and share is a way of living that positions us to be available to God and available to others. It can become as natural as breathing.
Prayer, care and share go together symbiotically. The three elements are not linear, but they wrap around one another, each one feeding into the others and drawing from them. Let’s look at each one individually, but we’ll be sure to put them back together at the end.