Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.  ~C.S. Lewis

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A few Sundays ago, we the Gospel lesson was the story of the Good Samaritan. This teaching of Jesus came after a lawyer, wanting to justify himself, asked Jesus if he could define not just what it means to love your neighbor but who that neighbor actually is.

After my post on Finding Your Calling in Life, several people emailed to ask me a similar question.

It’s a great question too and one that I’ve thought about long and hard.  If you look at the actual meaning of the word, it just means someone who is near, from the word nigh.

So, the first answer is—EVERYBODY is not your neighbor.  God has not placed everyone in your actual life, but very specific people.  There’s comfort in that, if you let it sink in.  Look around at the landscape of your life and take note of who is near.  Your family is the nearest, then go from there to your actual neighbors, your church family, your work or school family, etc.  You are not called to love and serve everyone, but instead you are called to love and serve very specific people that God has placed in your path.  Vocation is beautiful, in that, it gives your neighbor a name.  You are not everybody’s wife, mother, teacher, etc.  You have been given these certain people on purpose.  (great teaching on this subject here—->(Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller on Vocation.)

The phrase, love  everyone kinda lets you off the hook, because it’s so vague.  But, love YOUR wife does not.  How can you love and serve your specific wife?  What are her actual needs?  Does she need you to go to your job everyday to pay the mortgage?  That’s a great way to serve your neighbor.  Maybe help with the kids? Take out the trash?  Honor her and love her?  Yes, yes, and yes.  All good works rendered to her, sanctified by Christ, as if they were rendered to Christ Himself.

In the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus beautifully demonstrates that He is our ultimate neighbor.  He finds us beaten, half dead, in a ditch, and rescues us, takes us to the Inn (the church) where He provides for everything we need and then pays the bill!  And so, He is present with us, as we find ways to serve our neighbor.   Whether we are serving or being served, Christ has hidden Himself in our vocation, but He has also hidden Himself in our neighbor.  When we look at our neighbor, we should see Christ.   Gene Veith says in God At Work,

He accepts what we do for others as if we had done it for Him.  It turns out that when we love and serve our neighbors, we are loving and serving Him after all.

This changes everything and helps us see why is vocation so freeing.

For years, I chased after some spiritual high—some evidence that God was near to me.  I wanted every worship service to take me that emotional mountaintop.  I wanted that feeling of nearness to God, that always seemed impossible to reproduce.  Perhaps, that’s part of the reason why modern churches have so orchestrated Sunday morning, with all the lights and the cameras and the screens.  We want to KNOW God is near.

Vocation has saved us from the tyranny of this emotional roller coaster.  We don’t have to chase after God in some grand experience.

He is sitting right next to you.  He looks like your husband.  And he’s hungry and needs dinner.  Maybe even a big smooch.   Or he looks like your ten year old.  And she wants to play Monopoly and learn how to make cookies.  Or he looks like your boss.  And he needs you to do work that is honest and noble.

God doesn’t need your good works.  But, your neighbor does.

And you will never be closer to Him than when you are face to face with His children, loving them and meeting their needs.

Your neighbor?  Is right next to you.  Jesus, incognito.

55 comments on “Who is Your Neighbor {and Why Vocation Will Set You Free}”

  1. I love this post especially the final part when you state that Jesus is incognito in your neighbor right next to you. This is the hard part for loving our neighbor is actually choosing to see Jesus living right there in front of our eyes especially if that person offends us in some respect whether they be a person who lives with us in our own home or someone we do not know at all. The fact of the matter is that, yes, Jesus lives right there in front of our very eyes even in our own selves and we are called to love. It occurred to me just as I wrote that last sentence that, “even in our own selves,” Jesus lives and we are called to love. Truly loving oneself too is important as it allows our “self” to be emptied and to be filled with the one true love that is God. In turn we are able to see the Jesus self in others and to truly die to self and love our neighbor through the vocations he has called us to. Thank you for posting this! xoxo

  2. You have blessed my day! Thank you for your insight and the beautiful way you sum up all I have been taught but often forget when mired down by this new world of Christianity. (Which to me seems often like the works based church Luther was fighting at the time of the Reformation.) This is so freeing!

  3. Yes, such Truth!! Thank you for the reminder that the small deeds, even in our own homes, loving daily, in the most mundane ways is noticed by the One we want to serve. It has been a big wake up call to loving these ‘neighbors’ that I call my children (5) and Hubs while being stuck in a home for many days straight because of weather. Love often comes at a cost- our time, priorities, preferences, etc. I am laid low.
    xox- susan

  4. “Jesus, incognito” Love the way you simplified it for us:) I find I’m always looking elsewhere for my neighbor, rather than serving those who are closest to me.

  5. I love both these posts. I too have fallen prey to the illusive search for mountain top faith, exhausting myself in attempts to be all to all. I am so glad God gives each of us specific people to love. I am so glad He provides avenues for us to give and serve through others, so we don’t have to be all places, at all times, for all people. There is such freedom in accepting myself for who God created me to be and realizing my talents and spiritual gifts converge equipping me for the things He calls me to. Wish I had learned this sooner, but loving the freedom I have now to be me, feel great about what I am doing, and let go of guilt for all the things I am not doing. A wise man once reminded me that when I am busy trying to do it all I am actually depriving others of the blessing they would receive if given the chance to share the load.

    • “Vocation has saved us from the tyranny of this emotional roller coaster. We don’t have to chase after God in some grand experience.” This is good! I too chased after the grand experience. I still do if I am being honest. But, as you beautifully point out, He loves me enough to provide my family as a means to sanctify. Thank you!

  6. Wow. This just gave me a major “aha” moment–everyone is not my neighbor. I am not called to serve everyone, I am called to serve a specific few. Wow. Thank you for the freedom in that.

  7. I love these posts so much Edie! And one of the things that stood out to me in both post is that serving our neighbours doesn’t mean that we have to do everything for everyone, especially our children, but we can serve by teaching them to do it for themselves.

  8. Another great post Edie! I think there are different seasons in our lives when our neighbor will be different too. Obviously, when our children are home (especially young) we will spend the majority of our time serving our family but when they leave the nest God opens many more opportunities to serve Him. We shouldn’t ever feel guilty for not being able to get involved in certain ministries or activities when we are busy (not in a “too” busy way 😉 ) with our families. Those times will come all too soon when they leave the nest. 🙂 I need to recognize my neighbor more often! Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

  9. Love this!! It’s so true. The little things we do for those around are really for Him. This perspective makes the mundane everyday stuff seem much grander. 🙂

  10. Love this Edie. It spoke to my heart in many ways, and encourages me to try harder in serving my husband and family. I love the dinner, monopoly, cookies part. Love and miss you!

  11. Edie, Thank you for these past 2 posts. In a church culture that is rich with ‘radical’ and ‘crazy love’ living it most of the time leaves me feeling like I am not doing enough or that what I am doing does not count for the kingdom. Although church may preach grace, sometimes we like to follow it with a bunch of things to do to be worthy of the grace. I fear I am sometimes neglecting my family to care for the ‘neighbors’ and I wonder who is supposed to be loving my family while I am tending to the others? I love this thought of serving and loving those that God in His wisdom has placed in my life in His perfect will is enough. Please don’t get me wrong, there certainly is a place to ‘go into all the world’.

    • Yes, and I think we all have time and situations where people need us to drop what we’re doing and help. But a lifestyle of that will cause you to neglect your own family. You are so right.
      xoxo

      • My thoughts exactly. I have found myself serving others, who need it too, but neglecting my neighbors in my home. Sometimes it is easier when you don’t know the others as well. It is harder for me to leave the aggravation or hurt feelings and serve my immediate neighbors. They need it. I know this because I am seeing it in my ‘mirror.’

        Thanks for always speaking to my heart, Edie.

  12. I really love the part about “God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbor does.” And how freeing to know we don’t have to go searching for our work — it is right in front of us, in the every day. Thank you for blessing me with your words.

  13. I read that it was your birthday today somewhere (IG possibly) if so, Happy Birthday! Thanks so much for these last two posts because they are exactly what I needed! I often struggle with knowing God’s will. I appreciate your honesty and willingness to share! Thanks!

  14. This is such a great post and insightful perspective. Love how you articulated this, especially the last line, “Your neighbor? Is right next to you. Jesus, incognito.”
    What a great way to start each morning, beginning with today. Thanks for sharing.

  15. I meant to comment on your earlier post about vocation… Thank you SO much for writing that! I got tears in my eyes when I read it. I’m a new mom (which is to say – I’m very happy, but so very tired), and I felt like God was talking just to me!

    I don’t comment often, but I love your blog so much.

    P.S. I love the new blog design! So pretty and classy! 🙂

  16. Wowza girlfriend! You don’t know how much stress you just lifted off me. I’ve been thinking of God’s will for me for years and how can I help my kids find God’s will for them. When all we need to do is love and serve each other. Why do we make so hard on ourselves? Do we really expect a big lightning bolt to feel close to God? Why do we feel that God is so out of our reach? Thank you for your beautiful words and posting them for all of us to absorb.

  17. Eddy it will be OK if you do not publish this comment.
    This post was food for thought for me. I do think the person next to you at any point of time is my neighbor too. There are degrees of proximity, but the women at the register in Target was my neighbor for a few seconds, God loves her and I was in front of her to show and be that love for a few seconds. That woman is irrelevant in my life, I do not remember her face, but I am capable of ruining or improving her day and I can be loving and caring.

    As a child of God living an a very tiny planet (and very crowded) I do think everyone is my neighbor in a way and all the people in my proximity becomes my neighbor as illustrated in the Good Samaritan parable, the man helped an stranger not his mother, or brother, but a person next to him at an specific point of time. We cannot define neighbors only in the way to permanent o semi permanent proximity, if we do that we risk becoming selfish.

    • OH, I think you are totally right, Lorena. And the missionaries I support through my church are my neighbor, even though they live in another country, but I can’t support every missionary. And I don’t meet the check out person at every Target, just at the one where I shop. I’m not trying to define it too narrowly, I’m trying to define in a way makes it possible to see that serving your neighbor doesn’t require you to look very far. They are always near!
      Thanks for your comment.
      🙂

  18. This is so encouraging! Thank you! (p.s. – you posted a link to a Lutheran Church in Knoxville a few months ago – – the first sermon was “The Good Samaritan”. He has become one of my favorite pastors to listen to!)

  19. I pray for the eyes of Jesus, and for His heart as well. Thank you so much for this wonderful article Edie, it really was a great help in that direction:) have a wonderful weekend.

  20. Amen!! For a very long time I was searching fir that mountaintop experience so I could feel that I was close to God. In actuality, it was purely emotional and only for the moment. I would later find myself feeling more empty and lonely, as if God did not care. As the truth of a real relationship with God, through his Son, is being revealed to me, I find myself much more secure in my relationship with our Heavenly Father. Your blog, your faithful sharing from the heart, has been an incredible encouragement through this journey. THANK YOU!
    Hugs

  21. I came here looking for a cookie recipe and have left absolutely turned around. What a blessing these articles have been today! I really enjoyed “How to find God’s Will for your Life” and then went on to this one. I loved your examples. Breaking it down simply to 1)who is my neighbor and 2) what is his need, to something as simple as 1)friend 2)encouragement is PERFECT! Wow, I get so bogged down and bound up worrying about things. Worrying about what I’m doing wrong. Worrying about being a 28 year old single gal while everyone around me is getting married or having children… This is a calm in my daily storm. this is so what I needed. I’ve redirected my focus. THANK YOU, EDIE!

  22. So true. We just had a conversation with friends this week about how “church” is not about your feelings. It’s about what you know to be true that gives you peace and calm. Church should be about learning and growing, And helping our neighbors, whoever they are; it’s not about some emotional high that we drum up (we can do that by playing a little Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, right)?

  23. I came here by way of Pinterest this Christmas weekend and what a blessing you and your blog have been to me!! I’ve discovered several “neighbors” standing next to me in the grocery store line, or the grocery clerk herself working extra hours, the post office, the police officer, etc, etc. I’m a single, almost 60 year young lady and I tend to notice people more because I don’t have children vying for my attention. I try to bring moments of the gospel to those I’m privileged to meet throughout my day. There’s a saying that we’re all just walking each other home. To me, that home is Heaven.
    Thanking God for finding Life in Grace.

  24. I loved this post and its prequel! Please write more on the topic; I would love to learn more from you on giving and finding one’s purpose.

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