This article is by Becky Harling and published by Crosswalk
In the wake of COVID-19, we have yet another pandemic. It’s the pandemic of loneliness. According to a recent study conducted by the University of Miami, there has been an alarming increase in loneliness in the past year. I saw a similar statement on the evening news recently.
While the pandemic of loneliness is disturbing, it is a critical moment in history for the church. Loneliness provides a wonderful opportunity for the body of Christ to rise up and demonstrate love tangibly.
What Does the Bible Say about Love in Action?
Just before the Passover feast, in the upper room, Jesus told His friends, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). It was such a profound statement that continues to baffle most Christ-followers. Jesus didn’t say, “By your correct doctrine everyone will know you are my disciples.” He didn’t say, “By your political views everyone will know you are my disciples.” Nor did He say, “By your church attendance will everyone know you are my disciples.”
When a religious leader questioned Jesus, wondering if He had correct theology, Jesus answered that the greatest commandment was for people to love God with all their heart, and the second was as important as the first, “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). Profound! How could it be as important to love your neighbor as it is to love God?
In light of these commandments of Jesus, we as the body of Christ need to consider this: Are we known for how well we love people, or are we known more for what we’re against? Are we known for being the most loving neighbor on our block or are we known for isolating ourselves and being judgmental? Ultimately, what does love in action look like?
How Do You Show Love in Action to Others?
Knowing Your Neighbors
In one of the churches my husband and I served we handed out cards to people and asked them to write the names of all the neighbors surrounding their house. It was shocking how many did not know their neighbors. What’s more disturbing is that in the years of ministry, I’ve been guilty of the same. How can we love our neighbor as ourselves if we have no idea who they are?
Make it your goal to know the names of all your neighbors. Begin praying for them by name. Spend time outside engaging with them. When the restrictions in your area lift, invite them into your home for a meal or party. Get their phone numbers and when there are hurricanes, blizzards, earthquakes, or other natural disasters, text and find out how your neighbors are doing. When someone is sick or has a new baby in your neighborhood, bring a meal. Look around your neighborhood and ask God for ideas on how to best reach out. Start walking through your neighborhood praying for every family in every house. With a few simple steps, you can contribute to changing the culture in your area.
Beyond just your neighbors, get to know those who work at the coffee shop you frequent and the grocery store where you shop. Slow down. Put love in action. Take the time to pause and ask questions. Seek to get to know those who are a part of your community. I have done this with the baristas where I grab my morning coffee and with one of the cashiers where I buy groceries. The cashier is a cancer survivor and often tells me parts of her journey. By taking the time to get to know her, she feels more connected and hopefully, less lonely. I’ve had the opportunity to give her a few of the books I’ve written and my prayer for her is that she’ll see the love of Christ in me and ultimately be drawn to Him.
Mental health professionals are concerned about the long-term emotional impact of isolation and social distancing. As human beings, created in the image of a relational God, we need connection. One of the best ways to help someone feel connected and loved is to simply listen to them. People are dying to feel heard. When you offer your full, undistracted presence to another and listen attentively, people experience Christ through you.
I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with random strangers who have poured out their entire life story to me, simply because I’m available to listen.
Sending Handwritten Notes and Cards
Everyone loves surprise notes and cards. Think through the people in your network; the elderly, the single mom, friends who might be discouraged or simply weary. Sending a handwritten note is a great way to lift someone’s spirits.
Reflecting on the past year and the challenges society faced, it has become a wonderful opportunity to encourage others in more traditional ways. First responders, hospital and medical workers, teachers, and daycare workers have all been placed in extremely stressful situations. What if you decided to encourage them with notes of encouragement and perhaps some gift cards? Teach your kids how to write notes of encouragement as well. One family I know has started having their kids write notes of encouragement every Sunday afternoon. A little encouragement goes a long way to lift someone’s spirits and help them feel valued.
Engaging with Those Who Are Different than You
Throughout the Scriptures, the trilogy of vulnerability is mentioned: The alien, the widow, and the orphan (Deuteronomy 26:13, Zechariah 7:8-9). God’s purpose is for his people to step up with love in action to administer justice and care for those who are the most vulnerable in society. This could include the homeless, refugees, kids in foster care, the elderly, and those who are incarcerated.
I remember a time when my husband, Steve, and I were working with refugees who had just come from Ethiopia. Just arriving in the United States, they had no concept of grocery shopping, getting a driver’s license, or cooking on modern appliances. They needed believers to come alongside them and show them the love of Christ by teaching them very practical skills necessary for living in the United States.
Jesus always had a heart for the messy and marginalized people of society, and He invites us to follow His example and love the least of these as He does.
Establishing Healthy Boundaries
Finally, it’s important when you love in action to respect your own limits. I had a friend who wisely stated, “Boundaries make good neighbors.” That is absolutely true. People feel safer in relationship with you when you respect your limits. Boundaries help define what’s our responsibility and what is the responsibility of others. They help differentiate us from others.
Jesus set an amazing example of healthy boundary setting in Mark 1:35-38. Jesus had engaged in a busy day of ministry, teaching in the synagogue, casting out a demon, healing Peter’s mother-in-law, and many who came from all over to be healed. Very early the next morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up and went off to a solitary place to spend time in prayer with the Father. After a while, the disciples came frantically looking for him and exclaimed, “Everyone is looking for you!” (Mark 1:37b). It’s almost as if they said to Jesus, “How could you go off for time alone when there are many more people to be healed?!” Jesus responded calmly, “let’s go somewhere else – to nearby villages – so I can preach there also. That is why I have come” (Mark 1:38). Jesus didn’t heal everyone in Capernaum and He didn’t give in to the pressure the disciples tried to put on Him. He didn’t get defensive. He simply respected His limits. He lovingly set a boundary.
In our relationships with others, we need to respect our limits. Without firm boundaries, we tend to take on responsibilities that were never ours to carry. As a result, we end up resenting people rather than loving them the way God intended. Love people in both word and action but respect your limits. Understand, you cannot be their savior. Only Jesus can be that. The irony is that as a result of your boundaries, people will feel safer and more loved by you.
Putting Love in Action Today
Love in action has perhaps never been more important. How do others view you? How are you doing with Jesus’ commandment to love your neighbor as yourself? Take a small step to get started and ask God to love through you. Seek to get to know your neighbors, learn to listen without distraction, send a few handwritten notes or cards, engage with those who are different, and establish some healthy boundaries. In doing so God will flow through you with love in action to a very broken world.