By now, we’ve all grown weary of High School Musical’s hit number “We’re All in This Together!” (Don’t start singing it! Seriously, you’ll regret it for the rest of your day.) We are experiencing something that future generations will recount to learn how we overcame these challenges.
Although the ripple effects of this pandemic are felt across our nation, the immediate impact can vary from house to house. Some parents have lost jobs, while others are working overtime. Some children have had a thorough support system to help them finish out the school year, whereas others were left simply to do the best they could with what they had.
Plans are no longer sure. We dwell and make decisions with the immediate and short term in view more than ever before. While this has been a jarring adjustment for many of us, I believe we’re also learning valuable lessons. You and I have opportunities that are worth seizing.
We have opportunities to connect with our kids and neighbors. We have opportunities to be still, to listen, and to love. I’ve lived on the same cul-de-sac for five years, but I’ve just learned the names of most families on our street. This would not have happened without our frequent walks around the neighborhood while in quarantine. (Yes, we did so safely and kept our social distance.) Perhaps you have met someone new or observed a need in your community that you previously overlooked.
These observations spark two key questions:
- How can we leverage the time we have to strengthen our community?
- What principles can we glean from Scripture to maximize each opportunity?
Whenever presented with a challenging question, Jesus would share truth in the most meaningful and straightforward way. In Matthew’s gospel account, the disciple records one such occasion: Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40, NIV)
Jesus summarized all the commandments in just two statements: love God and love others. I believe revisiting this passage reminds us of the personal and straightforward charge given to all those who follow Jesus. With every decision we face, need we pursue, or conversation we have, may our lives demonstrate a commitment to love God supremely and love others selflessly.
The effects of this pandemic will likely linger for many of us. Perhaps you are even facing a crisis unique to you or your town that has nothing to do with the Covid-19. Whatever your current context, here are three ways you can fulfill the two greatest commandments amongst your community:
1. Champion grace.
If it’s a day that ends in “y,” each of us needs a steady dose of God’s grace. Every person you see throughout your church and neighborhood stands in desperate need of God’s unconditional love and mercy. Now more than ever, be sure to show and share grace to those with whom you interact.
- A spouse that longs for connection.
- Your child who needs attention.
- The neighbor who lost his or her job.
- The co-worker who wrestles with anxiety.
Jesus described His followers this way: “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Matthew 5:14-15)
When others see you shining amid darkness, they take notice. When they learn that you aren’t perfect, but instead serve a God Who makes masterpieces out of our mess, they’re more likely to listen.
Action step: The next time you are quick to judge or react to someone dismissively, just pause.
Breathe. Pray. Then respond with grace; however, the Lord leads you to share or show it.
2. Partner with peacemakers.
Over the last few months, a well-known quote from Fred Rogers has circulated. “When I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.”
When you think of helpers in your community, who comes to mind? How have you seen others partner together for the sake of those in need? I believe those helpers could also be called peacemakers. The Son of God thought highly of such individuals.
In the middle of His sermon on the mount, Jesus said to the multitudes: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
There’s something incredibly powerful when we join together with those who share our desire to love and serve others like Jesus. The Bible teaches that doing so demonstrates wisdom: “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:17-18)
Action Step: Identify a local organization that is meeting needs in your community (e.g., food banks) and consider ways you can join the effort.
Is there someone in your neighborhood that has shown a willingness to serve those around you? Is there a way to join with or support that individual or his/her efforts? Has God given you a burden to serve your community in a new way?
Don’t wait. God might choose to use you to be the peacemaker that inspires others to become helpers!
3. Embrace the Unseen.
As we seek to serve or encourage others in our community during a crisis, we do well to evaluate our motives. Are you willing to demonstrate sacrificial love for someone in a way that isn’t lauded in the local paper? Will you commit an act of service that isn’t seen on your timeline?
The Lord Jesus was continually ministering to the least of these amongst the masses. But He never sought fame or notoriety. He often avoided it.
No wonder Jesus encouraged His followers to consider the unseen impact they can have in this world: “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:37-40)
It’s also worth noting how Jesus contrasted the Pharisees’ motivations with anyone who desired to follow His path of serving in secret… “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-4)
Community heroes do this every day. Health care workers minister to the critically ill while family members must stay away. Teachers communicate with students to encourage them to learn and grow. Church leaders and volunteers strive in every way possible to maintain a connection with their church family.
Action Step: Is there someone you know that serves in an unseen way? Send them a message or write a note to encourage them.
Is there an individual or family God keeps bringing to mind? Ask Him what He’d have you to do about it. Take a moment to investigate opportunities around you that you may have missed before the pandemic turned the world upside down. Who is right in front of you that has a need you can meet? Evaluate your motivations when you serve. Do you desire to be seen for your efforts, or do you seek to bring God glory?
Family Life Co-Founder Barbara Rainey recently shared, “When you feel the ground shift beneath your feet, it’s good to remember that Jesus is our rock and our fortress. He will be the stability of your times.” During this time of great need, remember God has placed you in your community for a purpose. Each household faces its challenges, but challenges become opportunities for growth when we commit to love like Jesus. What growth will you experience over the next few weeks? What harvest will you reap if you don’t give up?
It won’t be easy, but it’s not complicated.
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
May it start with you and me.