“If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, has become guilty of all.” James 2:8-10
My first memory of neighbors is the elderly couple who lived next to our family when we resided in the church parsonage at 1426 South Fitzhugh. They were quiet, and kept an immaculate yard of thick St. Augustine grass. Right next to our fence line was their huge Gardenia tree. Its rich, pungent aroma would be sucked into my room by the attic fan all summer long. The older gentleman would bring their daily trash out in the back yard, and burn it in a barrel. I always met him at the fence line, and he would patiently talk to me while I asked one question after another. He often left bags of toys or treats hanging on the fence for my siblings and me. I loved my neighbor. When they moved out of the neighborhood and a parade of renters began to rotate through their home, I longed for the good old days. These new people were the same distance from me as my old neighbors, but I preferred for them to be much farther away.
Praying begins with emptying, and leads to fulfilling. Emptying my will, and fulfilling God’s will is the process of prayer for my life.
As a small boy, I had not learned this fundamental truth. These new neighbors annoyed me on so many levels. It didn’t pray for them. I avoided them. It would be years before the process of prayer would sink in, and change the way I think about having my will interrupted by God’s will.
“God’s purpose for your life is to knock you, out of you, and to fill you with Himself.” “Wild Bill” Stafford, Revivalist and Preacher
The Scripture clarifies the meaning of a neighbor. Your neighbor is not someone who is near to your heart, but can be anyone who is near enough or different enough to annoy you.
My new neighbors didn’t mow the yard, and rather than burn the trash, they just threw it in the back yard. They didn’t water the grass, and certainly didn’t mow it. The gardenias were not pruned, and the exterior front and side porches of the house began to look like a swap meet. I found myself preferring my old neighbors, and refusing to develop a heart for my new ones.
The Scripture warns you that showing partiality to someone you would prefer to be near you, rather than showing deference to everyone who is near you, is a sin. This is not only a warning shot across the bow for a disappointed child. It is the litmus test for the ancient and the contemporary church. Some things never change. People rub other people the wrong way.
Praying for your neighbor who annoys you may not change them, or move them, but prayer has the power to change you. In the event that God doesn’t immediately change those you don’t prefer, prayer will soften your heart, and draw you closer to people you don’t prefer. This is a vital part of the process of prayer.
NOTE TO SELF: It is hard to hate people when you are praying for them. WARNING: It is not impossible, just hard. Make it hard to show partiality. Pray for those you don’t’ prefer, and learn to defer to God’s will. When you pray your heart moves closer to people you don’t prefer, and it prepares you to defer. If their heart ever changes, and they turn around to shake your hand, they won’t find your fist in their face. TALK LESS! PRAY MORE!