Letting Go of Results
Jun 18, 2018
This is the final article in our series on frequently asked questions. Today’s question is usually asked with a bit of sadness: “What should I do if my neighbors don’t respond to my efforts?” Anyone involved in “living and discipling among the lost” will eventually experience the disappointment this question reflects.
One thing to consider, if we are seeing a lack of response from our neighbors, is whether we are doing something that hinders the light of the gospel. It’s a good idea to ask God if anything in us needs to change. It’s likely, however, that we aren’t doing anything wrong. What then?
When we don’t get the response we are hoping for, it can be helpful to reflect on the nature of the Kingdom. The way the Kingdom grows is often counterintuitive. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown, it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches” (Luke 13:31, ESV). When we invest our lives in the people around us because of Jesus, we are sowing Kingdom-seed. Such seeds are small and sometimes invisible, but they ultimately have a large impact. Small acts of love are never wasted.
One more perspective: When we love our neighbors and they are unresponsive, it can help us grow in our understanding of the love of God. Consider God’s heart as reflected in Hosea 11:8 (ESV): “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.”
Or remember the thoughts of Jesus as He wept over His city: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me” (Matthew 23:37, NLT).
God loves people passionately and perfectly and is often disappointed with their indifferent responses to His love. It should be no surprise that our less-than-perfect attempts to love our neighbors will sometimes be rebuffed. When that happens, we can find comfort in knowing that our disappointment and longing are a reflection of God’s heart.
When Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan, it was to give specific guidance on how we should obey the command to love our neighbor. We don’t know how the injured man in the story ultimately responded. We don’t know if he recovered from his wounds, if he ever met his Samaritan benefactor, if he turned toward God, or if his life changed in any way. The story ends with the injured man left to recover under the care of an innkeeper. I think that’s because the point of the story was for us to love the people God puts along our path. Their response to that love is secondary. We demonstrate our love for God by loving the people He has placed in our world.
I wonder sometimes if our thinking about the life of faith has been distorted through a business mindset focused on bottom-line thinking and an orientation to specific and measurable results.
What if instead we were curious, creative people, full of humility and the fragrant love of Jesus? Such people offer passionate prayer, creative service, and radical hospitality, and leave the results to God.
Al Engler is the director of Navigators Neighbors and Navigators Workplace. This article is part of a series on Frequently Asked Questions regarding neighborhood ministry. To contact him or to learn more about his ministry, click here.