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Love your neighbour

Welcome back to our weekly reflections, I hope you’ve enjoyed some time off over the summer. It’s always good to step back from the usual weekly rhythms and take a break. Here on the farm the usual hectic harvest period is now almost behind us, with all the cereals having been harvested in record time for this part of the world. I’m now looking forward to my break in October!

Like many of our churches and Christian communities, our minds have now turned to the establishment of new things for this coming season. As fresh seed is sown in the ground, so the many groups and activities from which we may have taken a break over the summer, might well be kicking-off once again. The church weekly bulletin might begin to bulge with various activities, this almost certainly being met with great enthusiasm amongst some, yet conversely a degree of trepidation amongst others.


During the summer Ruth and I were recipients of a very generous act of kindness which has proven to be a real challenge to me, reminding me that although I think God wants us to be a busy people, His desire is that we are busy doing the right things, the best things, listening for His voice, seeking His will for our lives day by day; and crucially not simply just picking up and running with activities we may well have been part of in the past.

We have a section of wooden decking at the back of our house, and in the springtime I mentioned to my neighbour that I wanted to give it a fresh coat of stain as it was looking a bit shabby, but sadly I hadn’t had the time to get round to it. Now maybe you’ve guessed where this is going, but many weeks later after Ruth and I had spent two nights away from home at my niece’s wedding, we arrived back to discover a beautifully re painted section of decking; what a wonderful act of kindness by a well-meaning neighbour, the common Grace of God in action!


As I began to reflect on that act of kindness (after taking wine and flowers next door), I was struck by how many of our missional endeavours can so easily become related simply to seeking the opportunity to tell people what to think, or even how to think; yet as we read the gospels that was clearly not the only way for Jesus. Yes, of course we always ought to ‘be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have’ (1 Peter 3:15), yet my neighbours simple act of kindness both blessed and challenged me perhaps more than many words could have. Barbara Brown Taylor sums this up far more eloquently than I…


“When people wanted Him (Jesus) to tell them what God’s realm was like, He told them stories about their own lives. When people wanted Him to tell them God’s truth about something, He asked them what they thought. With all kinds of opportunities to tell people what to think, he told them what to do instead. Wash feet. Give your stuff away. Share your food. Favour reprobates. Pray for those who are out to get you. Be the first to say, ‘I’m sorry.’”*


So, as we say goodbye to summer and enter this new season, I wonder, what might the equivalent of painting your neighbours decking look like for you? Are you, and indeed am I listening for those opportunities? Or finally, might it be that the busyness of activity, (however well-meaning it may appear), is robbing us of the opportunity to love our neighbours? After all, that’s quite simply what He told us to do (Mark 12:31).


Alistair Birkett

Director: Scotland & Northern England


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