By Anthony Brown
You keep telling us that God is inviting us to join Him in His mission in the world, but how do I know what God is doing?
How does any Christian know where the Holy Spirit is at work and, if they can identify that, how do they know what part He wants them to play in that work?
It’s all very well saying “Love your neighbour,” but what does that actually mean in practice?
To encourage Christians to step out in faith, it helps to have a good answer to these questions, and mine is this: faith, hope and love. Paul famously identified these three as the ultimate elements of the Christian life in 1 Corinthians 13. So a simple way to conceive of our participation with God in His mission is to look for these things in the lives of our neighbours and encourage them to grow, or to seek to introduce these things where they are noticeably absent.
Do you have a neighbour who has lost hope as the result of an illness, parenting challenges, or employment issues? Clearly we are cooperating with God when we seek to offer them hope. Do you have a neighbour struggling in a difficult marriage, or with relationships at work, or lacking true friends? Clearly we are cooperating with God when we seek to offer them love.
However, even better than these “invitations to respond to adversity” are the times when we see our neighbours already expressing some degree of hope, faith, or love. This gives us an opportunity to encourage something good in their lives—to name something they are doing or feeling as an aspect of the kingdom of God—a sign of God’s intention for all things when His kingdom comes in all its fullness. To quote another idea of Paul’s, how can it not be cooperating with God to seek to fan into flame these gifts of God?
Looking for signs of faith, hope and love (or their absence) is such a simple way of recognizing what the Lord is concerned about in the lives of our neighbours, taking the guesswork out of joining with what the Holy Spirit is seeking to do in their lives. Best of all, having these three kingdom goals in mind suggests specific ways for us to take initiative or to respond when the opportunity presents itself.
How much less complicated and how much less daunting would it be if everyone in our church understood mission simply as the act of encouraging faith, hope and love in the lives of their neighbours?