On one special Sunday each year, the kids and youth of our church lead the worship service. The youngest members of our congregation sing with the praise team, read prayers, and pass the offering baskets. The youth group even handles the sermon! On this special Sunday each year, there is usually a surprise blessing or two.
I sat on the floor of the front row- near enough to direct which kid was up next, but out of sight so parents could take pictures. Praise was in full swing with three second-graders enthusiastically belting out “I Am Free” accompanied by the adults on our worship team. Suddenly, I felt a little someone sit down on the floor next to me. A four-year-old from the other church who shares our building had wandered in. Perhaps it was because I was a familiar face, or maybe she was drawn to the other kids, but there she sat and began to clap along with the beat.
After a minute, she whispered something in my ear. I had no clue what she said, so clearly the logical response was to answer, “ok.” Apparently, she asked permission to join the second-grade singers, because she hopped up and began to creep step-by-step toward the girls belting into the microphone.
None of the three singers had ever met the four-year-old. However, the minute the girl on the end spied this aspiring praise leader making her way up to the front, she didn’t pause or look confused. She did not glance at me for permission or clarification. Instead, she immediately smiled at the four-year-old, motioned her forward, and moved over to make space for what was now a quartet. The new kid was welcome, no questions asked.
Are we making space?
Perhaps we have accepted that there is room for us in the kingdom of God; we have a purpose and place securely in His love. But are we looking so closely at our own situation that our eyes are not on our approaching neighbor? Of the three second-grade singers, only one saw the four-year-old while the other two held razor-sharp focus on the song lyrics in front of them. This was not wrong; they were worshiping the Lord with everything they had. There is no condemnation for these young disciples. However, can we see any parallels in our own spiritual walk?
While we dig deep into Bible study and unearth layer upon layer of godly knowledge, do we pause to look up at our neighbor? When we feel surrounded by His comforting presence, do we open our arms to embrace a brother or sister who is wandering around, feeling a little lost? As we rejoice in the splendid delight of what God created, do we keep it to ourselves or point out the wonder to whoever is nearby? During the healing of our broken heart, do we see another broken person and reach out?
Are we making space?
God’s kingdom is not only for ourselves. The personal nature of a relationship with the Lord can unwittingly push out our neighbors. But to do so is a violation of the community God intended. Paul’s letters are full of calls to unity as the early Christians began to form a church. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts” (Colossians 3:15-16). We are called to live in harmony with one another, bear each other’s burdens, and spur on one another to good deeds. Our life in Christ was never meant to stop at ourselves.
Since we were instructed to love both our neighbors and our enemies, that means there is not a single person exempt from God’s love. That’s pretty easy to accept when we define love by simply being nice to someone or even to go as far as to (gasp) like them. However, it’s foolish to leave it at that and pat ourselves on the back. Love happens in our actions. It takes sacrifice and intense effort. It means making space.
It’s not initially comfortable, but there is space for every need in God’s kingdom. There is a place for the migrant fleeing violence. For the LGBTQ community. For the woman considering abortion. For the inmate on death row. For the diabetic who can’t afford insulin. For the lawmakers voting for polarizing legislation. For the trolls on social media typing in anger. For all of those people that we’ve transformed into an “issue” and lost sight of their humanity. But, instead, we were called to the heart-breaking work of love.
Making space could mean putting our open Bibles to the side, scooting over, and welcoming our neighbor into God’s love. It’s a listening ear and an open heart. We must look through the eyes of the Holy Spirit and see a beautiful soul– not a problem or a project, but the son or daughter that God holds precious. It would be excruciatingly cruel to require conditions before entering His welcoming space, a conformity to our own ideas of acceptability. To make space is to allow God to sort things out, and then with His guidance to pursue truth in love at the right pace.
He made space for us, and when we make space for others, it ultimately makes space for Him. (Don’t believe me? Check out Matthew 25). What can we learn from our singing second-graders? Will we allow the example of His children to lead us? Take a moment to look around you. Who is creeping up the aisle toward the loving relationship you have with Christ? Who is hesitantly approaching grace but needs the assurance of your welcome to take that final step?
Are you brave enough to love?