“I’ll put my spirit in you and make it possible for you to do what I tell you and live by my commands.” (Ezekiel 36:27)
A few months ago, after I heard an Iraqi refugee speak at a local event, I felt compelled to do something I’ve never done before. A few days after the event, I called the refugee resettlement department of Lutheran Family Services and volunteered to sponsor a refugee family.
Within a few weeks we had received the names and ages of the six refugees who would be traveling from Iraq to Lincoln. My family and a small group of friends collected furniture, household items, and other donations and set up an apartment for the family.
That was the easy part.
Vanja, our resettlement coordinator, asked my husband, Brad, and me if we would be willing to drive the family to the doctors and other appointments after they arrived in Lincoln. Even as I heard myself say yes, I knew that interacting personally with the family, only one of whom speaks English, would push the boundaries of my comfort zone.
I was right.
One afternoon, as I stood on the curb with the mom and her four kids after driving them home from a doctor’s appointment, I thought they were blowing kisses to me. Figuring it was a Yazidi goodbye custom, I blew kisses back, only to realize mid-kiss that the mom was actually trying to convey an invitation to come inside to have something to eat. I felt my face redden as I shook my head and laughed uncomfortably, trying to communicate, as graciously as possible without language, “No, thank you.” I felt more than a little stupid and embarrassed as I drove away.
Jesus simplified God’s commands for us in the Gospels when he reduced them to two: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.
Notice the way the second commandment is phrased. It’s not simply: “Love your neighbor,” but “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
To love your neighbor as yourself means to go all out, no holds barred, 110%. Our society and our biology insist that we put ourselves first, but God expects us to treat our neighbors the same way we treat ourselves. Living out God’s command in real life is a tall order – dare I say an impossible one on some days (depending on the day and the neighbor).
The Holy Spirit – God in us – is a powerful force. When we listen to the Spirit and heed his prompts, we will be compelled to step into scenarios we ordinarily wouldn’t dream of considering – commitments that far exceed our comfort and our perceived limitations.
This is exactly why God gives us the Holy Spirit. He knows we need the Spirit in order to fulfill his commands. He knows, on most days, we are incapable of truly loving our neighbors as ourselves.
Only God’s Spirit in us makes it possible for us to live out what often feels like an impossible command.