I always have a stack of books waiting to be read. Actually, I have stacks of books waiting to be read – some at work, some at home, some on the iPad. You know the deal. One of the books in one of those stacks is Side by Side, a relatively new book by Ed Welch, a counselor and faculty member at the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation. And today I began reading that little book like I often begin reading books: right in the middle.
The message of the book is captured in two statements: you are needy, and you are needed.
- You need others to move toward you and greet you.
- Others need you to move toward them and greet them.
Isn’t that the truth? Ever get hung up on that first one, so much that it keeps you from the second one? I know.
But my real aim is to connect you with what Ed Welch says, so here it is. It’s a long excerpt, but well worth pondering and applying.
As the King goes, so go his people. He moves toward his people; we move toward his people. He moves toward people who seek him and people who do not; we move toward those who want help and those who seem distant and marginalized. He moves toward friends and even enemies; we move out beyond our circle of friends to those far beyond that circle.
Imagine how this can transform our churches. Instead of talking to the same people-those with whom we are comfortable and who are similar to us-we treat others as God has treated us. Imagine how aloneness could gradually be banished.
See? Moving toward and greeting isn’t just about ‘being nice’. It’s so much more than that! It’s about reflecting the character of our heavenly Father, who loves and pursues and embraces and welcomes and listens and speaks and helps.
But it’s hard, isn’t it? What do you say? How do you greet someone? Do you just say a big hello and move on to the next person? It might feel like you’ve greeted lots of people, and so they must feel welcome now, right? Not so much. Being a serial greeter is probably not the goal here.
But what is the goal? Welch continues:
Consider whom you are greeting. They are children of the King, your brothers and sisters. Some might feel lost, which is all the more reason to greet them. Others might be seeking something but are unsure what that is, and we have the privilege to invite them to a place that could be home. Others we have seen before, but we don’t yet know their names.
Greetings, of course, take time. This means our greeting list might be short, because we have a finite amount of time when the church is gathered – or when a friend is walking by on the street. We cannot greet everyone. So here is how we prioritize:
- The visitor (what Scripture calls the “foreigner” or “alien”) comes first
- The visitor who returns comes next
- The less popular, the introverts, the marginalized, or those sitting alone come next
- Then come the children. Jesus singles them out as examples of the marginalized.
- “Hi, ______________” is offered to as many people as possible, which doesn’t have to be accompanied by a hug or a handshake.
Good friends are interspersed through these greetings, but they are left for later if time is short.
And then here is this jewel of wisdom – so practical:
A reasonable application of Scripture is to greet one person we don’t know or don’t know well every time we gather with others in the body of Christ.
And if we feel a little awkward? All the better. Some people are naturals at moving toward others, greeting them and striking up a conversation. Most of us are not. So we pray that we will share in this feature of God’s character. We move toward others, not because we can do these things with ease but because of Jesus.
God has moved towards us. Isn’t that amazing? Now let’s ask him for help, and trust him to help us as we move toward one another in love.