“In an instant I was praying with him…”

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Luke 6:27, 28

These words from Jesus certainly apply to difficult neighbors. We all have one or two in our neighborhood that challenge us like Brian was challenged in his neighborhood. You will laugh at his experience, but when you are in the midst of an ordeal like he was, it is not that laughable. Let’s learn from his life lesson.

Brian Bevis’s Neighborhood

Our neighbor, I’ll call him Joe, easily had the best yard on the block. Joe was in his yard all the time, tending to his super-green grass with nothing out of place. He gave me advice like, “This is what you ought to do.” “Use this weed killer.” “Water this way.” “Use this turf builder.” I appreciated his advice, and it seemed like we were getting along. But then I noticed how obsessed he was with his yard. He had cut down every tree on his property so he wouldn’t have leaves. He mowed almost every day. When he got done mowing, he would use scissors to trim the whole yard. (I am not exaggerating.) That’s when I thought we might have a problem.

Joe’s advice and encouragement turned into criticism, and he started getting frustrated with my gardening skills. It turned insulting, actually, and finally got to the point where we couldn’t even talk to or look at each other. It progressed to the point that I wouldn’t go outside if he was outside. I would check to make sure Joe wasn’t there. It was bad. For about a year I tried to avoid Joe, my neighbor, at all cost.

Fast forward a couple of years, and Julie and I have two daughters, ages three and one. Joe, among other criticisms, warned me about letting my girls walk around barefoot. He was angry that we had a tree, and leaves from it would occasionally fall or blow into his yard. He would collect the leaves that got into his yard, bag them up, and dump them back into our yard.

One evening we were all outside cleaning up the leaves in the yard. We didn’t have a sprinkler system, so my wife started watering the yard with a hose. My oldest daughter was next to Julie as she accidentally splashed some water onto Joe’s driveway.

Joe blew a gasket. He ran up to Julie and started shouting at her for splashing water onto his driveway. On the other side of the yard, I wondered what I should do. I’m a pastor, a man of God. So I did what you’d expect: I ran over and shoved him away from Julie. I pinned him against his truck, and we yelled at each other like an umpire and a manager at home plate.

During our argument, I learned just how fixated he was about our little girls walking around barefoot. He had placed broken glass in our yard just to teach us a lesson.

Joe was nuts, and I was ready to crack his shell.

I didn’t punch him or throw him to the ground, but I did about everything else. After we had been screaming at each other for about twenty minutes, I realized I was out of control. I stormed into the house, exasperated, and asked Julie, “What are we going to do with this guy?”

She got all spiritual on me. “Maybe we ought to pray for him,” she said.

All right! Let’s pray for Seal Team Six to take him out! I thought.

For about a week we prayed for him and we prayed for us. In my prayers I heard God say, You need to apologize.

I fought it, telling God, “No way! This guy is wrong, not me.”

God kept pressing in. You need to make things right.

My response was always no.

About a week later I peeked out to see if I could leave my house without bumping into Joe. With the coast, clear, I grabbed my stuff and opened the door. At the same time, Joe stepped out of his house.

That’s the problem with prayer. It makes things happen, sometimes whether we like it or not. I felt like I was seeing a girl for the first time after a bad breakup.

We stared at each other and then approached each other. Simultaneously we said to each other, “I am so sorry.”

We both apologized, knowing we shouldn’t have argued in the way that we did. We apologized not just for that incident but for the year prior and the tension of not talking to each other.

Joe said, “Let’s make things right.” We had never had a spiritual conversation up to that point, but he said, “I know you’re a pastor, and I’d like to talk to you about God.”

I was in shock. What the heck was happening? After a year of trying to stay out of this guy’s way, in an instant I was praying with him.

A time for reflection:

  1. What lesson(s) do you think Brian learned from his experience with Joe?
  2. Have you ever had a difficult neighbor? How did you handle your relationship with this neighbor? If you didn’t handle it well and if you had a do over with this neighbor, how would you have done things differently?
  3. How would you counsel others with a difficult neighbor?

(Brian’s story is from The Neighboring Church: Getting Better at What Jesus Says Matters Most by Rick Rusaw and Brian Mavis, Thomas Nelson, pages 80-82.)

Listen to Bruce Zachary's experience with Neighborhood Initiative.

Listen to Dallas Willard's word to pastors and leaders about Neighborhood Initiative.

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