I’ve never been one to intentionally have plants around, but when I moved into my current house my sister insisted that I simply had to have something green, so she gave me the plant you see above. The problem is, since I’m not much of a plant guy I rarely think to water it. It goes completely neglected until I finally notice that it is really starting to wilt, at which point I decide that I should probably water it if I want to keep it alive. So, I give it the water it needs, I get busy with work and other things that keep me from remembering to water the plant, and I forget about it for a month or two until I notice it looks bad again, creating a cycle that repeats itself regularly throughout the year.

As my sister lectured me on how unhealthy it is for the plant to repeatedly go to the brink of dying before receiving the water it needs, it reminded me of how we often deal with each other as people (and especially as fellow Christians). When our Christian brothers and sisters ask for prayers, when their health fails, or when we see them in great need, most Christians do a good job of stepping up and helping each other out. It’s for that reason that we think we’re fulfilling the commandment to love one another. But what about the times when we look fine outwardly? Just as the plant can go weeks in desperate need of water before showing negative effects, so humans can struggle and need help long before they ask for it or start to show signs of being in need.

It’s good that members of a given congregation can know that they can count on each other when a need arises, but as people who are supposed to stand out for our love (John 13:35), that’s not all that much different than what occurs in the average relationship. What the plant needs is for me to regularly remember that it needs water and take care of it as often as possible. What humans need is to be shown love, to receive encouragement, and to know that people are thinking about them regularly and not just when they’re crying out for help. Think about how many former members might still be in our pews if we had just made it a priority to remember them.

How do we do “water” the people around us, then? It starts by thinking about them more. It’s not that I don’t water the plant because I don’t care about it, it’s just that I’m too busy caring about other things more to think about when my plant needs water. When it comes to people, we can’t be too busy to stop and think about what they need. During His ministry, Jesus was constantly busy – but He always had time for others. Even on the cross, He was thinking about what Mary needed by placing her in John’s care (John 19:25-27). To do what is in another person’s best interest is the definition at the root of agape love, and we can’t do what’s in someone’s best interest without knowing it, and we can’t know it if we never think about them.

Once we’re thinking about them, we have to act. Once you’ve looked for their needs, help fill those needs, starting with the one need we all have in common – the need to feel loved. Go out of your way to talk to them, to serve them, to find out more about them. A lot of emphasis is placed on listening to others these days, but people rarely open up to others without first knowing that they are important to the listener, that the listener cares about them. Don’t let your fellow Christians get to the point of desperation before you show them the love they need. Nurture them and help them grow by showing them the love of Christ in your words and actions long before they reach that point. Hebrews seems to expect that interaction between Christians to avoid the pitfalls of the world, with the exhortation to consider one another (10:24) and encourage one another (3:13).

While we should be cultivating this attitude in general (check out Philip Jenkins’ book The Lunch Ladies for ideas on how to do so at the congregational/group level), I’d recommend we each start small. Pick a person in your congregation who might not be on the prayer list or have any immediate need you’re aware of, and focus on building a relationship with him or her through thoughts and actions that keep their interest in mind. It’s easy to get into the rut of sitting in the same seat, talking to the same people, and not really thinking about most of the other people with whom we worship, but loving Christians don’t neglect each other like plants on a shelf. If we are to flourish the way God intended, we have to regularly think about each other and act on each other’s behalf to provide the nurturing relationship we all need. Don’t treat your fellow Christians the way I treat a plant. Don’t let them get to the point of desperation before they know you’re there for them. “Love one another, for love is of God.”

By Jack Wilkie

Jack Wilkie is the author of “Failure: What Christian Parents Need to Know About American Education” and is the speaker for Focus Press’s “The Lost Generation” seminar. To schedule a seminar at your church, contact jack@tampaseo.expert.