Do you love the city where you live? Or do you merely tolerate it or even despise it?
How about your neighborhood or your house?
Jeremiah wrote to the people of Judah as they went into exile for 70 years. Instead of constantly pining for home, he told them: “Work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” Jer 29:7 NLT
He acknowledges they may feel like foreigners and don’t belong, but they can decide whether to make this their home and work for its prosperity. It’s emotionally and psychologically impossible to work for peace and remain resentful. Gratitude can replace hatred and discontent through a series of conscious choices.
DISCLAIMER: I’m not working for a tourism authority and I’m not asking you to create a glowing report of your town. Instead, I want us to find ways to be more thankful for where we live.
4 ways to become more grateful for your city
As I discussed in this article, Harvie Conn finds Christians respond to the cities where they live in one of four ways: Christ against the City, Christ of the City, Christ above the City, and Christ transforming the City.
If you want to be more grateful for your city, I encourage you to learn to ask Jesus how he sees your town and to be “for” your city while not being against it, above it, or absorbed by it.
#1: Pray for your city
To gain God’s heart for your city, start on your knees. God sees all the bright and dark spots. If we look through the lens of the news we might become overwhelmed by the negative reports. If we only look at the tourism reports, we might get an overly optimistic view. I encourage you to read good news stories from sources like the Good Good Good company.
When I went to Kolkata, India with a team of ten believers, we spent intentional time walking the neighborhoods trying to gain a glimpse of God’s heart. While it overwhelmed our senses and it was hard to feel hopeful at times, the truth of God’s heart slowly emerged.
Remember how God spoke about Nineveh to Jonah? “And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”
Jonah feared Nineveh because they were his enemies. God confronts Jonah’s fear and reminds him that he shows mercy to people and cities.
See if your church is involved with any citywide prayer initiatives. My hometown, Wichita, KS, organized a 24/7 prayer chain and over 30 churches take a day each month to pray for our city. Spending an hour every month praying for my city has transformed how thankful I am for where I live.
#2: Get to know your city’s story
You don’t need to be a history buff to gain a sense of the people, events, and forces that created your city. Find a short history and spend time thanking God for the people who formed your city, moved it forward, and continue to lead it.
#3: Love your neighbors
I’ve lived in some large cities like Kolkata, Chicago, San Diego, Orlando, and Denver. The way I remember those cities is by the people I met and some of the experiences I had. I believe the best way to become more thankful for your city is to love your neighbors. Prayerfully walk around the neighborhood. Get to know their names and their stories. Find ways to bless them. Share the Gospel freely. Organize gatherings.
TIP: Get a friendly dog as people love meeting pets.
Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves, Believers at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City have thought carefully about this in a series of articles on The Power of Proximity. It provides inspiration and models for how we can love our neighbors, even in large cities.
#4: Invest in your city’s future
Thinking about Jeremiah’s charge to “work for the peace and prosperity of the city” means they had to make investments. Buy houses, build businesses, start schools, become part of your neighborhood associations, join the Rotary, and be part of the political process. You’re here for a while. Visitors don’t invest in a city, they just consume. Residents work toward the future, even making plans that will outlast themselves.
IDEA: Plant a tree in your yard that will benefit a future resident.
Cities comprise complex systems of people, organizations, neighborhoods, and industries. Your experience will inevitably include positive and negative encounters. All of these provide reminders of God’s grace and our need to show our neighbors and city the same love we’ve experienced.
The band Bluetree, an Irish worship band born out of the troubles of Northern Ireland, was called to minister in Pattaya, Thailand—the world’s capital of sex trade. While ministering in the middle of a brothel, the band members were overcome with an understanding that God is God of This City. They wrote a song proclaiming “You’re the God of this city”:
Spend 3 minutes writing down things you’re thankful for about your city. Perhaps make 3 lists: people, places, memories. And then spend another minute or two thanking God for these things.
Lord, I’m grateful to you for placing me in this city, neighborhood, and house. Help me to see a glimpse of your heart for this city and to work toward its peace and prosperity. Show me how to love my neighbors. Use me to bless this city and bring the Gospel with power. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.