When God Deepens Your Heart
While our children were growing up, I loved to tell Bible stories before bedtime. They enjoyed it because I would not only tell them the stories but also act them out. One of their favorites was Jonah, with its incredible twists and turns.
What intrigues me today about that story is not Jonah running from God or the account of him being swallowed by the fish or the fact that the Ninevites repented. What captures my attention now is the interchange between Jonah and the Lord in the final chapter. In that dialogue I see God’s incredible heart for a city and the precious people who call the city home.
Over the past five years, I’ve found myself reflecting often on God’s heart for other great cities of the world too. In early 2011, strangely enough, I found myself being drawn in deep ways to pray for San Francisco, California. Although I was living in the Bay Area and had pastored a church in nearby San Jose for more than a decade, my area of ministry responsibility at the time was sub-Saharan Africa. I followed the prompting of the Lord, though, and began to pray for San Francisco, all the while wondering why He would put that city on my heart.
Around the same time God was expanding my heart for the cities of Africa. Every city that I visited on the continent was seeing rapid growth. In many cases, previously unreached people were moving into these cities, where they were often more accessible to be reached with the gospel.
God began deepening my heart for other cities around the globe too. In particular, in June 2012 I traveled to Berlin, Germany, for five days of meetings with EFCA ReachGlobal colleagues. We were eager to gain insights into what the Lord was birthing through ministry partnerships there, in one of the most influential cities in Europe. (Read more about this city collaboration, in this issue.)
Over the next year, I witnessed a growing cross-global synergy: between ReachGlobal staff in Berlin, and EFCA district leaders and local church pastors who desired to reach cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco with the gospel. It was exciting to see leaders from both the national and international sides of the EFCA working together to leverage what was being learned in both places.
The issue is not about cities being more important than rural and suburban communities. We need vibrant and growing ministries everywhere.
God was using all of this to shape my heart for cities as well as how we in the EFCA could effectively partner together.
The more I studied the Scriptures, prayed for God’s direction and examined what was happening around the world, the more God deepened my heart for what He wants to do in cities. That’s one reason this issue of EFCA Today resonates with me and I trust will resonate with you as well. And that’s despite the fact that I’m not from a large city myself; I grew up in rural northwestern Minnesota and pastored in another small community before moving to San Jose, California, in 1994.
But God has been showing me that the issue is not about where we’re from, or about cities being more important than rural and suburban communities, or about ministries there being somehow of greater significance. Not at all. We need vibrant and growing ministries everywhere. In the EFCA at this time, however, we have a much stronger presence in suburban and rural communities than in cities.
It is important for us to see through God’s eyes the large number of people in cities who don’t know Jesus and to seek ways to reach them with the gospel. It is really a part of being “on mission” with God.
On a personal note: Little did I know when I started to pray for San Francisco in 2011, that three years later the Lord would call one of my sons and his family to church planting there. It is clear God is up to something, and I am thrilled to be part of it.
The opportunities in cities are immense and the needs are great. Let’s work together to see gospel ministry take root and grow in the great cities of America and around the world.