Our “God in the Neighborhood” Sunday school class met for the third time this week. Our task has been to learn how to see God at work in our neighborhoods and then join in. For further info on the purpose of the class see my first post here.
As usual, we began by sharing about our neighborhoods. This week we were to observe the technical and adaptive challenges of our neighborhoods. Several participants in the class were able to see issues on the block that called for new learning and engagement. We are seeing how simple interactions with neighbors can lead to amazing opportunities for mission and ministry in the neighborhood.
Randy was returning a furniture dolly he had borrowed from a man who lives a few houses down, but when he got to the owner's home no one was there. A second neighbor was watching form his front yard and told Randy to just put it on the side of the house. Randy left the dolly in the owner's backyard but then also took time to start a conversation with the neighbor in his front yard. The man almost instantly broke down in tears and began to share about his lapsed Christianity and the need for God in his life. What precipitated this meaningful conversation? The man was just leaving to visit a dear friend in the hospital who only had 24 hours to live and was faced with the reality of death. Randy took hold of the opportunity, made time for a relationship and is now planning a bible study with both of these men--all because he took the time to walk down his block.
TJ and Kristina have met the married couple living next door. Kristina discovered that she and the other woman have amazingly similar stories of life, motherhood, broken relationships and marriage. And now they are both at nearly the same stage of pregnancy! A coincidence? Certainly not. TJ and Kristina were looking for what God had been doing on their block and they found it in the people next door.
Dwight had a very different experience. He has made multiple offers to help a neighbor in need but was refused on every occasion. Dwight told about the disappointment that came from reaching out and being rejected. When we serve our neighbors, we are not guaranteed we will be received. God never promises success, but he does call us to be faithful to his mission.
After a wonderful time of sharing and the dwelling in Luke 10:1-12, we moved to consider a new resource for ministering in our neighborhoods: Prayer Walks. Walking and praying through the neighborhood is a powerful way to engage our neighbors, often without them even knowing it.
In the New Testament Paul ended several of his letters with pleas to pray ceaselessly and in every situation (Ephesians 6:16, Colossians 4:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:17). He admonished the Colossians to pray and intercede for each other with a further instruction: “Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone. (Colossians 4:5-6 NLT). A prayer walk in the neighborhood is a chance to make the most of every opportunity in the midst of non-Christians.
Prayer walking happens when we intentionally move out into the neighborhood and speak words to God on behalf of those who live there. Keep moving, or, stop in front of specific homes if you choose. Since childhood we are taught to keep our eyes closed and hands folded when praying. But please don’t do this when prayer walking (or prayer driving!). Go with eyes wide open to see all that God has for you to see. Pray quietly or pray out loud, but don’t do a prayer walk with the intention of being noticed; stay inconspicuous and observe everything. If you get the chance, stop and talk to someone and if the further opportunity arises, ask them if they have something you could pray for.
There are many things to pray about on a walk like this. Certainly, pray for the salvation of those who live near you. But don’t forget to pray for things that commonly seem unspiritual like health, safety, family relationships, marriages, children, parents, strained relationships, job security, etc. Go on a walk with the desire to pray for all facets of life on the block—physical AND spiritual.
The biggest hindrance to prayer walking is not that we don’t have the desire to do it, but that we don’t have the time to do it. I had to be honest with myself in the last few years and ask why I was so involved at church but didn’t have time to stand in the driveway and talk to my neighbors. I was guilty of hypocrisy at the highest level.
I found a good metaphor for the way I was living as I helped my son blow up balloons for his science project (we tested whether balloons would explode easier in cold temperatures or warm ones). A balloon has a bursting point and so does each one of us. Too many of us are living life at the breaking point, with the balloon blown up as much as possible, so that any additional pressure in life causes us to explode. The remedy is to deflate the balloon and create some margin in our lives. I recently deflated my “balloon” by saying “no” to several ministry opportunities (yes, that is okay to do!). Now I have time to walk down the block and greet neighbors and actually have conversations with them. Keeping the balloon deflated a bit allows us to have room for all kinds of encounters that the Spirit might bring our way.
We closed our session this week by praying the Prayer of St. Francis (13th century). It’s a marvelous way to think about incarnational ministry in the neighborhood. Another meaningful prayer is the Breastplate of St. Patrick (5th century). Both of these are wonderful prayers to have on the lips when walking down the block.
Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi (13th century)
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Breastplate of St. Patrick (5th century, excerpt)
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of the Christ.
May your salvation, Lord, be ever with us.