By Shannon Youell
Praying in our neighbourhoods is not some new postmodern formula for evangelisation. Though some see it as quite foreign, Jesus and His disciples did just that. One of my favorite verses–well actually a combination of two from John’s writings–is when Jesus said He only did what He saw His Father doing and spoke what He heard His Father speaking (John 12:49, 5:19 my paraphrase).
Jesus walked about His ordinary everyday praying and listening: listening and praying to know where God was at work in the world. Jesus was waiting to step in and reveal the Father to those around Him.
When Jesus sent out others to share the Good News of the kingdom of God, He instructed them to go from place to place looking for where God was already at work: “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house’. If a man of peace is there your peace will rest on him: if not, it will return to you” (Luke 10:5-6).
“A man of peace” indicates someone who God is already at work in, whether they are aware or unaware, someone who will listen to what the disciples have to share.This required the disciples to be attentive to where God was at work, which required them to be listening to the Father in a posture of prayer.
Luke 10 gives us much more to ponder and act upon, but as we are focusing on prayer in our neighborhoods, we leave the other instructions for another time. As we have been talking about how we engage with our neighbours, friends, co-workers, we must never lose sight of the fact that, as Cam Roxburgh states in Forge Canada’s new E-Book Volume 1, Loving God and Neighbour, “the missional conversation is about the nature and action of God in our midst, and not first about how we develop a strategy for reaching our neighbours.”
When we develop strategies without first praying and listening, we can have all the best intentions and plans in the world, but still be faced with indifference when the soil is still fallow. Prayer is our dual action of becoming more comfortable and confident that God still speaks to us today, and of preparing the hearts of ourselves and those we are praying for. As we pray for our neighbourhoods and other significant spaces, we invite the Spirit to shine light on the fields and reveal to us what He has already prepared. We are the workers. But without walking those streets, those halls, those trails and cubicle aisles, without praying as we walk, we are the unaware ones–unaware of where God is inviting us to stay awhile, eat and drink, hear stories of the lives of the people around us, and see how God is working.
From my experience, neighbourhood praying isn’t a single prayer. It is prayer that does not cease until God reveals his work both to us and to those we have been praying for. There is strategy for sure….strategy is praying consistently and listening intently. Listening to the Father always comes first for it is, after all, His work that we are joining.
I’ve mentioned before that I prayer walked our neighborhood for many years before something began to shift. Once the shift happened, I then asked God for a strategy. He gave me an uncomfortable one: to invite all the neighbors over for a “meet the neighbours” party. From that party we have been building deeper relationships with one another. These have become some of our people of peace, but it only happened because of prayer and listening.