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And Pray to the Lord for It

Mission unfolds in our homes and backyard gardens. Mission extends across generations and welcomes new people into our families. Mission seeks the well-being and shalom of the whole city. And this day-in, day-out mission of being God’s people includes praying for the city in which we live.

Though not prone to proof-texting, the missional church conversations in which I often find myself do have a few favorite passages that are often employed with a mic-drop emphasis. Jeremiah 29:4-7 is one of those go-to texts:

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

In other words, we are a people in exile—and God intends to cultivate the coming kingdom right where we are. This move-into-the-neighborhood emphasis makes sense to me. Mission unfolds in our homes and backyard gardens. Mission extends across generations and welcomes new people into our families. Mission seeks the well-being and shalom of the whole city. And this day-in, day-out mission of being God’s people includes praying for the city in which we live.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means for us to pray for the city, especially in our communal worship services. I certainly don’t think we’ve figured it out yet. But here are four of the ways that we’ve experimented with praying for our city during our communal worship gatherings.

Picture Project

Several years ago, our congregation undertook a small fall art project. The assignment was simple: take a picture from your front porch, your office window, or some other place where you spend a significant amount of your time, and then email or bring the picture to the church. Over the next six weeks, we highlighted several of the pictures on our projection screens as a prelude to our congregational prayer each Sunday. Later that fall, we printed all the photos that had been sent to us. We then hung the photos in the sanctuary in connection with our Advent sermon series on Jesus moving into the neighborhood (John 1:14 MSG). In this way, these pictures served as visual prayers that prompted verbal prayers and helped us to imagine Jesus moving into our neighborhoods.

Work & Worship Stories

Over the past two years, we have invited people in our congregation to share a short story about the way they engage our city, whether through their work or volunteer roles. Along the way, we’ve heard from a plumber, a musician, a social worker, a board member, and an academic (to name a few). These stories have been powerful ways for us to get to know each other as a church community and they have helped to broaden our vision of how the kingdom of God unfolds in people’s daily living. With each Work & Worship story, we have spent time praying for those who serve in similar roles or professional fields within the city.

City and Regional Partners

Our congregation is part of two church networks. We participate in the TrueCity Hamilton network, which consists of nearly two dozen congregations from several different denominations around Hamilton, Ontario, who are working together for the good of the city. We are also part of a regional group of 16 congregations (Classis Hamilton) from our denomination. Each Sunday morning, the elder leading our congregational prayer mentions one church from each of these networks by name and prays for them. Along with these prayers, we include a short bulletin announcement that recognizes that our congregation is only a small part of the body of Christ in this city and that encourages others to pray for our TrueCity and Classis partners.

Specific Names

Though less frequent, we have also included specific names of streets, neighbourhoods, and municipal officials in our prayers. In our commuter culture, overflowing with international brands competing for our attention and allegiance, there is something powerful about praying for God’s kingdom to come on the corner of Charlton and Hess (where our church building is located) and to praying for an end to violence in Hess Village (a few blocks away). By including specific names of streets, neighbourhoods, and people in our prayers, the city becomes more tangible and our heart for those who live in this city grows.

How about you? What are some of the ways that you pray for your city? Do you have other ideas for how your church can pray for the city within your communal worship gatherings?