The basic seed in this article is that the spirit of His Testimony includes your city and nation. And that it adds meaning to your personal journey and testimony to include your city’s and nation’s story as His.
People have a hard time loving the city or nation they are from. Sometimes, as with the church, they have been hurt or disappointed in its wounded parts, and given up on its redemption or potential wholeness. Just as often, they have not connected their personal story with that of their city’s. And learned to see the layered and meaningful reasons we live where we do. As we pray into His Heart for our own city, we start to also sense His Heart for how our personal lives connect with our city’s narrative. God has to reveal to us who we are-to tell us the story of ourselves; similarly, God has to reveal to us the story of our city, and implant in us His Heart for it! I think this usually starts in prayer. As we begin to sense that the spirit of His testimony includes our personal stories and our city’s and nations, we get a larger scope of the power and dimension of this testimony, and the broadness of His Grace and Heart towards the whole of His Creation. If we do, in the end, overcome by the blood and the spirit of our testimony, it becomes imperative that we understand the full volume of this testimony, even as we meditate on and receive the many applications of His Blood into the amazing poem of our lives.
God blesses and has specifically nuanced relationships with cities. Just as the church is like a person-a bride-to Him, so cities are also like people in how He relates to them. And just as we cannot really love the church, until we become captivated by His passions for her, and willingness to labor for her as a man does for his wife, so we will not love our own city until we are captured by His attentive passion for our city. Many are not willing to enter into His suffering for His Bride, having been hurt by her brokenness or simply not attracted to her. But if we think of her as a person, would we not love a person until they were perfect? We would then have few friends.
Just as the marital relationship requires more labor than other relationships, so loving and laboring for the wholeness of His Church, is a higher calling into deeper aspects of God’s Being, than having a merely personal spirituality or half committed covenant! This is one of the spiritual motivations for getting married. And it is the motivation for loving and helping heal and be healed by His Church! For in doing so, we enter more deeply into the fellowship with His Sufferings and His Heart! It is an entry into higher aspects of who God is! And, perforce, there is then, more of His Suffering and Labor in the higher symbols of His Being. It is similar with our city. He judges cities collectively, as well. This is clear from The Bible.
Each city and each person has a story. Our personal stories relate to our city’s. Cities are like people to God–a collective person with complexity. What does your city reflect about who God is? What does your city’s history or narrative say about who He is? Starting with its founders into its current chapter, and then out into its destiny- which aspects of God does it particularly highlight? And how do these connect to what aspects of God you highlight-your personal narrative or testimony? This is a way of mapping where you and your city are in their stories, and where they both are heading. And then being able to partner with God in His active dialogue and His Autobiography through both!
So, what about your personal story connects with your city? Here’s an example about Antwerp, where my wife lived in Belgium, and my own story. Anvers or Antwerp (An=hand; vers=to cut off) means, hand cut off. This comes from a story about a monster who came and cut off her hand and any of those who tried to pass through on the river Schedt. Later, a David (Jesus) like hero comes and cuts off the monster’s hand and cast it into the waters, restoring free relational exchange and peace to this city. There is a statue of this event in front of city hall. The story is one of abuse, and healing-the mending of hands. Hands represent relationship-ie where we reach out and make contact or receive and bless others. Now the river speaks of eventual baptism and redemption of this severed hand; the reattachment of the hand of antwerp-that is of her primary gift of kindness in relationship. God is mending her hand! She reflects God’s friendliness and acceptance of other. Her kindness is still apparent; but this relational gift and pastoral gift I would say, is the exact place the enemy struck! And it is memorialized in her central cultural symbols. There is also an image at the castle on the river of this same story. It’s hard to look at, i think.
Now this is similar in my own story. I am very much a people person, and meant to bring joy to many people, and freedom. So the enemy attacked me with relational abuse early on, and with isolation from others. To try to cut me off from others, using distrust and, ironically, miscommunication, turning the gift of words against me. Others are not always aware of these assignments against my life, and unwittingly fall into being partners in them. Also, I am a born encourager, especially using words; so the enemy has tried to use accusation and deteriorating words against me; or tempt me to use destructive language to tear down others. Fortunately , Jesus has sustained me for the most part and I have not used the gift of words-which were spoken over me and prayed into me as a young man-to tear others down. But the temptation is there, if you know you can tear someone apart and deconstruct their character viciously and succinctly in language, and you get verbally abused often enough, the sinful desire is to lash back and tear down others in critical judgement. I resist that, but it is part of my sword to use the gift of words-to be able to name things very well and lift others up with this gift. It is a prophetic gift, and it is a gift from a friendship intimacy with Jesus. We are friends, and I reflect His friendliness.
So I relate to Antwerp as a person; as someone who was abused and specifically attacked in the area of relational blessing. And I respect the fact that she is still kind and not bitter even towards her recent abusers in the wars-which were many! And I enjoy working with God in reattaching her hand, as it is so gracious and welcoming especially for a northern nation! She is tender, creative, conversational, and curious. Perhaps the curiosity comes from the Dutch aspects (as Holland is a curious leader–eccentric and prophetic leadership, I think) and the creativity from some of the French stream; and then the kindness from welcoming so many into Europe over so many years. The building we live in for instance, the landlord’s mother hid Jews during the war. This makes sense given the identity of Antwerp and the Belgians in general, that they would befriend the friendless.
She is the part of Jesus who is friend. She likes to just sit and talk, and is a good and curious listener and remembers your name. The pastoral aspect of Christ is reflected here. It is not a broadcast tower like Berlin or Germany in general, or that type of father leader. She is more a creative servant hearted kind woman who listens well and wants to know how your day was. I so appreciate that she has not gotten bitter in her journey, though I know there is tension underneath especially between flanders (northern) and wallonia (southern). They are two unique cultures; one more dutch and one more french. Not just in language but in way.
In short, cities are like people with a narrative or story. Seeing how our personal stories connect into and relate to our city’s story helps us understand God’s Ways and Purposes on our lives. As Paul wrote, each of us is a poem. And each of us is a story worth telling over and over about who God is, and how deeply and specifically He loves us. To meditate on the whole story of a city is more than history, it really is a story of who He is! Something worth telling and retelling for generations to come, as God often does with cities in the Bible, which we still, to this day, know the names of. It also matters which city we are living in, for its story and ours relate and this is part of God complex narrative He is pronouncing on earth.
Last Summer, I led a workshop in Poland on this topic of how our personal story relates to our city’s. I discovered how few people had thought of the narrative of their city as mattering to God; and that it was possible to see your city’s story as part of your spiritual testimony of what God has done in your own life. I think the spirit of His Testimony includes cities, and was excited to see people getting the connection, so that even more of the testimony or story of God could be told. We are always wanting to tell more about who God is. This is one way to do so. He is a lover of cities, and thinks and feels things about your city. Jesus asked us to go and disciple the nations which are now more and more made up of cities. To me it is exciting when He teaches me about what cities are made up of–peace spaces, major corridors, places of business exchange or resource distribution, outer gates and inner bridges…a city has such a complex identity, even geographically. And it matters where we plant what we carry in a city. My next essay will cover city spaces, and types of people in cities. I will be looking at universal elements or archetypes in all cities. I think this is helpful in praying for cities as well; so you can be thorough. Anyways, more later. Thanks for reading this, and i hope it gets the right questions stirring in your spirit this day.