A good place to start is to walk the streets with your eyes open. Jesus did not walk this world with his head in a hold shekinah cloud, but with his eyes peeled for opportunities to demonstrate and proclaim the gospel.
Jesus saw disciples in sinners: “After this he [Jesus] went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.” Luke 5:27
Jesus looked with compassion on the masses: “When he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it” (Luke 19:41)
Jesus looked with compassion on individuals: “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” John 11:33
Jesus saw faith and responded to it: “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2)
Jesus saw need and met it: “When Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him.”
Allow me to share a few stories that illustrate what walking the streets with open eyes meant for us in the early days of planting Hill City Church:
For over a year before we had even moved to the estate, my wife and I committed to prayer-walking the streets every Monday evening, whatever the weather. We did this with our spiritual eyes open. One evening we stumbled across a derelict playground that lay right at the centre of the estate. It had clearly been abandoned for years and served no purpose, apart from giving residents somewhere to dump rubbish. All that remained of the playground were two rusty metal benches that had been shoved so far into the ground that, to sit on them, meant sitting at ground level. However, we did just that, and as we gazed at shards of glass, the unwanted junk and the general desolation that surrounded us, we were led (by the Spirit) to pray that God would establish a place of worship here at the heart of the estate. After we’d prayed, we looked over our shoulders and saw a house of sale. To cut a long story short, several months later we bought that house, moved in and did exactly what we’d prayed about- we started a church in that house and established a place of worship there! The opportunities we’ve had to share the gospel purely by living in this part of the community are way too numerous (and sensitive) to write about here, but, suffice to say it was a God thing!
Furthermore, upon moving in, we made it our aim as a fledgling church to see the ruins rebuilt and this derelict playground restored, so that the local kids could have somewhere to play again. We believe firmly that Christians in broken communities should have a reputation as “the restorer of streets to dwell in” (Isaiah 58:12). So we prayed, got in touch with the council and started the ball rolling on a three year ₤250, 000 process that eventually led to the total restoration of the play area. Hill City Church was right at the heart of the project from the start, even sponsoring the mural on the wall. Our involvement has certainly opened doors for the gospel. However, none of this would have happened if we hadn’t walked the street with our eyes open all those years ago.
Another occasion when open eyes have led to opportunities to demonstrate the gospel came in the area of rubbish. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the fly-tipping and dumping of litter around where we live was one of the most dangerous and disgusting issues that we faced when we moved here. Coupled with the local youths’ habit of robbing wheelie-bins, surfing down the road on them, and then burning them out at the bottom, this had led to trash carnage. Sometimes my kids had to wade through used nappies just to get to the car. That really wound me up.
That was until I opened my eyes. Literally, one day God revealed to me that I should take responsibility for this rubbish. All of it! I was confronted with the perfect opportunity to demonstrate grace. So I started making phone calls and getting the council to sort things out. But I also went out myself with a litter picker and gloves, collecting it all up and putting it in my own bin. Why? Because, the more I thought about it, the more I saw this as a perfect platform to illustrate what Christ had done for us on the cross. He stepped into our mess, taking away our filth, for free, never to let it be seen again!
One of our most harrowing experiences took place on Christmas Day a few years ago. I was still awake at around 1am when I heard a noise outside. I looked out of my window to see a woman getting beaten senseless by a man, right outside my house. I ran out to intervene. By the time I got out there, he was kicking her in the face and stamping on her head. I shouted at him and he ran off. The women got up, swore at me and ran after him!
So was it a waste of my time to get involved? No. Firstly, because it was the right thing to do. Secondly, because over the days that followed, it became clear that there had been several other men who had witnessed the assault from their windows, yet had chosen to do nothing. The fact that I was the only neighbour to step in seemed to speak volumes about who I worship. I didn’t do it to be a hero. I did it because it wasn’t an option to turn a blind eye. But having open eyes can sometimes break your heart.
A gang of around twenty youths has decided to make the bus stop in front of my mate Jim’s house their new haunt. This involved drinking, noise, setting things on fire and relieving themselves in the street. I knew that Jim was praying about the situation, but it still bothered him.
As I left his house one morning, I saw a huge list of names sprawled all over his bus stop. And that’s when God opened my eyes. “Jim!” I shouted. “You’ve got a whole list of names to pray for here. You’ve got your own prayer-list.” It might sound stupid, but I’ve never walked past graffiti in the same way since. All around us in these estates are lists of names that represent real young people who are lost, broken and crying out for attention.”