Just northwest of Los Angeles sits Simi Valley, Calif., a city known as the home of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
Simi Valley is a community comprising those who want to live near L.A., but not in L.A. This suburb was blamed for acquitting four police officers in the Rodney King trial. Simi Valley is my city, my community, my suburb.
Entering from the L.A. area, the freeway descends from a pass, giving you an amazing view of nearly all of Simi Valley. For four years, each time I made this descent, I prayed, “God, break my heart for my city.” I was confident that, most of the time, I truly liked my city, but in my heart I knew that I had yet to fully love my city. This became a prayer of frustration and even personal embarrassment. As a pastor, how could I not love the city to which God had called me? Jesus himself wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41), but I couldn’t shed a tear for my city.
Then, it happened. One night, as our church council knelt to pray for our church and our city, seemingly out of nowhere I began to cry. Not being one who cries easily, I wasn’t sure where the tears were coming from. I worked hard to hide my emotions from the leaders in the room. Somehow, I was able to finish praying, conclude the meeting and make it to my car.
Thinking I was in the clear, I started my drive home. Just two blocks from the church, the emotions hit me again, but this time it went from a few tears to a waterfall. As I drove, I felt an incredible weight I had never felt before. As I looked around to see people on the sidewalks and in their cars, these words echoed in my mind: “Do they really know how much God loves them? Do they really know all that Jesus went through for them?”
Halfway home, I realized what was happening. God was answering my four-year prayer. He was allowing me to feel for the people of my city, what He had always felt for them. He was breaking my heart for what breaks His heart. He was filling my heart with love for my city.
Through this encounter, the “what” of caring for my city hasn’t changed much, but the “how” certainly has changed. Every year, our church takes about a month to pray for our city. Each week is highlighted by a different focus (e.g., government, schools, neighborhoods, people groups).
Recently, as I prayed and walked the streets of my city, I had a new love for our city’s growing Muslim population and its two mosques. I felt a deep conviction to care for struggling middle-schoolers. I prayed more compassionately for our city council members. I met new neighbors and reconnected with old ones. For the first time, I felt for my city what God always feels for my city.
In the words of Brooke Fraser of Hillsong Worship, I pray, “Lord, Break my heart for what breaks yours. Everything I am for Your kingdom’s cause.”
- Seek the welfare of your city (Jer. 29:7).
- See the people of your city (Matt. 9:35-36).
- Sense God’s love for your city (Luke 19:41).
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