As Christians, we believe that our lives aren’t a series of random circumstances. Instead, our circumstances are purposefully determined by God, even down to the most intricate details, including the houses and neighborhoods in which we live. Paul communicated this very clearly to the great thinkers of Athens in Acts 17:26 (emphasis mine):
“From one man He has made every nation of men to live all over the earth *and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live.”
Not only does this mean that people are placed in their communities for a reason, it also means that God intends for our lives to be about more than just ourselves and the people we happen to like best. We are to demonstrate Christ-like love to those around us, including that reclusive, grumpy neighbor who never returns your wave. God is shaping us to be people who not only understand the gospel, but embrace it holistically so that our lives become reflections of God’s mission in the world, which is to receive glory by drawing people to himself.
Here are some steps that can help us live with greater purpose no in the places God has us. We want to know our neighborhoods for the sake of defining, claiming, and living out God’s purpose for us and our neighbors.
Step 1: Read
Read Acts 17:26-28. What is this passage about? What does it tell you about yourself? About your neighborhood? How do you see God at work in your neighborhood?
Pray that your life would be a reflection of a God who is near to your neighbors. Jesus commanded His followers to take the gosple to their neighbors. Ask your Father to make the good news of the gospel more and more a part of who you are, then pray that God will equip you to extend the gospel in word and deed to those who live around you.
Step 2: Think
Why do you live in your neighborhood? What factors influenced your choice of this location? “Unexpected circumstances” like job loss, family shifts, and political instability are not outside of God’s plan. There are some in your neighborhood who live near you for these reasons.
Ask God why he placed you in your neighborhood, on your block, and in your specific residence. Then listen. What is God telling you?
Step 3: Explore
What exactly is your neighborhood? Take a walk today and decide! When you get home, mark down the street names or other boundaries (bridges, railroad tracks, rivers, parks, businesses, etc.) that define your neighborhood. Draw a map. On your map, mark the places that you frequent, know, and are known.
Pray that over the next month God will help you fill in this map with new places and new people.
Step 4: Explore Some More
Based on your map, where would you designate the natural gathering spots for people? Are there coffee shops, restaurants, markets, or parks that seem to attract people regularly? Who meets at these places? Why do you think they meet in that location?
Pray for these gathering places. Ask God to show you His heart and purposes for the individuals who frequent these locations.
Step 5: Engage
Pick one of the places where you know people gather, pray for a chance to meet someone or a group of people with whom you may develop a friendly relationship, then go meet somebody! Through genuine relationships, the doors are opened to share the great news of the gospel with people who God has placed in your day-to-day life.