This is the fourth and final post in this series, Staying is the New Going.
All right here’s the last shift and then we’re going to wrap this up. In order to better love the places God puts us we must shift from impact to investment.
If you’re a church person or grew up in Sunday School these words are all too familiar. "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."
(So live long and prosper.)
God knew that when His people arrived in Babylon they’d prefer to pitch tents rather than build houses and cultivate gardens. Babylon wasn’t home for them. Babylon was just a detour on the journey to their preferred destination. And yet God says through Jeremiah, “Seek the shalom of the city. Pray to Me for Babylon’s well-being because if Babylon thrives, you will thrive.”
Topeka is known for a lot of things like Truckhenge, potatoes, and tornadoes, but if I’m honest, praying for the well-being of the city is an area I need to grow in. If people are praying I imagine they’re praying for a ticket out of the city. The text says, “Seek the welfare of the city.” This word “seek” is an interesting word because it communicates the idea of treading a place…of walking in a place over and over and over again.
This is something we do really well as a church. Long before I ever came on staff somebody decided that the best way to do global missions is to invest in building relationships with people, churches, and organizations. And rather than sending teams overseas one time to make an impact (whether it’s building homes or digging wells) never to be seen or heard from again when we leave, we continue to send resources and teams to the same places around the world. Places like Katherie, Sierra Leone where we’ve helped build a church, a school, grain storage, and we’ve come alongside families who were devastated by last year’s Ebola crisis. We tread in the same places because we believe that long-term investment trumps short-term impact.
In our culture the idea of treading a place is similar in many ways to being a repeat customer. This is where we leverage our habits and routines. Our habits and routines are powerful forces of change.
I had lunch with a friend a couple weeks ago and at one point in our conversation we were talking about where to meet for lunch and he said he only ate at three places in town. I thought the same thing you’re thinking, “Only three? But there are so many good places to eat!” So I met him for lunch at one of his three spots. If you really think about it, that’s kinda genius. It’s genius because (I don’t know about you but…) I hate wasting time and energy trying to decide where to eat, but if I commit to 3 or 4 places then I don’t have to even think about where to go. It’s also genius because what happens when you go out to eat and you keep showing up at the same 3 or 4 places? Exactly! You have the opportunity to get to know the employees and they get to know you. You know this because you are really intelligent people and some of you are really great at leveraging your habits and routines by making small, incremental deposits in peoples’ lives. You understand really well that long-term investment trumps short-term impact.
A couple times a month after the kids are put to bed a few guys from Grace Point meet up at Buffalo Wild Wings and one of the things I observed was that my friends were looking for a waiter there named Shawn. Over the last several months these guys have developed something of a friendship with this guy and if Shawn was working, they wanted seats at his table. It didn’t look like he was around so we sat down, but you know what? Shawn saw us and came over to talk. He even came back later when the place was nearly empty, sat down, and caught up on life with the guys around the table. Shifting from impact to investment isn’t just about where you spend or don’t spend your money. It’s about investing in people around you. Join the PTO. Coach your kids’ sports team. Volunteer at your kids’ school. Become a Lunch Buddy. Whatever you do leverage your gifts, routines, and habits to invest in others.
Hey, look, I know I’m covering a lot of territory here, but I really do believe that in order the be the best news we can be in Topeka we have to choose to love the places God puts us. And for some of us right now this is a struggle. And if you’re not struggling with this right now, just wait! File this away for later because a day will come and it will happen. Choosing to love the places God put us begins with us as we leave behind our tourist mindset and live as Proverbs 27:10 people who make the lives of others around us better because we’re invested in our neighbors and in our companies. Our homes are no longer places we go to hideout and get away from everyone, but they become hangouts and hubs for ministry in our neighborhoods. And we commit to long-term investment the greater good of the city.
No matter how you are wired, you can learn to engage with the people in the places you are with the love of Jesus. Digging deep with people in your place isn’t about being an introvert or an extrovert; and for those of us who are followers of Jesus it’s about being a disciple of Jesus who takes the Great Commandment to love others as ourselves seriously. We can unleash His love on others in extraordinary and ordinary ways. There’s no perfect strategy to start loving the place God puts you, but at some point we all must start the journey. So with as much gentleness as I can say it: Start today.