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First because we are called to pray - Isaiah 62:6 is a formative verse for me. God raises up watchmen (the church) who will watch and pray day and night until Jesus returns and all things are renewed. The watchmen are the church - so let's pray!
Secondly because cities are at the centre of what God is doing in the world. Augustine famously wrote about history being God's work through Jesus Christ to redeem the 'city of man' and transform it into the 'city of God'.
Cities are at the centre of what God is doing in the world.
Finally cities have always been influential but they are becoming more so in our lifetime as urbanisation increases. Not only are cities places where culture is formed but they are places where there are more images of God per square mile than anywhere else. So let's pray for our cities!
It is a regrettable feature of late modern life that we tend to default to the individual or the global but we have increasingly lost a sense of the local. However it is striking that the way God reaches the world and individuals is primarily through local churches; Paul plants local churches and when he writes to Christians he writes to them in that locality - 'to all those in Rome' (Romans 1:7) or 'to the saints who are in Ephesus' (Ephesians 1:1).
We tend to default to the individual or the global but we have increasingly lost a sense of the local. However it is striking that the way God reaches the world and individuals is primarily through local churches.
A key part of this must be that we are to see ourselves in a local context and our churches as being God's missional community for that locality and therefore for the city.
You can use it individually to stimulate and resource your daily prayers. Why not take one chapter each day or if you want something a bit more 'bite-size' one point in each chapter and pray it in for your city?
You can use it in small groups. If you are in a prayer triplet or a small group at church then why not use it to stimulate your prayers for your city in that setting?
Or you could use it in whole church prayer meetings. Take a chapter and let it fuel prayers for a ten to fifteen minute slot for a particular aspect of your city.
The boundaries of exactly what constitutes a city are widely debated but whatever official definition one lands upon there are certain key features.
Firstly a distinct identity and formative place in (local or national) culture that means it is particularly influential for society, culture and the economy.
Secondly the city is normatively a locus of government and power in a particular area. Lastly a certain critical mass of population (in the UK in 1907 it was anything over 300,000). Put those together and you've got three key features - cultural influence, governing power and people - and cities have throughout history always been marked out by at least these.
From the first city in Genesis 4 God has worked through the urban context to advance his plans in particular ways - a point we pray about in chapter 1 of the book 'Praying for the good, the bad and the ugly of the city'. It is notable that in Genesis 4 and in the context of a lot of ugly sin God uses the city to significantly advance the mandate to 'be fruitful and multiply' through culture forming and child birth.
We are all heading towards the goal of a city in the New Jerusalem. So cities have always been and will always be central to God's plans!
Then in the Old Testament God intends the city of Jerusalem to be a city on a hill as a light to the nations to help fulfil the Abrahamic promises. Even though Jerusalem fails at this and this promise is then fulfilled through Jesus and in the age of the Spirit through the church, cities are still important as the places the Apostles focus on to preach the gospel and plant churches.
Finally we are all heading towards the goal of a city in the New Jerusalem. So cities have always been and will always be central to God's plans!
I love the realism of God's word towards cities, yet it's a realism that is infused with gospel hope grounded in Jesus Christ. Consequently Scripture is never cynical about cities - just longing for some culturally denuded wilderness, nor is Scripture triumphalistic about human cities - as though cities themselves have a redemptive power. Instead Scripture puts before us both the sin of the city but also the way God sovereignly redeems the city and puts it at the centre of his plan of salvation. What a great God we have!
Because there are so many people in cities there may be more of God's image per square mile but there is also more sin. That makes cities full of pain and brokenness, all underpinned by our rejection of God and that can be a tough environment to live in.
We need prayerful Christians and churches in our cities, offering forgiveness for the sins of the city, warning people about the idols in the city and offering the gospel of redemption and hope to the city.
I also think that cities can be like sirens to sailors, they seduce people and beckon them in, only to leave them shipwrecked on the rocks of their idols. Of course idols exist wherever there are human hearts but the idols located in cities seem to have a particular power to them.
Dare I say that is why we need prayerful Christians and churches in our cities, offering forgiveness for the sins of the city, warning people about the idols in the city and offering the gospel of redemption and hope to the city.