Living in a city that is far from God can be tough. Jonah found it tough, yet God called him to stay in the big bad city of Nineveh. Similarly, God is calling many of us to make long-term plans that will enable us to stay in the city of Dublin. We believe at CCC that God calls us to think through career and family choices with ‘gospel lenses’ so that we can invest in the city over the long-term, for the sake of making a positive difference in the city.
Our prayer is, and our desire is, to become a church planting church. And this will only be possible if people stay and invest in Dublin.
The Big Bad City
At the end of the book of Jonah, Jonah is mad at God for forgiving Nineveh and giving them a second chance. So much so that he wishes he could die (Jonah 4:1-4). Jonah then goes out of Nineveh (Jonah 4:5) in the hope that God would condemn ‘the big bad city.’ Instead, God engages with Jonah’s heart and challenges him about the fact that he was more concerned about his little plant (which God had let grow up next to him to give him shade) than he was concerned about the city and its inhabitants (Jonah 4:5-10). The story ends with the question that drives the whole book (Jonah 4:11):
And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left – and also many animals?’
Comfort or Calling?
God is calling Jonah out of his comfort zone, out of a place where everyone thought and acted the same as he did, into a city with diversity of views and behaviours, most uncommon to his upbringing. In other words, God is calling Jonah out of a safe place and familiar place into the big bad city…a place of danger, of oppression, or loneliness. Jonah is called to stay in the big bad city!
And God does this, again and again. The prophet Jeremiah writes to the exiles in Babylon 200 years after Jonah, when they were tempted to ‘separate’ from the city and form a community away from the city, free from violence and the doctrinal and cultural pollution of the city. Jeremiah says (Jeremiah 29.4-7):
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 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.’
Staying in the City
Just like Jonah, God calls His people into the big bad city to settle down. Twice in the book of Jonah, we learn that Nineveh is a ‘great’ city (1.2, 3.2), which can mean both ‘big’ and ‘strategic’. Nineveh was large in number but also significant and influential. And the Apostle Paul, in obedience to Jesus’ command to make disciples of nations, decided that the best way to reach the Gentiles was to plant churches in the most strategic/influential cities of his day; Ephesus, Corinth, Athens, Philippi and Rome. Why? For three reasons.
Compared to the countryside and small towns…
- Cities have more people (so if you want to reach people with the gospel…go to the city)
- Cities have more types of people (so if you want to reach all people groups…go to the city)
- Cities affect the culture (so if you want Jesus’ values to permeate culture…go to the city)
Tim Keller puts it like this:
People are more important than plants. In the countryside you have more plants than people. In the city you have more people than plants. Since God loves people more than plants we should stay in the city.
The City of Dublin
More and more people are moving into the city of Dublin, it’s constantly increasing. It has a population of 1.3 million and each week 2 million people come in and out of the city for work or pleasure. And God asks us the same questions…do you not care? Are we too concerned with our little ‘plants’?
Staying in the city of Dublin has challenges. I list many of them in my personal blog – challenges around finances, raising kids, the transient nature of the city, making friends, being away from family, the crime etc. But God calls us to count those costs for the sake of the 1.3 million people who need to hear the gospel. He calls us to stay in the big bad city…to love it, pray for it, invest in it and spread God’s kingdom within it.
Why do we find this call hard? Why did Jonah find it hard and protest? Because our identity is in the city of man not the city of God. Psalm 46:4-6 puts it like this:
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the most high dwells. God is within her, she will not fall. God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar kingdoms fall, he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The City of God
Within every city there is another city…the eternal city, which does not crumble, is not affected by crime and will never fall. Abraham and the great heroes of Hebrews 11 lived lives of such faith because they were looking forward to this city:
10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
God calls his people to commit to a life where we are ‘aliens and strangers’. He calls us to be committed first and foremost to advancing His kingdom, rather than the ‘kingdom’ of career, or wealth, or security, or comfort. And we’ll only be committed to advancing His kingdom if our hope and security are not in the city of man, but the city of God. Only then will we be good citizens of the city of man…because we won’t need anything from it. We can genuinely serve it for its own good. Otherwise, we’ll always see Dublin as something to take from and then move on from when we have taken what we want. Without having our hope in the eternal city of God we’ll be consumers of Dublin — not servers.
Plants or People?
It’s easy to have ‘Jonah syndrome’ and make a run for it (Jonah 1) or get annoyed with God (chapter 4) when you hear God calling you to the city. Sinclair Ferguson says this:
The truth was that Jonah seemed to care more about plants than about people. This was a devastating critique of Jonah’s spiritual condition. But it raises an issue no less disturbing about our own lives as Christians. Could the same be said about us? Do we care more about the items in our gardens, the produce of our fields, or perhaps the contents of our garage, or home, than we do about our fellow men and women and the spread of the gospel to them? Do we care more, in the last analysis, about our comforts and plans than about the evangelism of the world in our time? The statistics of our giving, or praying, or going in the cause of Christ through the earth provide embarrassing reading to the church. They read real questions about whether we have begun to rid ourselves of ‘Jonah Syndrome.’*
So, we must make decisions about career, family, house and our future with the gospel in mind. And the 1.3 million people of Dublin in mind. God calls us to stay and invest in the big bad city…even when the city no longer ‘gives us any benefit’ personally.
If you have any questions, feedback or want to meet for a coffee, do get in contact – email@example.com or come along to our seminar on Sunday 14th October after the service – becoming a church planting church
*Sinclair Ferguson – Man Overboard: The Story of Jonah