As I watched this video one phrase kept coming to mind: God heard our prayer.
Months before Sojourn Community Church sent us to Pittsburgh to plant Renaissance Church, my wife Lauren and I would sit in our home and talk about what living in a brand new city would be like. We imagined exploring new places together. We dreamed about planting roots for the long-haul. We even spent hours — I kid you not — talking about all of the different restaurants we couldn’t wait to try. But the conversation always came back to one question: What if we never experience a gospel-enriched community like we encountered at Sojourn?
We pleaded with the Lord. We asked him to give us Spirit-filled contentment regardless of how long it took to build relationships. We asked him to give us hope in our communion with him and each other. We asked him to do more than we even thought possible — to gift us with deep friendships that gave us delight in one another (Ps 16:3), and an unsurpassable joy in Jesus and his resurrection (Ps 16:11; cf Acts 2).
It’s been over four years since we shot that video. And God, like he always does, blew our minds. He did immeasurably more than I could ever describe to you (Eph 3:20). He gave us deep friendships that pushed us and compelled us towards deep communion with our God.
How it happened...
Now, we didn’t go out and hand pick our friends. We received the people God sent us. I know. It sounds over-spiritualized but bear with me.
As we ate at restaurants, frequented coffee shops, walked the neighborhood, we met more and more people. And what we found is the people that God put in front of us eventually became our community. I didn’t choose them. Much like we don’t choose our siblings or parents or that crazy uncle, we don’t choose our co-adopted brothers and sisters in Christ - or - our friends who don’t know Jesus. These friendships began where all relationships take root; with introductions: “My name is Rob. What’s yours?”
What didn’t happen...
It may sound like our friendships with folks in Pittsburgh were an immediate ‘Leslie Knope - Anne Perkins’ connection, but it took work. Hard work. It didn’t happen overnight. There were a lot of people in our home every week. Six out of our seven evenings were spent with folks. We connected easily with some. We ate food (lots of food), shared stories, talked about the gospel, and laughed into the wee hours of the night.
Others were not as easy. Personalities differed and clashed. People felt misunderstood. But we pressed forward even when we sinned against one another. Let me just be frank; I did the majority of the sinning. But that’s where the Holy Spirit cultivated these relationships; through repentance and reconciliation. And we watched Jesus build his Church.
Today, Lauren and I would say we have some of the most meaningful relationships we’ve ever experienced. And just as we wouldn’t go back to change a single hour of what it took to build those friendships, we wouldn’t want to change the way God is building relationships today. As one author coins the phrase, these relationships are a mess worth making. And it’s through these messy, yet glorious, relationships where God answered - and still is answering - our prayer from over four years ago.
Why It Comes As No Surprise…
If there is one thing the Psalms have taught me it is this: God hears my prayers. “But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer” (Psalm 66:19). God loves to listen to his children. He delights in delivering on the promise of his reputation. How can I say this? Because the last four years of my life have proven it. It’s not quite as grand as Abram’s. Nor is it as memorable as Peter’s. But one thing is for sure - the story of Renaissance is littered with glimpses of God’s gracious replies to my pleas.
When times were tough, we knew we could pray to the One who holds history in the palm of his hand. When things went well, we laughed and celebrated. Meditating on what the Lord has done in our fledgling church plant has bolstered my confidence in the eternal truth that God doesn’t have his hands over his ears when I talk to him. Instead, he is always leaning in to intently listen to my answer to his question, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mk 10:51). And when I stop and think about it, it comes as no surprise to see God heard my prayers for Pittsburgh.
1 John 5:14-15 “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.”