Jonah 3:4, 5, 10—“Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, ‘Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them…When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.”
Among the truths that Jonah’s successful (albeit reluctant) mission foray into Nineveh reveals is that sometimes, God saves neighborhoods. When the Truth is preached, and the Spirit moves, whole (or at least significant portions of) communities can be converted. This has happened many times since. It happened through the ministry of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-5). It happened in Samaria (John 4:39-42). So many were getting saved and transformed in Ephesus that it messed with the local sin-based economy, and caused a near-riot (Acts 19:11-40).
Study the history of revivals, and you will learn that often, whole communities experienced mighty works of grace. The Great Awakening of the 1700s and the Welsh revivals of the early 1900s recount such works. During the first, Jonathan Edwards says that there was hardly one home in the community that was not touched by the saving hand of God. As for the second, reputable accounts estimate more than 70,000 conversions occurred within a very short time.
Missionaries tell stories of mass conversions among people groups who were prepared by God to receive the gospel message even before the gospel-messengers delivered it. Reports of whole tribes being converted in a single mighty outpouring of saving mercy are not uncommon. Throughout the 1800s, there were multiple reports of mass conversions in various small villages in India. South America and Africa today are experiencing a powerful outpouring of grace, as well. Our own church has mission partners who serve in a country that is hostile to the gospel, and yet they report in regularly of many conversions in rural towns. Communities are being changed powerfully.
Do I have faith that God can do that right here and right now? I confess that I am so accustomed to mourning the secularization of our culture that I sometimes doubt the power of the gospel to transform people and communities. We are thrilled in our church to be seeing multiple conversions every year; numbering into the dozens in our first four years of congregational life. But do I have faith and vision for hundreds, even thousands? I want to put my doubt to death, and believe even bigger things. I want to commit to expansive prayers and a relentless witness. I want to pray for the multiplied thousands who live in my community—that salvation will touch virtually every house!
I meet with a diverse group of gospel-loving and Jesus-preaching local community pastors every third Thursday of each month to intercede for our churches. And these are the types of things we plead for:
- That we will lead the way in personal, community, and national repentance.
- That we will catch a vision for our neighborhoods.
- That we will practice neighbor love and justice.
- That we will preach gospel truth.
- That we will bear witness wherever we go.
- That we will believe God for great things.
- That we will not grow weary even if the harvest starts one wheat-grain at a time.
- That we will see thousands come running in faith to Jesus.
- That we will all have to either expand our buildings or perhaps better yet, multiply services and plant new churches because our seats are full to overflowing.
Do you, like me, need to cultivate with intentional faith a spirit that looks once again, not just for the conversion of one or two this coming year; but for one or two-hundred. Dare we to ask for much—or will we be content with small things?
Maybe a prayer like this is a good place to start:
“Lord, I believe; please help my unbelief! Give me faith to believe that—like with Corinth of old—you may well have many people in this city (Acts 18:10). And help me to approach each day on mission to reach as many as I can.
Would you please do in my neighborhood what you have done elsewhere? Would you please do a work so great that as you pour out your mercy, it will become a flood? Sovereign Savior: I dare to hope and pray that thousands will get saved, churches will be full, and the broken and needy ‘Nineveh’ in which I serve will experience a mighty—and stunning—work of God in coming weeks and months. Turn our community upside down—O Redeeming God and Savior! Amen.”
We all have a neighborhood that needs saving. Wherever yours is, be about it, be in it, be with it, and be for it—with real repentance, fervent prayer, gospel truth, neighbor love, and salvation hope. Look for, create, and seize gospel moments. And then—whether the harvest comes in one by one or by the hundreds and thousands—live in a faith that God loves to save sinners, just like he saved you—and that sometimes he has been known to do it by zip code.
Nations and neighborhoods: both matter to God.
“Pity the nations, O our God,
Constrain the earth to come;
Send your victorious Word abroad,
And bring the strangers home.
“O reach the village, town, and ‘hood’,
With mercy show your hand;
That many humbled sinners would—
Join Heaven’s lowly band.
“We long to see your churches full,
That all the chosen race
May, with one voice and heart and soul,
Sing your redeeming grace.”
(Isaac Watts, second verse added by TMS)
Tim married Gayline in 1978 and has six grown children and over a dozen grandchildren. A pastor for 38+ years, he currently serves Risen Hope Church, a multi-ethnic congregation in Drexel Hill/Upper Darby, PA. He is the author of the recent Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing book, Respect the Image: Reflecting Human Worth in How We Listen and Talk. He also has written 30/30 Hindsight: 30 Reflections on a 30-Year Headache and Worship Worthy: Alliterative Adoration. To learn more about Tim please his website.