How I Prayed for Cities

The pavement outside my home is sizzling; my children are frazzled and fractious; traffic is terrible; and all I want is a cool stream or a breezy beach somewhere outside the tinderbox of city life. It’s almost humorous that we are praying for and trying to develop a heart for the city in the middle of July, because I think it’s this time of year when cities fray on my nerves the most.

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“Where does any exhausted believer find motivation to engage in their city, especially on hot, sticky, long, grinding days?

But although I’m speaking here of my American context, in a lot of ways, urbanites in global cities such as Shanghai, London, or Los Angeles face many of the same struggles. Where does any exhausted believer find motivation to engage in their city, especially on hot, sticky, long, grinding days? There are only a few choices.

First, we can look within ourselves.

But it only takes a few minutes to figure out that this is not realistic. While an idealistic do-gooder may muster up the strength to love their community, it usually only takes one jerk flipping you off as he cuts you off in traffic to short-circuit that love and melt it into anger.

Second, we can look to external motivations to get us through another day.

Many of us put one foot in front of another because we have no choice. But these outer motivations like money or success – although compelling in the short run – offer no lasting hope. In recent months I’ve thought a lot about how popular Internet language explains much about contemporary Chinese society. Nei juan (内眷), which means “involution” in English, is just such a term.

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“What is the point of exhausting oneself in a meaningless competition for money or status? Looking to outside factors for motivation is effective for a time, but ultimately fruitless.

Nei juan, according to a 2021 New Yorker article, is “the experience of being locked in competition that one ultimately knows is meaningless.” The same article went on to explain that this phrase applies to workers who realize “they have become just like their devices: interchangeable and emblazoned with a sheen of productivity, for no real higher purpose.” This seems to perfectly describe the culture of young urbanites, in China but also in the States. What is the point of exhausting oneself in a meaningless competition for money or status? Looking to outside factors for motivation is effective for a time, but ultimately fruitless.


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Christ is the only place to find meaningful motivation.

This is true for all people at all times; for city-dwelling Chinese and for frazzled American parents like me. Our impetus for life cannot come from something that itself is inherently broken. Jeremiah 2:13 speaks of how God’s people abandon “the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” Inner motivation and outer motivations are both, ultimately, containers that leak. It is fruitless to try and find strength anyplace but in God himself.

How do you love your city when it is full of injustice and you “wish to escape”? For that matter, how do you love your children? Your imperfect church? Your friends? The only way is by being filled with Christ himself. John 7:37-38 says: “Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”’”

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“When I pray for Chinese cities, ultimately I am praying for Chinese Christians to know Christ, to be found in him, to be filled with him, and to overflow with his life-giving Spirit.

This well of living water springs and fills without any human work. All that is required is belief. This is good news for those of us, like me, who are feeling burned out by the end of July. When I pray for Chinese cities, ultimately I am praying for Chinese Christians to know Christ, to be found in him, to be filled with him, and to overflow with his life-giving Spirit. Now is a difficult time to live in Chinese cities: threats of severe Covid lockdown loom continually, the economy seems to stand on wobbly legs, and for many people, it seems there is no way to get ahead. Christians face an additional challenge, as they seek to love and serve cities that legally persecute them and despise their God.

Yet God is good, God loves the city, and God loves his precious children. I pray that he will give Chinese believers strength to bring his hope to their families, their neighborhoods, their companies, and their cities. May they display God’s heart to all he puts in their path, and may Chinese cities become shining beacons for the Lord’s glory.


E.F. Gregory is a mom of three young children. She lives in the San Gabriel Valley on the border of East Los Angeles, where her husband is a P.C.A. church planter.  

 

FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION

Pray for Chinese cities to become places where God is known, worshiped, and glorified.

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Further Reading

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Qingdao: How to Pray
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Qingdao: Locals and Outsiders
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Qingdao: Good Soil for the Gospel
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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

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About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

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About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

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About Chongqing

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About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

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About Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

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About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

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About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

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About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

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About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

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About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.

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About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

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