One day while I was cleaning up trash on the Hill, a man in a pickup truck pulled over to the sidewalk next to me.
“Why are you wasting your time?” He called out the window. “You know they don’t care,” he said, referring to the residents on that street. In that moment, I was so grateful for the voice of Holy Spirit. I don’t often have a quick reply, but that day I did. “God asked me to,” I told the man. “That’s why I’m here.” Having nothing to say in response, he shrugged and drove away.
This encounter happened sometime last year, but I’ve thought about it many times since. On the hard days, his question still echoes in my mind. Why are you wasting your time?” It comes again when the sidewalk we just cleaned two weeks ago gets dumped on with new trash. It comes while we walk past a house where two grown women scream at each other in the doorway. It comes while pulling weeds for a city that is—directly across the bridge—throwing a festival for people who often criticize and make a mockery of my faith. It’s in these moments I really have to fight for perspective. God, are we wasting our time?
I recently started a garden in my back yard. One day I noticed my tomatoes weren’t looking so good. While weeding around them, I found a vine winding its way up the stems. I assumed this was some sort of parasite robbing nutrients from the plants, so I unraveled the vines and pulled them out. As expected, the next day my tomatoes perked up again. Some time later in prayer, God showed me a picture of those vines and said, “I’m unravelling the parasites from around people’s hearts.” He didn’t have to say it for me to realize I was one of the people He was talking about.
Working on Allison Hill has been incredibly rewarding but also extremely challenging. I drive from about 40 minutes away, and my schedule is already packed full. There are plenty of other things I could be doing with my time. On the days my “why” gets crowded out by negativity, I can feel all kinds of parasites pulling at my heart and mind. Disappointment, offense, bitterness, pride. Are we fighting a losing battle? The city won’t change until people’s hearts change, and we don’t have the power to do that.
The thing I often forget is that my heart matters, too. I am, in fact, a part of this city. When I pridefully complain about the condition of other people’s hearts, those vines start finding a foothold in my own. When that happens, I become just like the culture I’ve been sent to transform.
Anyone who has ever kept a garden knows that maintaining it is just as important as planting it. If you neglect your garden, the weeds and pests will quickly and eagerly take over. The thing that has uprooted weeds and kept the soil of my heart pure better than anything else has been worship and prayer. The nice thing about my 40 minute drive is that it gives me an opportunity to pray and get my heart right before the Lord before going out on the streets. When I fix my eyes on Him, He gives me His heart for the city so I can keep showing up time and time again and producing good fruit.
I don’t always understand why God tells me to do the things He does, but I trust that His plans are good and His promises are true. My job is just to partner with Him. On the good days, I can envision a Holy City, where people live in right relationship with God, one another, and all creation. It’s a joy to work toward that end. On the harder days, all I can do is answer “yes” when Jesus asks me to follow Him.
I love the hashtag Serena uses on Instagram. It’s #whatIsaidyesto. That phrase has become like a weapon every time doubt, frustration, and hopelessness try to creep in. I didn't say yes to a quick fix. I didn't even say yes to a guaranteed outcome. I'm here because I said yes to following Jesus, and this is what I see Him doing. He brings good news to the poor and binds up the brokenhearted. He proclaims liberty to captives and comforts those who mourn. He builds up ancient ruins, raising up former devastations. He repairs ruined cities and the brokenness of many generations. His methods are unorthodox, but He is relentlessly good. I trust Him with everything. My time, my money, my hopes, and my future. I’ve bet everything on Him. He’s the reason I keep coming. His faithfulness to me is the reason I know my time is never wasted.
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