I order my coffee then wait for an available table. Popular places are crowded places. I eventually squeeze into a spot among a cluster of occupied chairs. While reading and journaling, a phrase from Psalm 122 resonates with my surroundings…
“Jerusalem is built like a city that is closely compacted together.” (Verse 3)
A city whose residents are closely compacted together. What an interesting bit of commentary. The next verse mentions that all the tribes go up to Jerusalem, headed to the house of the Lord. Jerusalem is closely compacted because it is where everyone wants to be.
Popular cities are, by their nature, crowded cities. Houses are closer together, land and square footage a premium. Less shoulder room in homes, more traffic in streets. Longer lines at stores, fewer parking spaces at restaurants.
This is the price you pay for living in a city where everyone wants to be.
In a few minutes I will head to our house here in San Jose where we live on a car-lined street. Many houses here are quite literally filled to the rafters with multiple generations and numerous roommates, crammed tightly in a single-family residence, pooling resources to cover high rent. Space between houses is minimal, and square footage is a luxury. Our kitchen is about the same size as the walk-in closet of our previous, non-California home. Even the oven is smaller than normal-oven-size, as we were reminded when our 22-pound Thanksgiving turkey didn’t fit. Well, there was room for it but when the button on the turkey popped up it woulda pushed the door open (I joke that our oven has an “Easy Bake” sticker and cooks with a light bulb.)
Our house sits one block off a very busy street, and that street leads to highways that bulge with traffic most anytime day or night, weekday or weekend. A simple commute across town can take 20 minutes, or over an hour depending on traffic.
This is no Jerusalem, but it is “a city that is closely compacted together.” In part, this is because we live in a city that is popular. San Jose is popular for many reasons, I suppose, with amazing weather topping the list. For those in tech, it’s popular for the entrepreneurial opportunities of Silicon Valley. San Jose is popular for its proximity to cliff-lined beaches and snow-covered mountains. And did I mention the weather? Low humidity combined with mild temperatures. Although rent is high, I save money by needing less deodorant. Oh, and don’t forget that we have very few bugs. I once lived where I’m pretty sure the mosquito was the state bird. Not fun.
There is a verse in Psalm 64 that sums up what I pray for in every city I’ve lived. I love Eugene Peterson’s translation of it in The Message: “God’s work is the talk of the town.”
For all San Jose is known for, God’s work is not the talk of this city. Not yet.
I believe with all my soul that God calls you to love and serve your city. I dare you to pray for a God-sized work, a citywide transformation that’s too big for you or your church to take credit. For San Jose, I long for my city to be abuzz with conversations about God and His work rather than prattling about weather, the economy, or mosquitoes. I don’t have to lead such a movement, or be the primary catalyst, but somehow I want in on the action.
Can you imagine how incredible it would be to live in a city where God’s work is the talk of the town? “Crowded” may not be how you’d picture that city, but crowded it will be. Just as Jesus drew great crowds in towns He entered, God’s active presence would still draw immense crowds of people, a city “closely compacted together.”
It makes me wonder what heaven will be like. I’m sure some would think it miserable living close to others in an urban environment, people stacked on top of people. Personally, I prefer city living because, as I mentioned, I love being close to the action. And in heaven – the City of God – all the action will be around Jesus.
If you plan to go to heaven someday, start getting used to the crowds now. This is why I suggest you live in a crowded city.