For a couple of years our family lived in downtown Los Angeles. Echo Park to be exact. Jan and I directed part of a missions agency that sent ministry teams around the world. Two times a day Jan would drive our two kids to and from school in Pasadena. We had to rise early to start the ritual of aligning our lives with the tempo and temper of LA traffic.
I got up early each day to get in my daily exercise. I would walk from our apartment out into the lingering night and enter the heart of the city. LA nights are filled with the distant sounds of car alarms, garbage trucks, barking dogs and lonesome sirens. It is hard to describe all that I saw and felt on those early morning walks. I got to know a homeless man whose “home” was his shopping cart. One morning a young man pulled up his shirt to show me his pistol as a threat to move out of his way. Another morning had me step off the sidewalk and into the limbs of a nearby bush to get out of the illuminating rays of a street light so an angry, mentally challenged man wielding a steel pipe, could pass by and not see me. I watched him disappear into the night striking everything in his path with violent swings from his improvised weapon. I saw many things that came out at night and walked with boldness on the streets of the city.
I was continually drawn with fascination to these predawn walks. They became a real-time motion picture revealing in graphic imagery how I was to pray for the city. I got to see the guts and grit of a slumbering culture. I knew these things went on in broad daylight, but seeing them singularly played out on a dark city street stage was like watching a solo performance in a sorrowful play. I was able to clearly see the broken people hidden within the folds of the city with greater clarity and without the hurried activities of the bright day where the hustle and bustle of LA life could easily mask their reality.
Because of a fear of what goes on in the darkness some people have chosen to lock themselves away in their spiritual apartment watching theological exercise videos in a place of isolation. If we are going to be part of God’s transforming presence in a culture still wrapped in the effects of darkness we need to walk out into the night and declare the love of God. The streets of darkness are where a prophet walks. In this place we become mobile watchmen. This is where we will discover how to pray for the real needs of our cities and declare its new day without those needs being reinterpreted by political agendas, intellectually scrubbed news feeds or the unresolved personal fears that will eventually lock us away and limit our ability to declare a new hope for a new day. Get out. Walk around in the darkness. Greater is He that is in you than any fearful thing that goes bump in the night.