In this series of articles, a member of a Co-Mission church reflects on the blessings and challenges of living in central London for Jesus.
If we’re choosing to live in a missional way, making choices based not upon comfort or material wealth but on God’s Kingdom, it’s likely that we’ll live somewhere less comfortable than if we’d prioritised comfort. This is often true for those living in a city for the gospel. Usually, moving out of the city would mean having somewhere bigger, quieter and easier to live.
However, I’d like to suggest that living in a small, expensive and even noisy space can be a blessing which the Lord uses to shape our characters. What we think of as a sacrifice (which some of us aren’t willing to make) can often be a surprising blessing.
So much stuff
“All of that stuff is gonna be trash, only the things of the Lord will last.”
Take space as an example. We’d love to have more space. But living in a small space means we have to keep throwing stuff away. We go to the Household Waste Centre more than you’d think necessary or even possible. It’s becoming a running joke in my wider family that Mike & Cat are always at the dump. But this is a good thing! Clutter gathers dust, clogs up your space and gets in the way of the things you really value.
Not only this, but let’s remember that we live in a very materialistic society whose economy thrives on people ‘needing’ more and more stuff. The idol of stuff is all around us and we’re bombarded with daily messages about how fulfilled and satisfied we’ll be if only we have this or that. My daughter recently bought a water bottle and on the box it says in large capital letters, “Having this bottle making your life better.” (I don’t think it was made in Great Britain.) Usually companies are much more subtle - I’ve lost count of the number of products I’ve been promised will give me more precious time with my children. The stuff isn’t just functional or pretty, it’s “making your life better.” But it’s a lie.
Advertisers not only make us want the stuff but also want to be the people we think we’ll be when we have that stuff. This is all very powerful and hard to resist. But my Heavenly Father is decluttering my heart and making me more like Jesus: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” (Romans 8:29). He really is making my life better. And as we’re forced to throw unnecessary things away, the idol of stuff loosens its grip on us and loses its power.
Nowhere to Hide
In a similar way to decluttering, which keeps us on our toes but is good for us, this small-space living also gives us nowhere to hide or sulk. I know it’s not good to brood or silently fume on our own in a corner somewhere, and yet oh how I want to sometimes. But living in a small space with a bunch of people (especially people who depend on me) doesn’t allow for this. This means I have to deal with my anger or impatience quickly, repent and be reconciled. While I sometimes have very mixed feelings about this (!) it can only be a good thing. I’m reliably informed that my children might face strong temptations to sulk as they go through puberty, so when that time comes I expect I’ll be even more grateful for the lack of sulking-space. As iron sharpens iron, so we sharpen one another as we scrape up against each other daily. Discipling my children is more important than me having five minutes’ peace.
Money’s too tight to mention
You might be thinking, ‘This is all very well, Catherine, but there’s no way we can afford to live in a city long term.’
This is a very real issue which I won’t deny. The affordability of housing is a massive barrier for my local church because it is on one of the most expensive council estates in the UK. Humanly speaking it’s a problem, but to God, no such problem exists. “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” (Psalm 24:1). So we trust him. Without wanting to sound naive or too idealistic, I do believe that if the Lord wants you to do something, he’ll provide for you to do it. He is in the business of doing the impossible. If it’s his will for you to live in such-and-such a place, then he will provide for it.
Choosing to stay in the city has meant, for us, continuing to pay city rent when we could have bought a house out in the suburbs or the countryside. At times money has been extremely tight. When my eldest was a baby, we were living off very little money because of our high rent. (Our rent exceeded my husband’s net salary!) But as I look back I feel so blessed. My baby lacked nothing. She didn’t need fancy baby food or fancy clothes or toys. She didn’t need to go to baby yoga. She had everything she needed and more because her parents could teach her about Jesus. There’s nothing we lacked that I wish we’d had.
God says nothing in his word about our children needing a garden, their own bedroom or brand new clothes. What the Lord does say they need is to be taught about his saving work for his people, both in the past and in our present. They need to learn to trust in the Lord’s provision and, in all their ways, to acknowledge him. More than any toy or gadget, which will rust, fade or die, they (and we) need to know Christ. The spiritual blessings he gives us are heavenly treasures that will last forever.
Nothing in, nothing out
“For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” (1 Timothy 6:7)
I’m not claiming to live a super-simple lifestyle – indeed it is more cluttered than I’d like. I honestly believe that a simple life, enjoying parks and woods and music, is more joy-filled than a life cluttered with stuff. I believe that the simple life breeds creativity and good conversation. And because our Father knows what we need, we know that we are not missing out on any material thing that would be good for us.
We’d like to be able to leave our children with a decent pot of money when we die. But the way things are going, we’ll have little to show for our lives in terms of material wealth. Yet as I read the Bible, I see over and over again that the Lord doesn’t see wealth and poverty in the way the world sees it. To him, it’s spiritual capital that counts. We may not leave our kids any cash, but by God’s grace they’ll have the abundant riches of being in Christ. When David wrote, “Surely I have a delightful inheritance” (Psalm 16:6b) he didn’t mean money or a big house in the country.
So to live in the city, you might have to lay down your dreams and let God do what he wants with them. I have dreamed of bringing up my large(ish) family in a large(ish) home, with a big kitchen at the heart of it and lots of visitors coming in and out every day. What I have right now it a pretty small kitchen, out of which I find myself shooing people several times a day so that I have enough room to cook or empty the dishwasher. The Lord doesn’t always give us what we want, but since he is wise and I am not, this can only be a good thing.
The Lord has given us so much more than all we could ask or imagine. He hasn’t just helped us to get by in the city. We truly believe that the privilege is ours. It’s always the way with Jesus. You start out thinking you’re making a sacrifice for him, and then you learn that it was no sacrifice at all. I can’t promise you that if you chose to live somewhere for the gospel you’ll have the home, the car or the holidays you’d always wanted. But I can say with absolute confidence that the Lord is more lavish and generous than we think he is, and as you trust and obey him, wherever you live, he has good things in store for you.
Catherine Brooks and her husband Mike are members of St John's Church, Chelsea. Her main job is caring for their four children but she also works part-time in a secondary school for boys. She loves music, books and cups of tea. She blogs about parenting and living for Jesus at muminzoneone.com.
 Colin Buchanan. “The things of the Lord” from the album “Jesus Rocks The World.”
 Deuteronomy 6 verses 6-7.