“I was at the end of myself.”

And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward Him and find Him though he is not far from any one of us.  Acts 17:26-27

The Apostle Paul, speaking here at the Areopagus in Athens, opposes both Stoical Fate and Epicurean Chance, attributing the times and locations in which men live and nations exist to the sovereign will and prearrangement of a living God. He does this because He is always working among people so that they will seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, because He is not far from any one of us. God clearly works in people’s lives hoping that they will reach out for Him and find Him. If you look back, you just might find how God arranged everything for you so that you would give your life to Him. It wasn’t a matter of chance or fate, but a sovereign God-arranging circumstance, a person or people in your life, and the very location where you would turn your life over to Him. This was true for Natalie. Listen to her story as she tells it and observe how God arranged everything so that she would reach out to Him.

Natalie Wright Ruiz’s Neighborhood

My neighbors were praying for me before they ever met me. There is no other explanation for what God accomplished in the fullness of HIS time. Nothing in my life would have caused me to look up but God Himself and the prayers of those neighbors in that cul-de-sac. I hadn’t thought of God or considered Him in many years.

I was 24 years old and six months into a marriage already in trouble. I recall driving home from work feeling utterly hopeless and depressed. I had never felt more desperate and lost. I turned off my radio and began to pray out loud. I was raised Catholic and knew many rote prayers but I had never done this before; I talked to God as if He was real and listening just to me. I was raised by wonderful parents and always loved God and believed in Him but my religious upbringing hadn’t led me to any kind of a personal relationship with Him. The tears were coursing down my cheeks as I told God I was miserable and confessed I had married for all the wrong reasons. I tried everything that I knew to fix my brokenness and make my husband happy. I told God that my efforts hadn’t worked. I couldn’t do it. I prayed that if He would help me and teach me what I needed to know and to do, I PROMISED that I would do whatever He wanted. I was at the end of myself.

I arrived home to find a flyer in my front door.  A neighbor in my cul-de-sac was throwing a block party that weekend and invited my husband and me to come. We went and after meeting this couple, they invited us to a neighborhood gathering for worship and Bible study in their home every Sunday evening; a house church plant. My husband was not interested but I immediately remembered my promise and knew that God had heard my prayer. Before I even arrived home that day, He had heard me and heard the prayers of my neighbors. That felt so personal. The next six weeks I spent studying the Bible and hearing the gospel in a way that I understood for the first time. I had no problem admitting I was a sinner. Accepting Jesus and what He accomplished for me on the cross was a gift of new life. After six weeks of studying the Bible I counted the cost, made my profession of faith and was baptized by immersion in the center of that very cul-de-sac surrounded by neighbors, friends and brothers and sisters in Christ.  I still remember that joyous event!

Since then, I always try to be attentive to where God has placed me; my neighborhood. It is the center of real community for me and my prayer field. When I make myself available and open my home to gather, engage, listen, and serve, God shows me those who are reaching out and feeling their way for Him because He has been drawing them to Himself. My neighbors love and serve my family too. It is the economy of God.

The gospel is the power of GOD unto salvation. I get to pray, be in community and share Jesus. Sometimes it’s a neighborhood BBQ, holiday event, Christmas caroling, a game night or just having coffee or breakfast.  Sometimes it’s even a spontaneous invitation for a glass of wine or a beer and conversation on my or a neighbor’s front porch or back patio. Even better, it’s a neighborhood Bible study. I have watched many of my neighbors hear the same invitation from Jesus to join His family and receive the gift of salvation.

It’s an amazing feeling to still wake up every morning almost thirty years later and know that my sins are not counted against me. That’s GOOD NEWS.  Jesus did it all… I’m still following Him. My neighborhood is where I start.

A time for reflection:

Gilbert K. Chesterton makes the point very clear, “We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next-door neighbor.” We are living where we are for a reason, because God placed us where He has to be a light to those around us. Natalie experienced this firsthand and now she has chosen to show that same kind of light to those where she lives. In Evangelism in the Early Church, Michael Green points out that those early leaders had a strategy. “Christian missionaries made a deliberate point of gaining whatever households they could as lighthouses, so to speak, from which the gospel could illuminate the surrounding darkness.” He points out that the early Church stressed the centrality of the household for the advancement of Christianity. Is your home a lighthouse? What would it take for your home to emanate the kind of light that those in Natalie’s neighborhood and those early Christians expressed?

(Natalie Wright-Ruiz has been happily married (the second time around) for 26 years. She and her husband, Jim, have three adult children and one granddaughter. They live in the San Fernando Valley. Natalie is a practicing Spiritual Director. She still spends a lot of time loving and being loved by her neighbors and following Jesus.)





Listen to Bruce Zachary's experience with Neighborhood Initiative.

Listen to Dallas Willard's word to pastors and leaders about Neighborhood Initiative.

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