BY JORDAN MAYER
"But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare."
In the book of Jeremiah, we enter a tumultuous time in Israel's history. The northern kingdom of Israel has already fallen to the Assyrians and now Judah's reckoning has come. Despite God's repeated attempts to warn the people through the prophets, His words fall on deaf ears. Consistent and persistent patterns of sin and idolatry have lead the people away from God's blessing to their own ruin. God raises up Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, as His chosen instrument of judgment. Babylon lays siege to Judah and takes the people into exile for 70 years.
With the people now in Babylon, Jeremiah sends a letter to the elders there. It is a word from the Lord meant to be shared with all the exiled people. What words would God speak to His people in this foreign land?
I know what I would say. "Keep your heads down, don't draw attention to yourselves. Be patient until your time of exile is over." But this is the total opposite of what God tells His people and I think there's a word in there for us as well.
The message is not to hunker down and just survive, they are encouraged to live and to thrive! The Lord tells them in verse 6 to "build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease." In short, "Make a life for yourselves!"
I recently finished reading a book called Engage with Honor written by Lee Ellis, a former pilot and POW during the Vietnam War. In the book, Lee describes the difficult conditions in the prison. But as the book goes on, he details the life that he and the other prisoners build inside the camp. They come up with their own programs for entertainment, education, spiritual development and physical fitness. In a situation where you might not blame someone for just throwing in the towel, they find ways to not only stay alive, but thrive.
So here we find the Israelites, strangers in a strange land. Hundreds of miles from home. God's message to them is to start building a life for themselves. Building houses, planting gardens, and entering into marriages are not short term goals. God intends them to settle in for the long haul; they're in exile for 70 years after all. But then He continues in verse 7 with these words to the people. "But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare." For all intents and purposes, Babylon was Judah's enemy, their captors. And yet, God's message to them is to seek the city's good and to pray for its welfare. For in so doing, they themselves will prosper.
I confess, in my longing for Heaven I can often feel tempted to isolate. To keep my head down and ride out the storm until such time that the Lord returns or calls me home. On the one hand, I think it's important to remember that this life is not our end destination, and thus we should not cling too tightly to it. But the fact that this world is not our true home is not license to isolate ourselves from it. Our highest example can come from no other except Jesus himself. Jesus, who humbled himself by taking human form, who ate with tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners; who died on a cross for sins not His own. He willingly chose to enter into the mess that is this world in order to reach out in love to His people. And He calls us to do the same.
After reading this verse in Jeremiah, these words continue to echo in my mind. Jordan, seek your city's good.
Paul shares a similar message in his letter to Timothy. "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
Pray for your company and your co-workers. Pray for those around you, for your friends and for your neighbors, for those you like and those you don't. Reach out and make a difference. Share His hope, show His love, shine His light.