Thursday, September 01, 2011

For the City

4 This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: 5 “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. 6 Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! 7And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.
Jeremiah 29:4-7 NLT

I'm still soaking in this passage, so I'm still teasing out the implications and learning how to live it out. Here are some things I see here today...

The Lord is sending a message to His new exiles in Babylon. They've been exiled by Him (through Babylon's King) as punishment for their unfaithfulness to Him. Another consequence is that they were not being a blessing to the nations of the world (the very reason He was blessing them)--not to mention each other.

In addition, the Jew's first reflex in this new (and religiously unclean) culture was to come out of it and stay separate. They wanted to set up camp outside the city walls and ignore the city and it's wicked citizens.

But God has other ideas.

God surprises them with a letter. He tells the prophet Jeremiah to write a letter that begins as quoted above.

The verse I'd like to park on today is v. 7. God tells His (unfaithful) people to not pull away but engage their new city--their arch enemies, Babylon. Live amongst them. Do business with them. Raise your family alongside of them and start more. Don't compromise, but love your neighbor as yourself. "Work for the peace and prosperity of this city" and "pray to the LORD for it."

This had to throw the Jews for a loop. I mean they lost loved ones in that siege. They lost their temple and were transplanted hundreds of miles away from home. They were no longer free but citizens of a foreign power. They had no reason to bless this nation. They had every reason to rebel and oppose it.

But the LORD had other plans. And so He tells them to live for the good of the city while they are there. And He told them that would be 70 years.

70 years...

That's about how long we live these days. Hmmm...

As Christ-followers, we are citizens of the Kingdom of God. Our national citizenship here on earth is a temporary thing. It doesn't take many controversial decisions by our government to remind us that this isn't our true home or kingdom.

Our King never makes a bad decision. He protects and leads His people with justice, righteousness and wisdom. He shepherds His people and cares for them. No, we're not home. And we need to be careful to resist the same temptations the Jews had when they arrived in Babylon.

We must resist the temptation to circle the wagons. It's easy to say they're evil out there and we're God's holy people. Therefore, we need to pull back and be separate. Because in a sense, we are to do this. We are to be in the world but not of the world. But we need to be careful to not live this verse as if it said, "Don't be in or of the world." We can't transform the world if we isolate ourselves from it and it's people.

We must see our lives here as a blip in eternity and live in light of that eternity. God calls us to live our 70 years for His glory. We do this when we work for the peace and prosperity of the city. We do this when we pray for the people around us that are far from God. We do this because it affects our welfare and their eternity. (1 Cor. 11:1)

So what do we do?

We start where we are. If I'm a student, I pray for and work for the peace and prosperity of my fellow students, teachers and school staff. If I'm a nurse, I pray and work for the peace and prosperity of patients, doctors and hospital staff. If I'm an accountant, I work for the peace and prosperity of my clients. We all pray and work for the peace and prosperity of our neighbors.

What's the best way to pray and work for the peace and prosperity of the city? Pray for God to use you to lead them to Jesus. Work at your job as if you were a missionary in that context. Then, when they see Christ in you and verbalize that, be ready to give a defense for the hope you have in Christ Jesus. (1 Peter 3:15-16) Be bold. Be gentle. Be Holy Spirit-led. And trust that God will use you to bless them profoundly.

Father, help us to pray and work for the peace and prosperity of the city in which we live today. Help us see our city as You see it. Help us see the people who live and work around us as You do. Give us Your heart of compassion for the people of our city. Empower us to love them as Your word directs and Your Spirit prompts. In the name of the One who is our Peace and Prosperity forever, amen!