A practical guide for Christians not of this world.
As a believer, do you ever feel displaced? I do. I grew up in a small American town where God was honored. Most people went to church. The media disallowed profanity and immorality. We respected the President whether we liked him or not.
Sad to say, the world I once knew has drastically changed. Although I now live in Canada, I am still an American citizen. To my dismay, I have watched the political, spiritual, and moral decline of both countries. I often feel helpless in view of all the negative media. I’d love to escape the atrocities that are overtaking our world.
If you feel as I do, you probably have a few questions. Why is God allowing all this? What will happen to you — and to those you love? What is God’s purpose for your life? Is there anything you can do to make a difference?
The answer may be found in Jeremiah 29.
The divided nation of Israel was in political and spiritual decay when God called Jeremiah to become her prophet. This priest wasn’t happy with his new role. Apparently, writing letters — not so nice letters — to the captives in Babylon was part of his job description.
But there was an upside. Jeremiah informed his displaced countrymen, especially their spiritual leaders, that God had a plan. It boiled down to something like this: “Listen, like it or not, you’re not leaving Babylon for seventy years. So quit dreaming of going home, and get on with your lives.” He then outlined God’s five-step program for their survival in captivity. You might want to take notes.
Accept where you are as God’s plan.
Although the Israelites created most of their own misery, God still referred to them as people “whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon” (Jeremiah 29:4, KJV). In other words, God allowed His people to be displaced for good reason.
The Judeo-Christian worldview in our Western civilization is being challenged as never before. As Christians, we feel more and more like foreigners in our own countries. Who are these people who demand we think and act and talk to please them? Where have our freedoms gone? And where is God in all of this?
Daniel probably entertained similar questions. When the Israelites were exiled to Babylon, he was selected with three other Jewish boys from noble families to become scribes for King Nebuchadnezzar’s court. But in spite of his unfamiliar surroundings, Daniel stayed true to his cultural roots of faith.
This young man’s faithfulness and obedience to God caused Babylon’s amazed king to declare, “Truly your God is the God of gods, the Lord of kings . . .” (Daniel 2:47). Daniel became chief to the monarch’s wise men and governor of the province of Babylon. He was certainly not liked by everyone and was persecuted for his faith. But through him, the Israelites received great comfort in knowing that God was still in control.
God wants to bless you where you are. He selected you to be born in this exciting time in history, and to be a part of what He is doing in our world. You may never be in the limelight like Daniel, but you count. Our Lord Jesus “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” (Ephesians 3:20).
Make plans to settle.
Jeremiah told the people to “Build houses and dwell in them” (29:5a). That’s not what they wanted to hear! But God knew it would be in their best interest to unpack their bags and stay awhile (like seventy years!). They might as well live comfortably.
I can understand the Israelites’ adverse reaction. When I married, I had no idea what a diverse neighborhood we would live in. I would love to have been surrounded by Christians, but that was not God’s plan. Within a two-block radius of our home are Sikhs, Muslims, Protestants and Roman Catholics, Hindus, and the non-religious.
My husband and I believe God wants us to be His light to our neighbors. We invite them into our home. We walk with some around a nearby park, converse in our yards. We feel honored when we’re invited to their weddings, funerals, and birthday parties. These connections have opened doors for us to counsel and pray with some of them.
Don’t be afraid to put down roots where you are — and be witnesses to others!
Nourish yourself and others.
Jeremiah’s next instructions to those in captivity were “Plant gardens and eat their fruit” (29:5b). In other words, now that you’re settled, think about ways to survive and thrive together.
Think community gardens. I love driving by those plots of ground in the middle of a busy city that are reserved for vegetation. It warms my heart to think that people from all walks of life are working together and sharing the fruit of their labor with those less fortunate.
A number of years ago my husband and I became involved in an evangelical outreach program in our city — the most rewarding thing we have ever done. Those of us on the interdenominational leadership team disagree on certain Christian doctrines, but we set aside our differences in order to harvest souls for Jesus Christ. One can’t read John 17 and not feel God’s heartbeat. He yearns for His children to “be one” in order to carry out His mission to all the nations.
Keep your eyes open for Christian events where Jesus Christ and His Word are front and center. Ask God for love and discernment, and be prepared to leave the comfort zone of your own backyard. God may have a “community garden” in mind for you! When you nourish others, you nourish yourself.
Reach out to others.
Next, Jeremiah told Israel, “Take ye wives and beget sons and daughters . . . that you may be increased there, and not diminished” (29:6, KJV). By that he meant, don’t live just for yourself. Pray for spiritual children so that your life will make ripples throughout eternity.
I learned this truth several years ago while attending a women’s retreat on personal evangelism. We were challenged to think of ten women in our neighborhood we could influence for Christ. I thought the number was rather high, but I obediently jotted down every woman I knew — or sort of knew — on our block and nearby streets. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I wrote down exactly ten!
I quickly realized I needed to pray more, be more visible, more hospitable, and more available.
Look around you. Are you willing and available for God to help others through you? Perhaps He can use you best right where you are at this moment.
Pray for your nation.
Jeremiah also told the captive Israelites that God wanted them to “seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it” (29:7). These are not easy orders if you don’t like the leadership or policies.
Abraham Lincoln is alleged to have said, “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”
God has placed you in your neighborhood — and in your nation. Pray for your president or prime minister. Pray for your local politicians and people. Pray for policies to pass that will reflect the wisdom and will of God.
Can you make a difference in this world gone awry? Yes. It is quite possible that, like Esther, the Jewish queen of Persia’s King Ahasuerus, you may have “come to the kingdom for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).