From Exile to Promise (and everything in between)
The Lord recently reminded me of one of the promises that He gave us when we first moved up to Port Macquarie. It's in Jeremiah 29 4-7. But as I started to dig a bit deeper into this Scripture, He showed me more and I believe it's for us for now.
Jeremiah 29: 1-14
"This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2 (This was after King Jehoiachin and the queen mother, the court officials and the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the skilled workers and the artisans had gone into exile from Jerusalem.) 3 He entrusted the letter to Elasah son of Shaphan and to Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. It said:
4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” 8 Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.
10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”
God allowed the Israelites to be taken into captivity – His heart was for them to draw close to Him, to get serious about an intimate and amazing relationship with Him. His message hasn’t changed. And He will do WHATEVER IT TAKES to get our attention.
There are a few things that I really feel God is saying to us.....
Exile can be tough: Some of us at one point or another in our lives might feel we’ve experienced an “exile”. The Israelites were picked up and moved out … out of their homes, their lives, their jobs, all they had known. And then they got dropped into a place that they didn't know and was dominated by a tyrant. They were displaced.
Maybe there’s a type of exile you’re experiencing at the moment? A displacement? A situation that you are not finding comfortable, or is it that maybe you’re not exactly where you expected you would be? I am sure that many of the Israelites felt that way. I imagine they may have been thinking or saying things like: "Why the heck did this happen to me? I don’t want to be here… this is not what I signed up for." However, God’s plan is never for us to STAY in that place of exile where we can feel like a victim…
So, exile or no exile – Father God always has a bigger thing going on than what we see. And He asks us to draw close to Him.
Flourish Baby Flourish: In this place of exile and displacement, God instructs the Israelites to flourish, to choose to commit and to be ALL IN. He tells them to settle – put down roots – get planting (build houses, plant gardens, marry, have sons, grandchildren etc) That in itself was a biggie. Often if we're feeling displaced, or not where we want to be, having someone tell us to essentially "get on with it and flourish" ... well, I don't think it would go down so well.
But God doesn't stop there... He asks them to go another step and pray for the welfare of the place that they were living. Wow! That's like a whole other level right there! But our God is a God of promise. Listen to what he says to them in verse 7 "Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
Prosperity is a word we sometimes don’t like to use in the church context … it can have some negative connotations due to a certain line of teaching… but it is a good word that translates like this: “Prosperity: a successful, flourishing, or thriving condition, especially in financial respects; good fortune.”
Do you notice how God gives them clear instructions on how to live life well in the land that He's allowed them to be taken captive in …. And then comes His promise. It’s not that God holds out, but He has an order in how things flow … He's all about forming our character, teaching us to be more like Jesus, and building an intimate love relationship with Him.
So what does it mean to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city” - To see the town flourish and be successful, to see it thrive? What does it mean in Port Macquarie? What does it mean in your life and in mine? I was thinking about some practical examples on how to seek the peace and prosperity of the town we're in and in the process realised that it could sound like "works" ... but it's not. It's about seeing and hearing God's heart for the city or town you're positioned in.
Pray for the town. Let’s pray for the leadership / the local government that are responsible for the town. Let’s pray for the local churches to thrive and to hear the voice of God for what He has called them to do. Let’s pray for the leadership of those churches, that God’s spirit leads and guides them. Let’s pray for local businesses – that they will thrive and flourish.
Love the town and get involved: Get involved in things that are important to you (might be a social justice deal, or something that will make a difference to the town). Or get involved with people and have fun (joining choir or playgroup, cycling club or even a local pub band). Ask God the question: how can I help this town flourish? How can I pray for it?
As we have been learning over these last months, God has great answers. Let's be willing to ask the questions.
Turn our lens and focus on Him. Let's stay focused on what God is saying to us. Jeremiah told the people in his prophetic letter that there were others who were saying that they had prophetic messages from God (and they weren't) – he reminded them to stay focused on what God was saying to them. Father God will confirm His Word. Always. There are so many other voices around us. Voices that sound “OK”, but they are not God and they perhaps don’t have His heart. Focus on the One who speaks LIFE and TRUTH. When we know Him, His voice stands out from all the other voices.
God’s plans are so GOOOOOOOOOOD because He is. God’s plans are full of hope, promise, life, the best for our future. In this passage God promises to give us a hope and a future – and of course, His best plan ever – that Jesus would come and give us LIFE TO THE FULL. Our amazing God has the ability AND the power to do what He says He will. Let’s not ever forget that.
Even in this part of the story where the Israelites are in captivity, He is teaching them about things like getting rid of idols, learning to worship Him without all their rituals, to seek Him above all, and that His plans are always FOR them (even if it may not feel like it). Father God is always FOR us - even when we feel we can't change anything. 2 Corinthians 12:9 says this: “But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”.
1. If there seems to be a season of exile in your life, ask God to show you and tell you what He’s doing, and then choose to let Him help you find the place to “settle” there until He moves you through it.
2. Let’s be people who seek the peace and prosperity /welfare of our town … our suburb… our neighbourhood… our street… In whatever way that He asks us. Let's ask God how He wants us to be involved and let's be ALL IN with Love as our main deal.
3. Let’s focus on what our amazing God is saying to us – listen for His voice - the voice that speaks LOVE, LIFE, TRUTH.
4. Let’s be people who KNOW that our Father God’s plans are the best. He has the power to bring about what He intends to – and He has made a way for that power to be ours.
Through Jesus, we have access to the Father and all of Heaven's resources....let's tap into all that and seek the welfare and the prosperity of the people in our streets, our towns, our cities, our nations and pray for them to encounter the living God.