Sheryl and I were reading a devotional this morning that mentioned Jeremiah 29:11:
Jeremiah 29:11 New International Version (NIV)
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. and I was struck, as I often am, by how the theme of hope in the midst of exile, of aliens and strangers in a strange land, is so pervasive and prominent in the Bible.
- Adam and Eve are exiled from the garden.
- Abram is called by God from his own country into strange and unfamiliar territory in pursuit of a promise,
- Joseph is exiled in Egypt. Later, his whole family arrives, fleeing famine. Jacob’s descendants remain in exile for 400 years.
- David spends most of his young adulthood as a refugee, being chased all over the backside of Palestine by a madman who wants him dead.
- The Jews are exiled in Babylon for 70 years, the occasion of Jeremiah’s declaration above (more about that in a minute).
- Joseph and Mary flee Palestine for Egypt to avoid another madman who wants to destroy the Messiah.
- Peter writes to Turkish Christians who have fled the pressures of persecution and hostility around Jerusalem.
- John sees the risen Christ and records an extended message to the Church (interestingly, primarily to churches in 7 cities in the same Roman provinces of modern-day Turkey that Peter writes to) while in exile and imprisonment on the island of Patmos.
The context of Jeremiah’s message to the exiles in Babylon is fascinating:
Jeremiah 29:4-11New International Version (NIV)
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.
In other words, bloom where you’re planted. Don’t seek pie-in-the sky instant deliverance from your circumstances, but serve, love, live, invest in and bless the culture you’re in and trust Me for your ultimate deliverance in due season.
That’s what Joseph (the OT patriarch) did. I’ve written elsewhere about how I believe that God spoke to this young man on that long, forlorn trek down to Egypt, maybe staring at the north end of a southbound camel, and said something like the following:
“Joseph, your dreams of greatness and leadership are from Me. But there’s something we need to get straight: I don’t build leaders the way the world does. The world looks to charisma, political shrewdness, power, intelligence and raw ambition. That’s not how I do it. I build leaders out of servants. If you will invest your life in the blessing, service, flourishing and prosperity of others, I’ll build your dreams. I’ll expand your influence.”
And that’s what Joseph did. Whether in Potiphar’s house, prison or Pharoah’s court, rolling up his sleeves and spitting on his hands, as it were, and saying, “alright,what needs to be done around here? How can I make myself useful?”
Servant-leaders in exile. That’s who WE are if we follow Jesus. We’re not home yet, but we have a job to do where we are. Peter put this eloquently in his letter to the Turkish Christians:
1 Peter 2:9-12New International Version (NIV)
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Living Godly Lives in a Pagan Society
11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
Aliens and strangers. Servant leaders in exile.
Are you less than happy with where God’s planted you? maybe your career didn’t go the way you envisioned, or your marital or economic status. Maybe you desperately wanted children that never came, or a promotion or a spouse. Or better health. Or to live in a different place with a different climate.
Listen, we’re not home yet. Life here under the sun on a fallen planet isn’t paradise. But there’s way more to the story! God has good, good plans for us- a hope and a future. And maybe the key to accessing that hope and walking into that future is to let go of complaining, whining, if-only-ing, and to roll up our sleeves. To love, serve, use our gifts, invest in the blessing, flourishing and prosperity of our community: our family, friends, neighbors and coworkers.
If we’re not sure where to start, maybe we should try our knees.
Luke 22:24-27 New International Version (NIV)
24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.