October 2, 2016 • Life for Leaders
“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 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. 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.” 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. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.
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. 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 yesterday’s devotion we continued to explore the 7-11 Principle from Jeremiah 29. We saw that God’s promise of blessing to the exiles in Babylon is connected to their commitment to seek the shalom of Babylon itself. For us, this means Yahweh is assuming we are committed to bless whatever “Babylon” he has placed us in (that could be in the suburbs, downtown city-centers, or rural countryside). We must understand that our prosperity is directly linked to our commitment to seeing the prosperity of our city as a Christ-follower.
The 7-11 Principle highlights the challenge for Western Christians who have been placated by the myriad of churches that have sincerely worked hard to meet “spiritual” needs and keep people interested only in “spiritual” things. We can believe that our churches will grow if we meet the felt needs of our members, often ignoring the needs of the cities to which we have been sent. As I think about how to help people (including myself) engage with the 7-11 Principle on a daily basis, I believe we must confront the reality that many of us Christians are better at “plundering” our cities (to borrow a Tim Keller term) as consumers rather than prospering them as kingdom-minded Christians. “Plundering” is a tough word, but Keller’s use of this word highlights the reality we can’t easily ignore.
How can we help our cities to prosper rather than plundering them? Jeremiah 29:5-6 says: “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.”
Too many Christians read verses 5 and 6 and stop there. Jeremiah is describing the good life: building homes, starting families, eating good food, and having parties. Isn’t this why we choose to live in certain places over others? If we have the choice, we live in the particular city we do in order to get all we can from it. You might have chosen your city because of its weather, proximity to work, closeness to friends and family, or the overall lifestyle. We choose the places we live for the good life. But Jeremiah forces us to ask: How many of us are here to make our city a better place, to live for others so that people will experience God’s goodness? We too quickly stop reading at verses 5 and 6, which talk about our own prosperity, when verse 7 tells us that the way to our prosperity is seeking the prosperity of others. Did you notice that the Bible commands us to “Seek the prosperity of the city” instead of seeking the prosperity of ourselves, our families, or our pocketbooks? God is a sharer not a plunderer. To paraphrase John Piper: “God’s love is a conduit, not a cul-de-sac. Perfect love always shares. Perfect love always overflows.”
So I want to leave us with a challenge today. Let’s commit to being sharers instead of plunderers. That we would keep the call before us to seek the shalom of the city over and above seeking shalom for myself. Yahweh reminds us, “For if the city prospers then you will prosper.” The 7-11 Principle reminds us to keep the first things first.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Why did you choose to live in the city in which you do? Was it for a job? To be closer to family and friends? Did you come for school or vocational opportunities? Do you like the weather or culture there? What are the benefits from living in this particular city?
Do you love your city like God calls you to or is your natural inclination to plunder it (Tim Keller’s term)? Do you find this idea of being a plunderer offensive? How in some ways is Keller right in asserting that we are inclined to plunder cities instead of blessing cities?
What do you think God means when he promises that if you’ll seek the prosperity of the city, you’ll prosper as well? What kind of prosperity can Christians expect from their generous God?
Have you experienced partaking in some efforts to bring shalom to your city? What successes did you see? What challenges? Did you experience some kind of shalom personally by partaking in these efforts?
Lord, forgive me for my inclination to be a plunderer! I know it’s not wrong to enjoy life but too often I forget that you have placed me here to be a blessing. And I know you call me to not just bless myself, my family and my circle of friends. Show me where I can actively help others whether in my job, my social circles or neighborhood. May your perfect love become so evident in my life that that natural result is for your love to overflow from me to others. Help me to see where you want me to grow and where you want me to go. I commit myself into your hands to be an instrument of peace. Amen.
Tim, once again your challenge has really hit home. I find it very convicting and also exciting. At the end of the week, I’ll be moving from Kampala (Uganda’s capital) to Gulu, a town in heart of the rural north which was so savagely impacted by civil war for 20 years. From my perspective, what takes me there is the project I direct (Hope Alive!). However, I’ll be going now with eyes, ears, and heart open to see how will lead in non-project ways, as well.
Thank you for your love for cities and for your desire to help others understand how God desires that we live in them.