I have to admit it’s often easier to be pessimistic, critical and negative than an optimistic contributor when it comes to how I feel about living in the Chicago suburbs sometimes. After all, there is plenty to choose to complain about: high taxes, corrupt government, and bitterly cold winters. I frequently desire to move south where the summers are twice as a long, property values are more affordable, and the people are friendlier (or so they tell me). At the heart, my complaint is a dissatisfaction for where I am today. I want to be anywhere else but here. I want the better life. I want what’s easier.
The prophet Jeremiah once delivered an important letter to the Israelites who had been exiled from their homeland and into captivity to Babylon after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. The Israelites had been conquered and forced from their land of milk and honey to a pagan culture where they were forced into slave labor and socially marginalized. Life was tough and there was much to complain about. Jeremiah’s letter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, was radical in its approach and not well received. He wrote this:
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: “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And 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)
Do what?! Build homes? Plan to stay? Establish our families here? Yes. Work for this forsaken land? Seek peace and their prosperity? Yes. Pray for them? Yes.
These words must have come across like daggers to the heart signaling ultimate defeat. “If you can’t beat them, join them,” was not an option for the children of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. This was the same God who delivered Israel out of the abusive and wicked hands of Egypt in spectacular fashion. How could God now be suggesting to work for the “prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile”? The answer: because our God is a God of restoration.
God’s plan is to restore the brokenness of humanity and creation to a state of purity and righteousness. He actively works to overthrow evil with good. He shakes the foundations of our institutions and ideologies so that we may be reconciled with the fragility of our shared humanity. It’s here, in our place of weakness and defeat, that we finally turn-over our pride and self-sufficiency for something greater.
Because of the cross of Jesus Christ, we recognize that our true home is not in Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles or the United States for that matter. Our promised home is the fully redeemed heavenly city of David. Because of the cross, we are free to contribute to and pray for the welfare of whatever city, state or nation we reside. As a matter of fact, when we love our city with the love that Christ loved us, not only do we contribute to the welfare of the city, but it also determines ours. Our finite investments into humanity reap eternal rewards.
For Christ-following cross-bearers our call is clear: where God has placed you, invest and contribute. Seek the welfare of the city, state and nation, and work for its peace and prosperity. Step outside of your comfort zone, listen to others, meet their needs, and work in faith. If the Lord should choose to move you to a new city, invest and contribute there. Every earthly victory is a beautiful beacon of hope to the restorative power and grace found only in the gospel.