Yesterday I had a passage of scripture completely rock my world. It’s often when I least expect it that God unveils a major truth in His Word.
I was at a worship experience called refresh at Uni Church on campus. I’ve been leading worship for them over the past few weeks and it’s been a great experience to share in the ministry God is doing in their gathering together. Pastor Kris shared a passage from the book of Jeremiah that I hadn’t really noticed until yesterday.
Jeremiah wrote a letter from Jerusalem to the elders, priests, prophets, and all the people who had been exiled to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar. 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 29:1, 4-7 (NLT)
I’m not able to share her full message here so I’ll try to compile it as best I can. The people of Israel are exiled to Babylon and they are living in a foreign land. Imagine being suddenly taken from your home, dragged to a foreign land, and forced to live in a culture that is very different from the one that has been all you’ve known.
This message from God, to His people in captivity, would not be an easy one to hear. I’ll take some creative liberty and paraphrase it as, “Don’t sit around and feel sorry for yourselves. Instead, live life to the full while you are in captivity. Do everything you would do if you still lived in your homeland. While you’re at it, pray for the prosperity of those who captured you. If they flourish, you will also.”
What?!? I just want to go home. I don’t want to be here! The last thing I want to do is to settle down. I want to go back to the way it was…
Kris started her message by asking, “What are some places of exile in our culture?” Perhaps it’s moving off to school and you’re crazy homesick. You hate your classes and you just want a home cooked meal. It might be the fact that your health is failing and you are unable to do the things used to come so effortlessly. Maybe you’re fresh on the other side of a divorce and every relationship in your life is different. It’s a new home. Or, an old neighborhood that doesn’t look the same. It’s a new job that is similar to your old job but the internal structure is vastly different. You’ve lost a loved one and nothing in the new landscape feels right.
I’m not comparing those exiles to what the people of Israel were facing in the context of this passage. Yet, those exiles, while not as traumatic in comparison, are often times just as emotionally raw. So what do we do when we feel as if we are in exile; in the land between what we had and what we don’t have yet.
I know what I tend to do, or rather, what I’ve done in my seasons of exile. I proverbially kick my feet and tell God how awful this is. I question why He hasn’t done anything to bring me out of the land of pain and unknowing. But, that isn’t what He tells the people of Israel to do. I also believe He tells those of us in exile in the present day to do precisely what He said 2,500 years ago.
Face into the new land and prosper. God is asking us to move forward, even in the midst of what is debilitating doubt and pain. Maybe you’re in exile through no fault of your own. That doesn’t change the circumstances. You’re there, like it or not, and the two options are to determine to stay stuck or to forge forward.
I share all of this because I know first-hand how hard exile is. In this passage from Jeremiah though I found a powerful reality. Hope. Even in exile, God is still with us. Even in the midst of the pervading sense of the unknown God hasn’t forgotten us. Our hope is found in the goodness of God. The goodness of God that reaches out to us and says, “I am with you and I desire to prosper you, even in this place of uncertainty and despair.”
If we will face into the exile God will meet us. He’ll give us what we need. Perhaps not what we want, but what He determines we require to flourish in the season He has allowed.
Finally, have hope. You may discover that the land of exile is precisely the place that God will work His greatest miracle.
Til next time,