Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare. (Jeremiah 29:7 NASB)
God sent most of the Israelites into exile for awhile, essentially because they were getting ornery and needed some discipline. They didn’t want to be in Babylon, but God sent a message to them through Jeremiah to encourage them to make the most of their time there, as opposed to just moping around or waiting for a rescue. Yes, he was going to rescue them and bring them back, but for now they needed to “build houses,” “plant gardens,” and “take wives” (Jeremiah 29:5-6). Then in seventy years (v. 10) the time would be completed and he would bring them back (leading into v. 11, the most popular all-time verse of evangelical Christianity).
But God didn’t just tell them to hunker down in their houses and gardens to raise families. He told them to “seek the welfare of the city” they were in, and to “pray to the Lord on its behalf,” for in the city’s welfare, they would have welfare. Now if your political persuasion gives the word “welfare” an uncomfortable, lazy taste in the mouth, switch over to NIV: “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.” Notice that it’s not even really for selfless reasons here, but simply along the lines of, hey, if you pray for your community and contribute to it, it’ll be in good shape and so will you!
I want to encourage you to pray for the city you’re in. No matter why you’re there right now or how long you’re going to be there, God has you there right now, and you should pray to the Lord on its behalf – pray for peace in families, for impartiality in government, for honesty among businesses, for opportunities for the poor or changed hearts of criminals or whatever it is that your community needs most. Pray that God will show you the needs of your community so that you can pray for them, and maybe he’ll even place in your heart the desire and means to meet those needs yourself as a witness of his love. Don’t just hide out and count down the days til you leave.
In fact, this can be applied to our life on earth in general. We know this world is not our home, and we’re essentially in exile here on planet Earth (wonderfully depicted in a great song by Thrice). And it doesn’t even matter what your eschatology is about if or when or how we trade this place for heaven; like the Israelites in Babylon, we get about 70 years to build houses, plant gardens, take wives, and see our children get married. It’s easy to despair about the brokenness of the world and to want to just focus on tidying up our own little lives, but that’s not want God wanted the Israelites to do, and I don’t have to start quoting the New Testament to convince you that it’s not what God wants you to do either. And like so many other things in life, if you sacrifice the pursuit of your own welfare for a higher truth, you’ll end up getting your own welfare anyway. If hundreds of Christians pray for their community, it will end up being a happier, safer, and healthier place to build houses and grow gardens!
So let us seek the welfare of the cities where God has sent us into exile, and pray to the Lord on their behalf, for in their welfare, we will have welfare too.