Pursue the well-being of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it thrives, you will thrive.
Jeremiah 29:7 CSB
One of the most misquoted verses in the Bible is Jeremiah 29:11. “ '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.’” These words sound incredibly comforting until you realize the context is assurance that as God sends the Israelites into seventy years of exile, he still has plans for their future.
God’s long-suffering grace and patience finally wore out with his chosen nation, and the Prophet Jeremiah was sent to inform them they would soon live under enemy rule.
With 400 years of slavery in their history, any captivity would have terrified the people they would soon suffer the same fate their ancestors experienced in Egypt. So, God gave the Israelites a timeline and picture of the next seven decades in his kindness. He also sent some specific instructions about how they should live under the dictatorship in Babylon. Finally, God told the Israelites to bloom where they were planted. These instructions from Jeremiah must have been very confusing to the Israelites, but having read the whole Bible, I find them completely consistent with God’s character.
When read accurately, this passage has become a cornerstone for how I pray for every community where God moves us.
Before we arrive at verse eleven, Jeremiah lays out detailed instructions for seven decades of life under Babylonian rule in 29:4-7:
- Build houses and settle down
- Plant gardens and eat what they produce
- Marry and have children
- Increase in numbers
- Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.
- Pray to the Lord for the city. If the town prospers, so will you.
- Don’t be deceived by false prophets
One of the things that naturally happens when coaching families move into a community is disrupting the lives of those God is calling us to serve. Whether our new team is open to pending changes or not, a new coach establishes a new rhythm.
A new philosophy, new workout plan, new game plan, new meeting structure, and likely many additional new people will disrupt a team in one day. Some people can’t handle change, so they quit. But even their choice to walk away creates a new rhythm in their life. It’s not always intentional, but coaching families disrupt the lives of those God is calling us to serve.
Because we have the opportunity to make a long and lasting impact, I find the list of instructions in Jeremiah 29:4-7 a helpful reminder that even when we are moving to a community, we may have reservations about God having a plan for our transition.
When the Israelites were sent into exile, the King encountered the Prophet, Daniel. Eventually, Nebuchadnezzar made Daniel the administrator over Babylon because of his ability to interpret his dreams. While it was short-lived, the King also humbled himself and acknowledged God’s power. This enabled God’s faithful to be salt and light every day for their Babylonian neighbors and the Babylonians to worship God if they chose.
Daniel 4:32 and 46-49 says,
Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.
Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. The King said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.”
Then the King placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men. Moreover, at Daniel’s request the King appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators over the province of Babylon, while Daniel himself remained at the royal court. (NIV)
Daniel was in exile because of the sins of his fellow Israelites, who stopped following God decades earlier. But, because he remained faithfully committed to God’s instructions to bloom where he was planted, including willingly praying for his neighbors and working to allow them to prosper, he earned the trust of Nebuchadnezzar. He was positioned to influence the entire kingdom.
By the way, Daniel’s life in exile wasn’t perfect. He was thrown into a den of lions. (Daniel 6) He was powerless to stop his three closest friends from being thrown into a furnace of fire (Daniel 3), and he lived knowing at any time a king could end his life. It takes incredible faith to live under that type of stress.
How did Daniel keep his faith strong and his stress in check? You’d have to ask him to be certain. However, I believe his choice to pursue the well-being of Babylon and pray for the city and the people to thrive had a lot to do with it. It’s difficult to hate your neighbor when you pray for them.
Try praying for your city to prosper for thirty days and see what happens. Look for ways to help others thrive and have faith that God will ensure you flourish as you lift others up.