When Life Feels Stuck [4/6]
This is the next instalment in a series of posts from Howard and Holly. Read the first parts here.
Israel | Settle Down | Jeremiah 29:1-7
The phrase ‘to settle down’ has become synonymous with the image of middle-class suburbia, getting the ‘right’ job, ‘right’ partner and reproducing. Sometimes our lives can feel a million miles from that. But what if settling down was more than that? What if it was one of the most radical things we could do? And what if we could do it even when nothing seemed ‘right’?
A big sweeping look at the history preceding Jeremiah shows a people in covenant with God and their struggle to have their own land – the promised land. The ‘right’ land that they had been waiting for and finally started to possess. It was time to settle down and dig deep into this new home and God’s purposes for it. Yet, when Jeremiah enters the stage and is called as a prophet by God, he is asked to predict destruction and ruin to these people by the Babylonians. Why? Because the Israelites didn’t settle down – they revolted against each other, dividing into two kingdoms, and went after other gods. Whilst still paying homage to the great I Am at the temple, outside of it they chased everything else going. Social injustice was rampant and some even took up the practice of child sacrifice. They certainly hadn’t sought the welfare of the promised land and had been adulterous to their loving Father God.
When this letter comes, in Jeremiah 29, the destruction appears to have happened. Jerusalem and the temple are destroyed and those who survived are mostly in exile in Babylon. To say this was a step backwards would be a huge understatement. They must have felt crushed. Surely their God would rally them to fight back? After all, hadn’t he given them victory against the earthly odds so many times before? Instead, the message is to settle down: “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters…” What? But surely this isn’t where they are meant to be? What about the temple? How do they live in a land ruled by ‘unbelievers’? Why leave us stuck here?
We think the key is in the phrase ‘But 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 find your welfare.” “But” – why not “and”? It’s a subtle challenge. God isn’t giving up on them and leaving them to dwell the rest of their days in shame, he’s giving them a second chance. They didn’t seek the welfare of the promised land, but now they can learn to seek the welfare of Babylon. They threw away their precious gift much like the rebellious son in the parable of the prodigal son. But God is trusting them that they can learn to be the people he called them to be, the city on the hill, the light in the darkness like we are called to be. Settle down. Seek the welfare of Babylon and let them see how wonderful my people are. How wonderful I Am.
There are two amazing promises in there that we could miss. Firstly, God is reminding them that they don’t need the temple or Jerusalem to be His people or for Him to be with them. They thought they could pay their respect in the temple and do what they liked outside of it, but He has shown them that He is everywhere; that He is the God of their whole lives and all the land. They can settle down and serve Him wherever they are. They may feel shame, but He is with them. Secondly, “in its welfare you will find your welfare” is more than the logic that is, “If I pay my taxes, my kids will attend a better funded state school”. When we serve God, living out the Spirit’s fruit of love and kindness to the city around us, it blesses us. It transforms us as we partner with God in bringing gospel transformation to our areas of influence.
These verses remind us of when we discipline our children. We do it because we love them, not because we like it, and we know, for their own good they need to learn and grow. While our four-year-old sits in a ‘Time Out,’ it can sound a bit like a war zone with tears and crying but afterwards there is a precious period of calm and clarity when she sees what she did and why it was wrong. We say to her ‘Come to me. I’m here. Let’s start again’.
What does this passage mean for you? It means that radical change in your life and heart doesn’t necessarily come from radical change in your circumstances. You don’t need a new house, job or church but a renewed devotion to your Father God. God’s priority wasn’t where His people lived, but who they were living for. Radical change can come from settling down and digging deep into where God has put you and the work or welfare you have to bring there. Settle down and get to work planting and building because that leads to eating and living.
Perhaps you need to hear God say this to you about mistakes you’ve made in relationships, marriage, work or finances. God is saying ‘Come to me. I’m here. Let’s start again’. Let’s settle down and seek the welfare of London together, as we learn to devote ourselves to God again, remembering the wonderful and certain hope of one day leaving exile behind us and settling down in paradise for eternity.