‘Seek the peace of the city’
Around 2,600 years ago, the people of Israel were exiled to Babylon, a pagan and godless nation.
Away from the Promised Land and living amongst these people, they must have had concerns for the future. How on earth were they to live godly lives in an ungodly land?
I’m sure this is exactly the question most of us ask ourselves many times. How are we to live lives for God in a world hostile to the message of the gospel?
God did not leave his people alone, and we can indeed take comfort from this! God in his grace has not left us as ‘lone rangers’ in this world, and will not leave his people to fend for themselves!
Seek its peace
Through the prophet Jeremiah, God urged his people to ‘seek the peace of the city, where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will find peace’ (Jeremiah 29:7).
I can see two major aspects to this verse; two instructions given from God by which the Israelites were to live, in order to live godly lives in a godless nation.
Firstly, we are to ‘seek the peace of the city’. Of course many of us are not in the same position as the people of God were then.
We haven’t been exiled from our home and we haven’t been forced to move to a new and strange land. But what we do have in common with the Israelites is this: God has placed us somewhere.
In Jeremiah 29:7, we see that Babylon is referred to as the place where God has caused the people of Israel to be carried away captive. In the same way, God has placed us in a particular school, college, sixth form, university or workplace, and alongside certain people.
Where we are now is where God has ’caused’ us to be. Take time to think about this! Why is it that we’re still here on earth? Why is it that we aren’t called straight up to heaven the moment we are saved?
Jesus said, ‘I will make you fishers of men’ (Matthew 4:19); and we told to ‘preach the word!’ (2 Timothy 4:2). We are here to win souls for Christ and to make him known. This command from God to the people of Israel is such a reminder to us!
It’s so easy to become pre-occupied with the notion of ‘the world’ and ‘Christians’ — a very much ‘them and us’ mentality. Whilst this is true, it can be easy for us as Christians to seek to become so set apart that we disassociate with those who don’t yet know Christ.
I know from experience that I would look at certain groups of people almost with a ‘smugness’ that I didn’t do what they did, and wasn’t really like them — a sort of attitude that, on reflection, is uncomfortably close to the description of the Pharisee in Luke 18.
How then are we to view the world? How are we to act toward the unsaved people God has put us in contact with? First and foremost, we are to love them. The Israelites were commanded to ‘seek the peace of the city’ of Babylon.
Christ loved and associated with sinners, and so are we to. Here’s a challenge: how much time do we commit to befriending and getting to know those around us who don’t know Christ?
In contrast to this, how much time do we spend with our Christian friends or at CU meetings? Who do we choose to spend our free time with?
What use are we as Christians, as ambassadors of the gospel, if we’re spending all our spare and quality time with Christians? We are called to be in the world, not of the world, but in the world all the same. This is so important!
The second command given to God’s people was for them to ‘pray to the Lord for it’. This is such a reminder of the importance of prayer. We’re all told to pray at church and at our youth group, and told how central it is, but can we honestly say we understand this for ourselves?
We are told to ‘in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let our requests be made known to God’ (Philippians 4:6) and to ‘pray without ceasing’ (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
I once heard somebody say that evangelism starts on our knees. The Israelites were commissioned to pray for the city. Likewise, we need to pray for the world, our friends, and those who God has placed in our lives.
All too often, we wonder why people aren’t being saved and why our unsaved friends remain so. And yet we spend so little time bringing them before God in prayer. It’s so important not to underestimate its importance.
So many Bible passages remind us of this (1 John 5:14-15; James 5:16; and Luke 18:1-8, to name a few). And the hymn writer says, ‘what a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer’.
Prayer is indeed a privilege and a blessing. Jeremiah reminds us we are to continually pray for those around us, faithfully bringing them before God as we seek to love them with Christ’s love, proclaiming the good news of the gospel to them.
Remember, wherever we are, we’re there for a reason! We can draw comfort from this fact. If God did indeed put us where we are, he certainly won’t leave us alone.
Jesus Christ himself said, ‘I am with you always, even to the end of the age’, and this is a promise we can cling to.