Sometimes when I am troubled, I pray for God to speak to me and then I just open the Bible randomly to see what He has for me. When I did this a few days ago, I found myself looking at Jeremiah 29.
You may know this chapter where Jeremiah is prompted by God to write a letter to the Jewish people exiled in Babylon. They were at the mercy of the evil King Nebuchadnezzar and feared for their lives and their way of life.
I found at least four lessons we can take from this letter that we can apply today. Our entire country is in a situation we did not foresee, where our way of life has been disrupted and we wonder when and if our lives will return to normal. How can we live the abundant life God promises us when so much of our life is not as it was a few weeks ago?
Starting in verse 5 the LORD Almighty tells His people to build houses, settle down, plant gardens, marry, have children and increase in number. I believe God says to make the best of their situation. As much as possible do what is most important to build their family and relationships. God wanted them to look forward, not backward, in the knowledge that their lives had changed but they could still prosper and build good lives.
We can’t make progress if we remain focused on the past and complain about our current state. Look backward only as long as necessary to learn whatever lessons we need to make the most of our situation and build a better life for tomorrow. That may mean to refocus our attention and interest on those closest to us so that we can strengthen and build our families, now that we have more time to do that. Or, we can adopt new methods that will help us advance our careers.
In verse 7 the LORD says to seek the prosperity of the city, pray for it because if it prospers, they too, will prosper. So, we can pray for our community. Those prayers may lead us to serve someone in need with food or supplies or to call or write someone who is ill, lonely, fearful or needs encouragement. Reach out to others through whatever means available to maintain and even build relationships that strengthen our city.
In verse 8 we hear something that may be of help now in sorting through the rumors and misleading information we are bombarded with. God says “do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies…” We encourage false prophets and misleading sources of information by listening to them and repeating what they say. Seek trusted sources of information and tune out the rest. Turn to God’s word for reminders that He is in control, that we need not live in fear and that He is with us in our toughest battles.
Verses 10-13 begins a section many of us are familiar with. After seventy years God says His gracious promise to bring them back to their home will be fulfilled.
“For I know the plans I have for you, … plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD…”
God has not abandoned us. Today and the days to come are times for us to turn to God and seek Him with all our hearts. God’s promise to redeem us from sin through the blood of Jesus, and to give us an abundant spiritual life by filling us with the Holy Spirit has not changed.
The seventy years in Babylon were to chasten the Jewish nation so that they could regain their focus on God to trust Him with their lives. I’m no prophet, but this is a time we can certainly use to re-center our lives by seeking God and His will for our lives.
Difficult times have served as the opportunity for many of us to turn to God to find that He is faithful and will provide for us in ways we could not foresee (Ephesians 3:20). He wants us to learn from, but not live from these circumstances, just as He wanted Israel to live in the hope of the future promise of freedom and prosperity and allow that to shape their daily lives.
Tough times can serve as a call for spiritual renewal for believers, but it can also be a time of awakening for those who don’t already know the one, true God. Just as Christ-followers in Rome in the first and second centuries distinguished themselves by risking their lives to serve the sick, health care workers and first responders are tending to those infected with the virus that could cause death. Christians today can tend to those impacted by the coronavirus, as well as the virus of sin that always leads to death to awaken those who don’t already know the LORD so that they, too, can have hope.
God has placed His Spirit in us to shine a light into a dark world, and our world now has many dark places. Some of us may need to seek God to rekindle that light within us, as the Jewish people needed. For all of us God calls us to shine His light, and that light shines brightest when our trust is in Him and we seek to do His will to brighten the lives of those around us who are struggling.
March 30, 2020