“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).
It’s such an interesting thing for Jeremiah to say. Remember, these Babylonians, they brought all of their military might and power against Jerusalem. They sacked the city. They killed many of the city’s inhabitants. They destroyed the temple. And here Jeremiah, led by God, is telling the Jewish exiles to seek the welfare of Babylon. The word “welfare” used here is actually the Hebrew word shalom. It’s the word for “peace.” It means to seek wholeness and healing, to seek its flourishing. The Jewish people are to even pray for the Lord to make this happen in this city. God was calling the Jewish people to be peacemakers, agents of peace, even in a city with values vastly different from theirs.
Tim Keller, in one of his most recent books King’s Cross, said this about Jeremiah’s word to the Jewish exiles:
I want you to seek the prosperity of Babylon. I want you to make it a great city to live in. I want you to serve your neighbor—even though their language is different and they don’t believe what you believe. And I don’t want you to do this merely out of a sense of duty. “Pray for it” is another way of saying “love it.” Love that city, pray for it, seek to make it a prosperous, peaceful city, the greatest place t live. If Babylon prospers through your service to it, you prosper, too.
God called the Jewish exiles and God still calls us as followers of Jesus to love where we live and seek the welfare of the cities we live in. So how do we love where we live? Here are four things we do when we love where we live.
1. Invest in relationships. When we love where we live, we’re ultimately talking about people. And when we love people, we invest in relationships with people. We listen to their stories. We listen to their hurts and hopes. We simply love them. That’s what our Summer Block Party has been all about. Simply loving the people in your neighborhood. Inviting them over to share a meal and to share some life so that you can get to know the people you live next door to.
2. Pray for people. I love what Keller said in his explanation about Jeremiah 29:7—“Pray for it is another way of saying love it.” When we love people, we pray for them. We pray that God would meet them where they are. We pray for them to come to know Jesus. We pray that God would provide for peoples’ real needs. We pray for our leaders. We pray for our teachers. We pray for law enforcement, firefighters, and other public servants. When we are seeking the peace and welfare of our cities and love where we live, we pray for people.
3. Serve our cities. When we love where we live, we look for tangible ways to serve our cities for their good…ways to serve that bring flourishing be it economic flourishing, social flourishing, and spiritual flourishing. From providing food and clothes to low income families in our school districts to starting schools in some of the poorest countries of the world, as followers of Jesus, people who love where we live, we are called to serve our cities. We have an amazing opportunity to serve our cities this Saturday with Community SERVE Day. This is our fourth year to serve our local school districts to help teachers get ready for the start of school at the beginning of September. This is such a great way for us to serve our cities.
4. Point people to Jesus. Good works create good will so that we earn the right to share the good news. Ultimately, we seek the welfare and peace of cities by pointing people in word and deed to the Prince of Peace… to the only One who can bring ultimate shalom, ultimate healing and wholeness, ultimate flourishing and ultimate delight. We point people to Jesus. This is why we are here. This is our mission. This is what it’s all about. As we invest in relationships, as we pray for people, as we serve our cities, we do it in the name and the power of Jesus. And our ultimate pray and hope is that as we invest, pray, and serve in the name of Jesus, the people of our world will see our love and mercy, and then we can point them to the One who provides us with His love and mercy.
We are called and invited to love where we live… to seek the welfare, peace, and flourishing of the people in our cities and in our world. My hope for you, your family, your small group, and for all of our ministries in our church is that we’d be all about loving where we live. That we’d be all about investing in relationships. That we’d be all about praying for people. That we’d be all about serving our cities. That we’d be all about pointing people to Jesus, the only One who ultimate provides the peace and welfare we so desperately need.