Pray for the Welfare of the City
by Pastor Greg Hoffmann
Based on Jeremiah 29:4-11.
When was the last time you stood on a mountain and watched the sunrise or a sunset? Or been away from city lights on a cloudless, moonless night and marveled at the stars? Or stood in a forest and marveled at the beauty of the trees and been enveloped in a sense of wonder at the centuries of life around you?
In such awe-inspiring moments we don’t usually analyze what is going on. We don’t ask, “How is it that my eyes are seeing this? How does my eye function? What is the relationship between the retina and the optic nerve, and how does this light get to my brain to form this image?” No, we take in the whole picture. When we are caught up in the beauty of a moment we don’t get bogged down in the analytical details. But of course, there is a time for analysis.
When it comes to praying for the needs of the world (beyond individual prayer concerns) we often get stuck at the general picture stage, paralyzed by the question, “Where do I begin?” But just as the ecosystem of a forest can be broken down and addressed individually; just as the wonder of sight and the mechanics of the human eye can be broken down into its various parts; just as the solar system can be seen in its smaller parts, so society can be examined in its various parts.
Some may ask, “Why should we be concerned to pray? What difference does it make?” And so, enter Jeremiah, a prophet to Judah in the 7th and 6th centuries B.C. For at least three decades, Jeremiah had warned the people of Judah about the coming exile in Babylon and declared the Word of God that it would last 70 years. In Jeremiah 29, the prophet is writing to the people taken into exile (writing after 586 B.C.), addressing their struggle. False prophets were telling the displaced exiles that this would not last long. But the Lord had a different word. We read in Jeremiah 29:4-6:
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.”
The Lord instructed them to build a strong community in Babylon, to settle in, for it would be 70 years—longer than the normal human lifespan of that day.
Verse 7 is a good prayer focus for our day: “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” The phrase, “peace and prosperity” is an attempt to translate the single Hebrew word Shalom. Shalom is well-being, wholeness in every aspect of life. It means completeness, soundness/safety, welfare, health, prosperity in working the land, quiet, tranquility, contentment and friendship, peace with God in a covenant relationship and peace from war – it is an all-encompassing word. Shalom describes “one who has, or has been provided, what is needed to be whole and complete.”
The exiles were in a hostile situation and yet God directed them to pray for their city’s welfare. So, today we are to pray for our city’s (nation’s) shalom. Especially in these chaotic times, may our eyes be open to see God moving in our day to bring deliverance – SHALOM.