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...seek peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you in exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper...for I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. -Jeremiah 29:4-5, 7, 11 (NIV)
I'm writing this morning's devotional with several friends in mind: people who are in places they don't want to be. They find themselves looking back to a better place and desperately longing to return. I'm guessing that there are many other people reading this who can relate. I certainly can.
In our suggested scripture readings for this morning, Jeremiah is writing to the Israelites that have been exiled to Babylon. They're unhappy in their new place. They're missing the way things used to be in Jerusalem. They want to go back.
Jeremiah tells the Israelites that he has a word from the Lord for them. I'm not sure that it's a word that the Israelites want to hear but it's a word they need to hear: Babylon is where you are. You need to find peace in your Babylon. You need to carry on with your life in Babylon. You need to learn to come to grips with your situation in Babylon because it's your new reality; it's not going to change anytime soon. Since you're going to be in Babylon for a while, you might as well just make the best of it. Build a home. Plant a garden. Seek peace in your Babylon. Don't pray for the place you want to be; pray for the place where you are. If it prospers, you prosper.
Then God assures the Israelites in Babylon that He has plans to prosper them and not to harm them, plans to give them a hope and a future. "You will seek me and you will find me. And one day, I will bring you out of this place where you don't want to be."
I'm guessing that someone reading this devotional is in a Babylon of your own. It's a place where you don't want to be. You're looking back and saying, "Where did I go wrong? What did I do wrong? I wish I could go back to that happier place."
Unfortunately, that's not always possible. Maybe God's word for you today is to find your peace in Babylon. Come to grips with where you are. Pray that the Lord will bless your Babylon, this place you don't want to be. And know that God wants you to thrive. God wants you to succeed. God wants you to prosper in a healthy way. One day, hopefully soon, there will be a way out of your Babylon. It may not be the way you'd choose or the way you'd want. But you can trust God to bring restoration...yes even to you...even in your Babylon.
May God grant you the grace to find peace in your Babylon and to know with certainty that God's desire is for you not to be harmed but to have a future of hope.
If you're interested in reading through the Bible in a year, tomorrow's suggested readings are Jeremiah 31-32 and 1 John 4.