As the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic recedes into our past, and as our cities reopen, how have we, as individuals and as a church, changed?
This week, we explore how God used the exile to force His people to reconsider their relationship with those they did not associate with His promises. God wanted His people to change in this respect. Might He be desiring for the same change now?
a. In both the Old and New Testaments, God told his people to pray for their captors and the foreign city in which they were living. What were they to pray for, and why?
b. The Hebrew word for peace, ‘shalom’ (Jeremiah 29:7) refers to an inward sense of completeness or wholeness that encourages you to give back. In other words, just because a nation is faithful to God does not mean that it will prosper materially in this lifetime.
With this understanding and in the light of the above scriptures, how should we pray for our city, especially those who we might feel are undeserving of God’s love? What steps can we take to ensure that we continue to keep them in prayer?
a. Read Daniel 2:17-23, 26-28, 46-49.
i. Pay attention to verse 18. Why did Daniel pray to God? To what extent was it out of love for the city?
ii. What was the result of Daniel’s service to the king?
iii. See Daniel 3:26-30 and Daniel 6:19-28. What pattern do you observe? How might it be applicable to us today?
b. Read Genesis 45:4-8 and Esther 4:12-14.
i. Aside from Daniel, Joseph and Esther were also figures placed by God in positions of influence. How did the three of them understand their role?
ii. How should we understand our role in our city?
WHAT WOULD YOU DO
The Israelites, held captive in Babylon, were instructed by God to seek the peace and prosperity of the city. Would you seek the peace and prosperity of others too?
Below is a helpful suggested list of items to pray for in this time, either as individuals or as LifeGroups:
Pray for those entrusted to our care, especially those who have yet to embrace the good news of their salvation. Pray for those who are in need of medical attention and emotional support, that in their pain, they will experience the mercy and kindness of God. Pray for the people groups who are vulnerable.
Pray for parents and teachers, that God will give them the strength, wisdom, and patience to carry out their responsibilities. Pray for students, that they will learn to commit their future and their identity into God’s hands.
Pray for people in positions of power, that they will be motivated by love for those placed under their charge, and that they will have wisdom to do what is right and necessary for the present situation. Pray for pastors and other members of church leadership especially, that they will be watchful and sensitive to God’s Word and the Holy Spirit, that they might discern with humility the things that are happening around them and in the world.
Pray for the merchants, that God might forgive those who served money and cause them to repent. Pray for businesses, that they might continue to provide for our basic needs of food, water, shelter, and clothing.
Pray for the unemployed, that God would mercifully display His presence to them, allowing them to live in thanksgiving. Pray that if and when they find employment, that they will be able to credit God and give Him the glory He deserves. Pray for Christians that might be undergoing such strain, that their faith might be strengthened. Pray for those with abundance, that they might be persuaded to give more to the strangers in their midst.
THINK ABOUT IT
“The earthly city, which does not live by faith, seeks an earthly peace, and the end it proposes, in the well-ordered concord of civic obedience and rule, is the combination of men’s wills to attain the things which are helpful to this life. The heavenly city, or rather the part of it which sojourns on earth and lives by faith, makes use of this peace only because it must, until this mortal condition which necessitates it shall pass away.” (City of God XIX.17)
In 380, Emperor Theodosius I made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. However, just 30 years later, the Visigoths under Alaric I sacked Rome, the first time in eight centuries that the city was defeated by its enemies. The shock of the time led people to criticise Christianity, blaming it for the downfall of the empire. In a similar manner to the exiles in Jeremiah’s time, they asked, “If being God’s people means that we are to be blessed by Him, why did He allow us to undergo a form of suffering worse than what we endured under pagan rule?” Augustine’s On the City of God against the Pagans, written over the course of 15 years, was a response to these critics.
Augustine argued that the earthly flourishing of human kingdoms did not depend on whether these kingdoms deserve it, but instead on God’s divine choice. That Christians are therefore unable to conclusively link their faithfulness to earthly rewards allows them to focus on goods that are eternal and thereby more important.
In other words, just because a nation is faithful to God does not mean that it will prosper materially in this lifetime.
Yet, for Augustine, this does not mean that Christians are not to care about the goals of the earthly city. For he believed that there were aims of the earthly city that Christians can support, particularly those that related to the provision of goods for survival. Christians should think of the city merely as an instrument by which their mortal needs are met, with their ultimate love being directed to God.
“And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” – Jeremiah 29:7