"Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But 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 find your welfare. ... For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear 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, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile."
-Jeremiah 29:4-7, 10-14 (ESV)
In my family we say that "readers are leaders" - So I encourage you to go back and reread the full book of Jeremiah with fresh eyes. But so for now...
Jeremiah was so God-inspired that in this letter to the tribe of Judah during their time in Babylonia, he detailed at least 4 keys to having a healthy community and legacy of faith.
1) LIVE LIKE THERE IS A TOMORROW.
It may be old now, but for a while it was a popular saying and life-mantra among young people to just spout off "YOLO", which is you only live once. As a grown-up with a degree in writing, this makes me utterly cringe every time I heard it anyway - but then to consider it as a motto for someone's life. It broke my heart.
If we live like there is NO tomorrow, we aren't planting any seed. If we aren't planting any seed, we will be so frustrated and discouraged when no harvest comes. I don't just mean the classic seed-planting analogy for evangelism either, I mean generally investing in our futures by the everyday choices we make. What did you eat for breakfast this morning? That's an investment for your future. What education choices are we making? How are we interacting with and coaching up our volunteers? These are all investments into our future.
We can't ignore the unbeliever in the marketplace but then be frustrated when they don't go deeper in their faith. We didn't plant anything there, so we don't have a right to expect that harvest.
2. BE COMMUNITY MINDED.
Jeremiah employs them to pray for their cities and government and any leaders they have. Verse 7 says, "Seek the welfare of the city where I have deported you. Pray to the Lord on its behalf for when it has prosperity, you will prosper".
God promises to bless the community where we work, which includes US inside that blessing. In our church we've begun a new campaign this year to be FOR our city. We even use the hashtag, #ForAugusta. I wish I could list for you the many many salvation stories we have seen from just changing our focus from our church, to the city where we work. Lives are truly being changed and people are moving closer to God. He keeps his promises even though it rarely looks like what we expected.
3. WE HAVE TO MODEL KNOWING GOD'S VOICE.
This is the first generation on our planet that does not require teachers or leaders for information. We have the news, internets, radios, telephones, cable tv, and so on. We don't need each other for information necessarily - We need each other to be examples of God's love and big grace!
We need to live out our lives as examples for one another in the various seasons of life. If no one ever sees a believer publicly walk through depression, how will they know that they have permission to do that in a godly way? If no one ever sees a believer publicly walk through the loss of a child or a divorce or failing out of college or declaring bankruptcy or the loss of a job, how will the new believers that are watching realize that it's human to experience the feeling associated with these things? We need each other simply to learn experiences from each other - not information.
4. THE LIFETIME OF YOUR HARVEST MAY BE LONGER THAN YOUR LIFE.
God keeps his promises. He set the laws of planting and harvesting in motion. If you have planted, there will be a harvest. The promise is coming but it may not happen in your lifetime. The sign of a selfish believer, and certainly a selfish leader, is the practice of planting seeds and wanting to be the one to harvest every single seed that you planted.
At my parents' house here in Georgia, we have apple trees that my father planted. It takes fifteen years before an apple seed will grow to produce a tree and then start budding apples. It is very difficult for me to imagine that type of patience but I thank God for a father more patient than I am. He has the forethought to plant trees that my sister and I will inherit and, by then, should be bearing fruit steadily - but he may never taste an apple from those trees.
Think of the Israelites enslaved in Egypt or the years between that and reaching the Promised Land. Each one of those brave leaders that set out with them in the beginning had passed away before the promise was fulfilled. Think of those same Israelites and the promise of the Messiah and the many many generations that passed before Jesus arrived to rescue them!
I believe that Jeremiah, in Chapter 29 was encouraging the people to create an environment for each other that was safe to grow in, safe to make mistakes, and safe to try new things. What Jeremiah knew and wanted to teach was just how important it is to know, understand, and TRUST the timing of God.
Our Executive Pastor, Kevin, tells each of us often, "There's nothing you are going to do that will sink the whole ship". It's so freeing and reassuring. He's saying, "I trust you to do your job and if you mess up, we'll survive and fix it. No worries!" For a new hire, that's liberating. For a person who has been here for a while, it's refreshing over and over again.
How are you fostering trust and being community minded? In what areas can you afford to live like there IS a tomorrow and model knowing God's voice?
-Meagan Balram, Worship Leader at Stevens Creek Church