We are experiencing a time of exile. If you are like me, as a church staff member, I’ve been trying to get my head around where the church & our community is right now. What is the biblical term to explain the sense of loss, and unsettledness which is causing a lack of peace, and division?
What is causing us to normalize the lack of grace for one another and separate ourselves, not only physically but emotionally from the people we love?
As I fasted and prayed over this issue the last several months, God led me repeatedly to read the ancient prophet Jeremiah. God then called me to learn more about his ways. A friend suggested the book Run with the Horses by Eugene Peterson.
Peterson defined the concept of an “exile” as,
“We are where we don’t want to be….We are forced to be away from that which is most congenial to us. It is an experience of dislocation–everything is out of joint; nothing fits together.”
Doesn’t this definition accurately describe where our culture is right now?
We are, in essence, exiled from our normal lives, and from what we know.
Our work, school activities, church, and family dynamics are not as they were. We didn’t make that change by choice. It was forced upon us.
Israel was exiled from Jerusalem; they were forced to leave. When they left Jerusalem, they left everything they’d ever known.
Does this sound familiar? I’ve always known the freedom to eat out wherever and whenever I wanted. I’ve never been restricted the way I am now. We have never had to make the educational and work decisions that we are being faced with recently. The “new normal” is anything but normal. It feels like a foreign place with new cultural norms.
Back to our Israelites: They didn’t listen to Jeremiah when he told them to repent and turn away from their evil ways. Consequently, God allowed them to be conquered and exiled.
Have you faced the “hug vs. no hug” conflict yet? You see an old friend at church or out in public and you aren’t sure if they are still a hugger? In the past you wouldn’t have thought twice about that physical contact, but now we have so many more potential places of conflict and uncertainty. That example is a simple and less controversial one than many other issues being tirelessly debated in person and on social media now.
What do we do with our exiled community? How do we lead them?
Let’s go back to Scripture.
What did Jeremiah tell the Israelites to do in Jeremiah 29?
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.” Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord. This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to 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 will bring you back from captivity” (Jeremiah 29:7-14).
I believe we can learn the following applications from this timeless piece of advice:
- Seek peace and blessings for the place you are
- Do not be deceived
- God will fulfill his good promise
- God knows the plans he has for you–plans to give you hope and a future
- Pray to God and he will listen to you.
- God will be found by you & bring you back from captivity
What words of hope! I needed to hear that, and the people that God has put in our lives need to hear that too.
We need to be reminded that God is still present and working in our lives and in our communities.
We are called to pray to him and live in the freedom and knowledge that he will listen, and he will bring us out of exile. However, while we are here, we should seek peace and grow in our faith and service to others. We are responsible for our choices. We have an option of leaning into this season or fighting against it. When we fight a battle that isn’t ours, we become too tired to fight the one that is.
Our battle is to shine the light of Jesus Christ to our world, and our community.
We must identify the situation accurately and use biblical principles to find solutions. We should be the example of what it looks like to bear spiritual fruit while in exile.