It’s hard to admit this in 2020, but for my whole life, I’ve enjoyed politics. I find it fascinating to know about political systems and leaders, how they rise and fall, and how they affect the people who live under them. I plop my kids down in front of the TV with an electoral college map every fourth November and we watch the returns while they color in the results on their map. I read a (print!) newspaper every morning with my coffee because I like to know what’s happening in the world, my country, and my city.
Admittedly, it’s been more difficult to maintain a positive attitude toward current events over the past few years. Back in 2016, I assured my new-voter children that this particular election was not normal, that I had never seen anything like it in my entire voting life. And then along came 2020, which for many is a similarly difficult campaign and election season, only this time accompanied by a months-long pandemic, economic crisis, and ongoing social unrest and upheaval—each a challenge on its own, but taken together, an incredible strain on every individual and on society as a whole.
In the midst of “these unprecedented times,” how do we keep peace in our hearts and minds from day to day? Many of us find ourselves troubled not only by what’s happening in the world around us right now, but what may happen in the future. We fear for our children or grandchildren, our churches, our nation or city, our health, our economic stability, our neighbors, our freedoms, and so much more. The Bible is clear that we’re not to be anxious or worried about the future (Matthew 6:25-34; Luke 12:25; John 14:27)—but that’s often easier said than done.
A Message for the Israelites, and for Us Today
The Israelites, in captivity in Babylon 2,600 years ago, were a people who were anxious and worried about their future, to say the least. The prophet Jeremiah encourages them with a verse we’re all familiar with from graduation cards: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for peace and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). Now, I like this verse; it gives me hope for myself and those I love as we contemplate life changes or unexpected detours. But God’s particular plan for your life or mine isn’t really what Jeremiah 29:11 is about.
The verses immediately preceding this one are key to understanding all of what Jeremiah was saying to the Israelites. First, they were going to be in this difficult situation for a long while: “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” (29:10). Today, we don’t know when political divisions, virus concerns, and social unrest will, if ever, be “back to normal,” or what that normal may be. God’s timetable is not ours, and his perspective is difficult for us to comprehend. We, like the Israelites, must accept that our present trouble may not disappear anytime soon.
Now let’s back up a bit in this passage to truly appreciate the wisdom and compassion of the Lord for his people. Our approach to life in this troubled world parallels the way the Israelites were to live in their troubled world of exile and captivity. Here is what God told them, through Jeremiah: “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” (29:5-7). In other words, live your lives, go about your daily work, prosper as best you can, continue to nurture your families and encourage future generations to do the same. And, importantly, pray for your city and nation and seek its welfare and that of those around you.
God’s Plans, Our Response
This was not necessarily what the Israelites wanted to hear, and we are no different. We, and they, might want to hear that God has immediate, clear plans to return us to our normal lives, heal the wounds in our society, send us wise and upstanding leaders, and give us a foreseeable future we can easily understand. But God’s direction to his people instead required more of the Israelites and more of us: patience (longsuffering), faithfulness, trust, and obedience.
Steadfastly—even joyfully—continuing with our daily lives, praying for our leaders and those around us, and seeking the welfare of our neighborhoods, cities, and nation may look a little different for each of us. Yet as we move forward, past 2020, we long for peace, rest, and a future redemption just as the Israelites did. With God’s grace, and by reminding ourselves of his promises to us, we can persevere through difficult times and be strengthened for whatever blessings and challenges he has in store.