Back during my journalism days, I used to think of God’s will as the next thing in life. That was a lot easier to do back when I hated practically everything I was doing at the time.
I didn’t like thinking of His will as involving my present situation, in which I was in a job. I hated the city in which I worked, as it had no post-college community. To make matters worse, some of my good friendships from college started to dissolve because when you’re no longer living in the same community, the phrase “out of sight, out of mind” becomes less of a cliche and more of an explanation.
I knew, in some sense, that it was where He wanted me. But I more often thought of that time of my life as preparation for something else. I was unhappy and ready for the next part of God’s will, not what He had called me to at that moment.
I was ready for whatever part of His will that I was certain I would enjoy, because it certainly wasn’t what I had at that time. After all, isn’t joy a fruit of the Spirit?
Well, I wasn’t joyful. And that must be because God wanted me somewhere else … right?
When we try to comfort ourselves during these unwanted times in our lives, we sometimes turn to Jeremiah 29:11, in which God promises us that He has a hope and future in store for us that involves good and not evil. You can’t enter a Christian bookstore without seeing this verse being plastered on a decorative rock or a bookmark or some other thing that you’re not going to buy because the store completely jacked up the cost of its merchandise.
It’s our my-life-sucks-but-God-will-make-it-better verse.
What we often overlook is one of the verses that proceeds it:
“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.” (Jeremiah 29:7)
This is from a letter sent by the prophet Jeremiah to what was left of the nation of Judah, a broken kingdom whose inhabitants had been conquered by Babylon and taken from their own land. Jerusalem was lost to them. The temple–where the Glory had dwelt–had burned.
And while living in a foreign land, I imagine it was tempting to think of God’s will as the next thing, as something He would do tomorrow. Until then, it would be 70 years of divine silence. God would start talking again when He was ready for Israel to do the next thing.
But in Jeremiah’s letter, the God of Israel instead told His people to focus on the right-now.
Don’t stop having children or building houses. Grow your families and build your homes and gardens. And don’t neglect this foreign city, whose structures and inhabitants are constant reminders that you are not where you’re supposed to be.
No, pray for them.
Seek their welfare.
Because when you do, you’re going to recover your welfare.
The people of Israel were far removed from home–but they were not without a purpose. They were not without a destiny and a calling. They were still being told by God to be a blessing to people around them.
God had driven them into exile. And even though they were being punished for their past transgressions, God still intended to use them to make His name known to the nations.
Through that, Israel would recover her own welfare. No, she wouldn’t go home immediately. Things were not always going to be okay. But somehow, she would find that her ability to fulfill her God-given role in life was not limited by her circumstances.
That God invited her to pray meant that He was still listening, after everything that had happened between Himself and Israel. Her exile was not the end. It wasn’t even a pit-stop to the next chapter of the story.
The uncomfortable Now was part of His will, both for Israel and for her foreign neighbors. For both Israel’s welfare–and theirs.
It’s the same for us. We are where we are for a reason, and it’s not simply to prepare for the next step. We are in the Now to be a blessing to others by showing them the love and beauty of Christ–and in so doing, find our happiness and welfare.
So wherever you are, even if it’s a place you despise, be there in prayer and service.
Don’t neglect to seek out the good of your city, no matter how badly you’d rather be somewhere else. Don’t be lazy in doing what’s good for the people around you, even if they don’t appreciate it.
That’s going to require you to look past the things you don’t like about your current position in life. Your obligation to follow Christ is not reduced by the fact that you’re frustrated by your singleness and hate your job. (Or whatever else it is that you don’t like about your life at the moment.)
Because God’s will isn’t just something for the future.
It’s something to be obeyed in this present time–the uncomfortable Now.