Sometimes we find ourselves sojourners in a location or circumstance that is not our ideal, happy place. Maybe we’re undergoing a job transition, adjusting to a new marriage, grieving a divorce, or have lost someone we love.
These can be times of testing and loss. We may find our trust in God weakening and wonder if he still cares. We can spend a lot of energy focusing on everything that is missing or wrong about our environment and circumstances.
This is a very human and understandable response to changes in our lives that are beyond our control and that we do not like. We complain, shut down for a while, grieve, feel a sense of futility and disconnection. We spend a season in discontent.
Sometimes this season passes quickly, and we move into a better state of mind. But when we discover that the unfavorable circumstances are not going to change any time soon, what would God have us do?
This happened to the Israelites when they were exiled to Babylon. When their captors asked them to sing some of their songs of worship to their God, they lamented, “How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land” (Ps. 137:4)? They hung their harps on the poplar trees. They were given over to sulking in self-pity.
Jeremiah was a prophet in Israel at the time, and God spoke to him about their situation. Interestingly, this is the same chapter that holds the favorite verse of many believers:
“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” (Jer.29:11)
It is indeed a wonderful verse of promise that God holds our future, and he intends good things for us. But what about now, when we are frustrated that we are not there yet? If we look at verse 11 in context (as we should always do when studying Scripture), we find God’s fatherly answer:
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 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” (v.4-7).
God instructed them that as long they were sojourners in this land awaiting the fulfilment of his promise, they were to settle in and contribute to the welfare of the community. He told them to go to work, marry and build families, bear fruit, and bless the land and people in their temporary home.
I believe this instruction applies to New Testament believers. We too are strangers in a strange land, whatever our circumstances.
God told his people not to forget him while in exile. He wanted them to retrieve their forsaken harps from the trees and start singing songs of praise to him. He exhorted them:
“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.” (v. 13-14)
We don’t wait for things to get better to praise him.
Nothing we experience here on earth lasts forever except God and his word. Circumstances always change, sooner or later. In this case, the Israelites had to wait 70 years. That’s a long time.
Whatever our period of waiting, in whatever “foreign land” we are experiencing, we hold on to God’s promises for the future. But we stay in the present and “bloom where we are planted.”
We can choose to make new friends, reconnect with old ones, show up to church to worship and serve. We can learn new things. We can live to be a blessing to those around us and allow them to bless us back.
We can strive to thrive exactly as we are and where we are.
Most importantly, we can and must continue to seek God with all your hearts. He will bless, honor, and deliver us in his time. He promised.