By Cathy Mogus
The divided nation of Israel was in political, moral, and spiritual decline when God called Jeremiah to become its prophet. The priest wasn”t happy with his new role. Apparently writing letters””not-so-nice letters””to the captives in Babylon was part of his job description.
But there was an upside. Jeremiah had the privilege of informing his displaced countrymen, especially their spiritual leaders, that God had a plan. It boiled down to something like this: “Like it or not, you”re not leaving Babylon for 70 years. So quit dreaming of going home and get on with your lives.” He then outlined God”s five-step program for their survival in captivity.
Although the Jews created most of their own misery, God still referred to them as people he “carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon” (Jeremiah 29:4). In other words, God allowed them to be displaced for good reason.
When my husband”s first wife died, he was devastated. He sold his business, stopped flying airplanes, and wandered through life for the next few years. “Her death took the wind out from under my wings,” he explained to me.
But God had a plan. One Sunday morning, Allen had a Saul-on-the-road-to-Damascus experience with Jesus Christ. The surreal incident changed him forever. It also altered my life. I”d told God he would have to convert Allen if we were ever to marry!
Your Babylon experience can also be turned into a blessing. But God quite often waits until we accept our present circumstances before he moves us on. Shortly before I met Allen, for example, God brought me to a place where I finally accepted that I might be single for the rest of my life. It wasn”t easy, but I felt a sense of peace as I deliberately stopped looking for a man to make me happy and fulfilled.
Make plans to settle.
Jeremiah told the people, “Build houses and settle down” (v. 5). That”s not what they wanted to hear! But God knew it would be in their best interest to unpack their bags and stay awhile (like 70 years!). They might as well live in comfort.
I deeply admire my friend Karen. She has been divorced for many years and would love to remarry. However, she determined long ago to be happy and serve God in her singleness. She became a nurse, bought a home, and became active in her church. She refuses to feel sorry for herself. She travels and throws her own birthday parties. She is a shining light for God wherever she goes.
Don”t be afraid to put down roots where you are. If God wants you to move, you”ll know when the time comes. Don”t waste your energy wishing you were somewhere else. Use this time””and place””to honor and serve God.
Jeremiah”s next instructions to those in captivity were, “Plant gardens and eat what they produce” (v. 5). In other words, now that you”re settled, think about ways to survive.
A minister once told me that when he became a missionary “all the scum in me came to the top.” I didn”t understand what he meant until I served as a short-term missionary in Thailand. For the first six months I felt like a tourist, but then culture shock set in. Rice was boring, our maid became irritating, the cockroaches and other creepy crawlies were unbearable, the language was frustrating. I felt disillusioned, disappointed, and displaced.
I learned from other missionaries that if I were to survive in that foreign environment, I would need to lean hard on God. If I didn”t constantly nourish myself through prayer and reading God”s Word, the “scum” would surface””and overflow!
The great missionary statesman and hymn writer Oswald J. Smith called his daily prayer time his “Morning Watch.” “Every morning, day in and day out, I get alone with God. I would not dream of going to my office before first spending time alone with him . . . Without my Morning Watch my work would be ineffective. I would be weak and helpless.”1
If you”re going to survive “captivity,” you will need spiritual nourishment through prayer and God”s Word. There is no substitute.
Reach out to others.
Jeremiah”s next instructions were, “Marry and have sons and daughters . . . that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in numbers there; do not decrease” (v. 6). Perhaps we can apply this to ourselves by understanding it to mean, “Don”t live just for yourself. Pray for spiritual children so that your life will make ripples throughout eternity.”
My friend Verna Roberts is a retired missionary. She and her husband spent 20 years in Africa and 16 in Brazil. After her husband died and she became disabled from a hip problem, she relocated to a comfortable complex for Christian seniors.
During a visit with Verna, she told me she was planning to move again. Her news took me by surprise, as she seemed to be in an ideal situation.
“Someday I”ll need more help than this place can provide,” she explained, “and I want to move where there are more unbelievers. I”m still a missionary, you know!”
At the time Verna was crippled and pushing 80, but she still wanted God to use her where he could. She introduced her home nurse to Christ, but she wanted to do more.
Mary Breckenridge is another retired missionary who used her “displacement” to bring glory and honor to God. After serving as a nurse in French West Africa for 20 years, she returned to Washington state to care for her elderly mother. She loved her work with the Dogon tribe and would have gladly spent another 20 years with them. But God had other ideas.
While caring for her mother, she met her future husband. During their 34 years of marriage, Mary kept in touch with her African friends and prayed faithfully for them. After her husband died, she moved to a retirement home.
Even though she had health problems, Mary refused to think of herself as being displaced. She and my sister Carolyn coauthored Nurse in Africa: Her Compassion, Their Faith.2 She hoped her missionary adventures would inspire others to trust God for the impossible. She has passed away, but left a spiritual legacy behind.
How about you? Are you willing for God to help others through you? God can use you where you are.
Find your mission.
Jeremiah also told the captive Israelites that God wanted them to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it” (v. 7). These are not easy orders if you don”t like the place!
When I married Allen, I moved from a small town to a large city. For the first year, he was my only friend in my new locale. Although I loved him and my new home, I often felt lonely and displaced. I finally connected with a group of Christian women who had a zeal for evangelism.
Everything changed when I began to see the city as my mission field. As I prayed with these women about how we could reach other women in our area for Christ, I became excited about the future. My “captivity” became my calling.
You may feel abandoned by God, but he has promised never to leave you. His vow to the captives is yours: “I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place” (v. 10). He wants you to do more than survive your Babylon; he wants you to live a full and productive life for him.
“”˜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”” (v. 11).
Expect the best. Think of your present situation as a divine assignment from God. Prepare for your special mission by nourishing yourself through prayer and meditating on God”s Word. And then look for opportunities to reach out to others. Before long, you”ll discover that instead of feeling displaced, you will be thanking God for placing you in such an important position.
1Oswald J. Smith, The Man God Uses (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1932; revised, 1965).
2Mary Pond Breckenridge and Carolyn Williams, Nurse in Africa: Her Compassion, Their Faith (Atwood: Printmedia Companies of Southern California, 2008).
Cathy Mogus is an author, freelance writer, and inspirational speaker living in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada.