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Godís Heart for the City

Philip Graham Ryken

It is not always easy to live, work, or worship in the city. Thomas Jefferson viewed cities "as pestilential to the morals, the health, and the liberties of men." Things were like that in Babylon. In 597 B.C. King Nebuchadnezzar carried many of the elders, priests, prophets, and people of Israel off to Babylon (Jeremiah 29:1). The Babylonians did terrible things to the Jews. They destroyed their city, ransacked their temple, ruined their economy, removed their leaders, and enslaved their populace.

It is not surprising, then, that Saint Augustine (354-430) viewed Babylon as a symbol of evil. Augustine later identified Babylon as the biblical symbol of the city of Satan.

Most postmodern cities are like Babylon. They are Cities of Man ruled by Satan, and Satan is doing his best to turn them into suburbs of hell. One can see it in the abandoned buildings, the graffiti, the tired faces of prostitutes, the racial altercations, the slow shuffle of the poor, and the great buildings built for human pride. Satan has been very busy.

What should Godís people do when their zip code places them in Satanís precincts? When Godís people were captives in Babylon, they might have expected God to tell them to run away. Or revolt. What he does instead is tell them to make themselves at home (Jeremiah 29:4-7). The gist of Jeremiahís prophecy is that God is going to build his city in the middle of Satanís city. He views the exile as a mission. Nebuchadnezzar has not carried them off to Babylon so much as God has sent them there. The exiles are not captives; they are missionaries.

Establish a Presence in the City

What has God sent his people to the city to do? First, he has sent them to establish a presence in the city. "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" (Jeremiah 29:5-6). In short, God wants his people to go about their business as usual. Despite the fact that they are living in a godless city, he wants them to lead normal lives. Furthermore, he wants them to plan for the long haul and build for the future.

For some, though not for all, establishing a presence in the city will mean more than just worshiping and ministering in the city. It will mean answering Godís call to live in the city. For too long, evangelical Christians have abandoned the city to establish the kingdom of God in suburbia. Godís plan for the redemption of the city calls Christians to do just the opposite.

The Lord does not just call people to jobs and to spouses; he also calls them to churches and to cities. When it comes to urban ministry, "being there" makes all the difference. If God calls you to work, worship, or live in the city, do not resist his call. God loves the city.

Seek the Peace

A second reason God sends his people to the city is to seek its peace. "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, RSV). The recurrent word for "welfare" is the word shalom. Seek the shalom of the city; its shalom is your shalom.

Shalom is comprehensive peace. It means order, health, safety, harmony, well-being, happiness, wholeness, and completeness. Shalom means that all is right with the city. God hereby commands Christians to do anything and everything to further the public good. Seeking the peace of the city means being a good neighbor. It means shoveling the sidewalk. It means cleaning the street. It means planting a tree. It means feeding the poor. It means volunteering at the local school. It means greeting people at the store. It means driving safely and helping people with car trouble. It means shutting down immoral businesses. It means embracing people from every ethnic background with the love of Christ.

Still, a church could do all these things and fail to bring shalom to the city. By themselves, random acts of kindness cannot bring a peace that endures. The only basis for real and lasting shalom is the work of Christ on the cross. The city cannot be at peace until the city knows Jesus Christ, and him crucified. In its sin, the whole city is at war with God. It deserves the wrath and curse of God. But Jesus Christ came to make peace between God and humanity. The Bible says, "We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1). Anyone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ has peace with God.

Whatever shalom the Hebrews offered to Babylon, Christians are able to offer a much greater peace to the postmodern city. What we offer is eternal peace with God through the work of Christ on the cross. That peace is the basis for everything else we do in the city. It is what makes us neighborly, compassionate, and charitable. When the city finds peace with God, all will be well with the city.

Pray for the Prosperity of the City

The last thing God tells his people to do is to pray for the prosperity of the city (Jeremiah 29:7). Christians have a vested interest in the welfare of the city. When the city prospers, the church prospers. One of the best ways to seek the peace of the city is through prayer. Prayer is the Christianís civic duty.

Read Psalm 122 and notice four things to pray for. First, pray for the economy of the city. Pray for the "common wealth" of the city, asking God to bring justice to the poor and prosperity for everyone within the economic systems of the city.

Second, pray for the safety of the city. Pray that citizens will be kept safe from harm and violence on the streets. And pray that criminals themselves will be transformed by the love of Christ.

Third, pray for the politics of the city. Ask the Lord to grant wisdom and integrity to the authorities who govern the city.

Fourth, pray for the people of the city. Pray for the Lordís blessing on all people and all people groups in the city. Pray neighborhood by neighborhood, church by church, business by business, and house by house for the welfare of the city.

Prayer should not be kept within the four walls of the church or the home. Get out into the streets to pray for the shalom of your neighborhood. The prosperity of the city comes through prayer.

May the Lord bless the city, and the church in the city.

Taken from Courage to Stand: Jeremiahís Battle Plan for Pagan Times by Philip Graham Ryken. ©1998 Crossway Books. Permission kindly granted to Faith and Reason Forum by Crossway Books. This material is not to be electronically transferred. Down-load for personal use only.