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August 24, 2014

Day Fourteen - Morning Devotional

At Christian Union, prayer is the leading edge of our work. It is the linchpin of “a seeking God lifestyle,” a rhythm of life that includes fasting, reading the Scriptures, and gathering with others to do the same. Today, I draw our attention to another of these principles: perseverance. God’s desire is to reward those who seek Him day after day, week after week, and in all seasons of life (Luke 11:1-13, 18:1-8; Hebrews 11:6).

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However, if we are honest, our prayers are episodic and perseverance can feel far from us. After all, our culture conditions us to detest it. It reminds us that “on demand” and “same-day shipping” aren’t merely consumer preferences, but taglines for our entire way of life. After all, anything worth having is worth having immediately…without perseverance.
So, the problem is obvious. A lifestyle of frequent and fervent prayer is not an easy endeavor, yet everything around us tells us that it ought to be.
However, our penchant for immediacy may not be our primary obstacle to perseverance. Rather, it may be that we are unaware of God’s purposes in it. Without this, perseverance can become mere pietistic discipline or worse, a belief that we can nag the Lord into a reluctant response. So, perseverance must find a nobler end in a commitment to align our prayers to God’s purposes. His mission must drive our perseverance in prayer. His desire to bring about redemption in time and space must energize us to pray with long-term resolve.
The book of Jeremiah demonstrates this as it follows Israel’s experience in Babylon. After multiple warnings through multiple messengers, God exiled Israel to Babylon as an act of judgment for persistent idolatry and rebellion. As with Adam and Eve, God banished His people to live as aliens in a foreign land. But, as their time in exile grew longer, their cries grew louder.
“How long will we be here? When can we go home?” Year after year, generation after generation, these questions lingered without answers. Finally, they arrived through the words of a prophet.
“Don’t worry. There’s no need to dig deep roots. We won’t be here long. We’re headed back to our land, our worship, and our way of life! We’re going back home!” (My paraphrase.)
The prophet had spoken. God had answered. Or had He?
While these were the words of a prophet, they were the words of a false prophet. Like our culture, the false prophet gave Israel permission to not persevere, but he did so by blinding them to God’s purposes; the Lord had redemptive designs through this exiled community. The false prophet led Israel to trust in a convenient and ignorant lie (Jeremiah 28:15) instead of a harder truth, one that eventually came through a command to persevere.
“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 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.” - Jeremiah 29:4-7
When Israel asked “how long,” God painted a picture of their future. “Build houses. Plant gardens. Start a family. Have grandchildren. Make a living and a life in Babylon.” God’s words through Jeremiah were in stark contrast to the false prophet. This was a call to persevere…until Babylon became home. Though this appeared to be a hard word, it was not a harsh one. It was not punitive. Rather, it was redemptive, expressing God’s desire to use His people to seek Eden in exile.
Jeremiah’s language makes this clear. His use of “multiply” recalls the mantra from Eden: “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:22; cf.8:17, 9:1, 30:27-30, 35:11; Leviticus 26:9). So, persevering in Babylon means that Israel must fruitfully multiply God’s rule and presence to the nations. The reference to “welfare” (literally, “shalom”) heightens this sense by imagining a society of holistic justice that echoes Eden’s paradise. Clearly, this had not been Israel’s mindset. Therefore, God used Jeremiah to align them with His purposes. This was the logic of the prophetic call to persevere.
So, as we pray and fast, let us keep the end in mind: God desires to redeem through His people. Therefore, let us partner with Him in prayer as He uses us to bring Eden out of exile. Let us seek Him with fresh resolve and align our prayers to His purposes for the places to which we’ve been sent.