Our nation is experiencing a new place, and we are waiting for the "new normal" to sort itself out. Trump won, and whether you were for him or against him, if you are a citizen of the United States of America, he will soon be your president. If you are a Christ-follower, God's Love Letter tells you what to do: "Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established" (Romans 13:1). Paul was writing to Christians about their attitude and actions toward one of the most brutal and unjust governments in history--Rome. So we know what to do, but what about how we may feel? And how do we respond to brothers and sisters who may feel differently?
I'm observing emotions that run the gamut from giddiness to despondency. Some who grieved and chafed under Obama seem hopeful that change might bring about practices more in line with what they believe are biblical values. Others seem gripped by fear of the "new normal". The truth is that only God knows what's ahead and it's probably going to be several years before we get a true reading on what that will look like. So what would God have us do while we wait?
When I moved into my DTS office as a professor in 2005 , I hung a painting with Jeremiah 29:11 emboldened across the bottom: "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." What a powerful promise for Christians as we move forward into 2017--whatever your response to the election!
Jeremiah wrote these words in a letter to the Jewish people who had been forced to leave their homes in Israel and carried off into exile in Babylon--a pagan place opposed to everything they believed and were used to. Eugene Peterson describes exile like this: Exile is traumatic and terrifying. Our sense of who we are is very much determined by the place we are in and the people we are with. When that changes, who are we? The accustomed ways of finding our worth and sensing our significance vanish. (This shouldn't be but if we are honest, the struggle is still there for many of us.) Are the changes ahead causing you to doubt God or fear the future? What can we learn from God's counsel to the exiles who had to adjust to their "new normal"?
Certainly, many of the exiles struggled to adjust. Israel was taken into exile in 587 BC. The Jews were uprooted from the place where they were born and forced to travel across the Middle Eastern desert over seven hundred miles. In the new land, Babylon, customs were strange, language incomprehensible, the landscape oddly flat and featureless. Their exile was an extreme form of what we all experience as life changes: when we are exiled as kindergartners to the demanding world of school, and from there to the demanding adult world of work and caring for others.
What changes will accompany a Trump presidency? Speculators speculate, but only God actually knows. But amidst the changes Israel faced, God promised them that if they would follow Him, He had good plans in store, plans to prosper and not to harm them, plans to give them a future and a hope. God has similar plans for us.
But we don't know what those plans are. I admit, it is exasperating to wait and not know.
But He knows our unknown. Will you trust Him? And as you wait for your future to unfold, what would God have you do? How might your response help others? Jeremiah's letter had good advice for the Jews as they waited out their seventy years in exile. And his letter is good advice for us today.
The false prophets back in Jerusalem were telling the exiles that they would return soon.
No need to settle in, God will bring you back in a year or two. But Jeremiah spoke God's true message: They would not be coming back for 70 years. And God said, thrive regardless of how long you are in exile. Jeremiah told them to:
Build houses and settle down (Jeremiah29:5a)
My Dad was a Coast Guard officer and we moved constantly. But my mother always decorated the house as if we would live there forever, even though it was often only a year or two. Jeremiah tells us to put down roots wherever we are. Wring out the experience. Savor the opportunities. Build your house in the midst of the uncertainly now and settle in. God's got this so look to the future with expectancy.
Plant gardens and enjoy what they produce (29:5b)
My mother planted beautiful gardens. Our table was full of fresh vegetables and flowers.
Become a productive part of the community while you wait. What can you do to add to the stability found in Christ regardless of the chaos you might feel around you?
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...(29:6)
Whether you are married or single, while you wait for the "new normal," invest in relationships. Help people. Entrust your fears to God. Know He has your future and the future of the world in hand. Your trust is contagious and will show people how faith in God secures and strengthens--even in uncertain times. A marvelous opportunity to shine for Christ awaits you.
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. (29:7)
God told the Jewish exiles living in pagan Babylon to pray for Babylon. He instructed them to seek the best for that nation. Pray for your leaders fervently, whether you voted for them or not. For if your nation prospers, God's people will prosper. And if it doesn't, God will also use that for His sovereign plan. We have God's promise that, as we follow Him faithfully, He has sweet plans for each of us, plans to prosper us, and not to harm us, plans to give us hope and a future. And in the meantime, while you wait on Trump, build a house and plant a garden.