In my last post I said Jeremiah 29:11 promises that God has plans to prosper you but that must be understood as intricately linked by the preceding command in verse 7 to “seek the prosperity of the city” that they were exiled in. So before we start memorizing Jeremiah 29:11 as a mantra for personal comfort in a chaotic world we should recognize that the promise comes with an assumption of our outward-focused positive engagement with the cities, neighborhoods and communities that God has placed us in. This is the essence of the 7-11 Principle: “You don’t get 11 without first doing 7.” God is assuming you are committed to bless whatever Babylon He has placed you in (that could be in the suburbs, downtown city-centers or rural countryside) and that you understand your prosperity is directly linked to your commitment to seeing the prosperity of your city as a Christ-follower.
The 7-11 Principle highlights the challenge for Western Christians who have been placated by the myriad of churches that have sincerely worked hard to meet spiritual needs and keep people interested in spiritual things. Even the best of our churches feel this tension each week as we recognize if the music is off or the preaching isn’t passionate enough or the parking is too difficult or the children’s ministry isn’t captivating enough or the hospitality team was too “in your face”…that we might lose a significant amount of parishioners to another church nearby that does one or all of these things better. It’s not a secret that the for the vast majority of churches, 80-90% of “growth” is via church transfer and not from reaching those who are unchurched.
As I think about how to help people (including myself) engage with the 7-11 Principle on a daily basis, I think we must confront the reality that many of us Christians are better at plundering our cities (to borrow a Tim Keller term) as consumers rather than prospering them as kingdom-minded Christians.
God commands us to “Seek the welfare of the city” but we love to plunder instead of share. What do I mean? Jeremiah 29:5-6 says:
5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6Take 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.
Too many Christians read verses 5 and 6 and stop there. Jeremiah is describing the good life: building homes, starting families, eating good food, having parties…isn’t this why we choose to live in certain places over others? If we have the choice, we live in the city we do in order to get all we can from it. You might have chosen your city because of its weather, proximity to work, closeness to friends and family or the lifestyle. We choose the places we live for the good life. But Jeremiah forces us to ask: How many of us are here to make our city a better place to live for everybody else so that people will see God’s goodness? We too quickly stop reading at verses 5 & 6 which talk about our own prosperity when verse 7 tells us that the means of this is first seeking the prosperity of others. Did you notice that the Bible commands us to “Seek the prosperity of the city” instead of seeking the prosperity of ourselves, our families or our pocketbooks? God is a sharer not a plunderer. To paraphrase John Piper: “God’s love is a conduit, not a cul-de-sac. Perfect love always shares. Perfect love always overflows.”
Do you love your city like God calls you to or is your natural inclination to plunder it? God promises that if you’ll seek the prosperity of the city, you’ll prosper as well.
I have a friend who passed away last year. He owned a manufacturing company but had spent the last several years focusing on improving the lives of the poor around the world through business mentoring and supporting indigenous Christian leaders. He sought prosperity of others before himself. But what most people don’t know was that he had the same commitment to help others in the very community his business was located in Southern California. He was committed to seek the prosperity of the city that he lived and worked in.
He made sure his company was profitable and running efficiently so that his workers could have jobs. He helped employees rise within the company so they could gain confidence and build a better life for their families. At his funeral I saw dozens of his workers who all could share stories of how they personally experienced him as their boss seeking their best just like he did for people in Africa and Asia. He truly lived out the 7-11 Principle. He lived as a sharer, not a plunderer. He sought the prosperity of his city.
God does not command us to seek the prosperity of ourselves or even our own families…but of the city, the community, our neighbors. Why? Because in seeking the prosperity of our city we reflect the heart of God. God is sharer of His goodness. And guess what? Jeremiah says that the prosperity of the city is directly linked to your own prosperity.
Pastor Tim Keller comments on our call to live out Jeremiah 29: “The most powerful way to show people the truth of Christianity is to serve the common good. The monks in the Middle Ages moved out through pagan Europe, inventing and establishing academies, universities, and hospitals. They transformed local economies and cared for the weak through these new institutions. They didn’t set out to ‘get control’ of a pagan culture. They let the gospel change how they did their work and that meant they worked for others rather than for themselves. Christians today should be aiming for the same thing.”
Unfortunately, many Christian leaders (again including myself) have been distracted from helping people seek the prosperity of their city because we have kept congregants busy with church programs and events meant to keep them interested and engaged–often on our expensive church campuses. We have spent far too many resources in a viscous cycle of trying to be cool and relevant and do whatever it takes to keep people interested in a media-saturated world that has produced droves of neighbors with small attention spans and even smaller tolerance levels of anything uninteresting. In the midst of this very real challenge, I want to take small steps today to seek the prosperity of the city God has placed me in and find myself in the middle of God’s plan of prospering my family with a life infused with God’s goodness. I want to live out the 7-11 Principle today by allowing Christ to subdue the plunderer in me and release the sharer that God has meant for me to be. It’s the only day God has given me so I’ll spend my time prayerfully asking God to show me where to take my next step today.
In my next post I’ll take a deeper look into what prosperity means in the biblical text and applying it to our everyday lives.