Where do we find ourselves now? Is this the country you thought you’d be living in? Are you fed up and ready to “burn it all down?” Or do the alternatives we have scare you? Imagine what exiles from their homelands must feel.
We have an example of just such exiles in the book of Jeremiah. The people of Judah and Jerusalem were taken captive to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. The prophet Jeremiah exhorted the exiles to live in obedience to God for seventy years, the term God decreed for their banishment. While in Babylon, to show obedience, they were to build houses, plant gardens, and establish families. And, in their obedience, they were to do one more thing for their captors:
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 29:7 English Standard Version (ESV)
We find ourselves in a very turbulent time. Those who want to “take a chance” don’t know what they’re in for. Neither do I, really. However, in the midst of this we are called to pray for those we would otherwise oppose. A very hard thing to do, I have to admit. However, lately I’ve been praying:
“Make bad men and women good.”
This is a prayer Calvin had recommended nearly 500 years ago. His commentary on the passage in Jeremiah is challenging:
…By saying that their peace would be in the peace of Babylon, he [suggests] that they could not be considered as a separate people until the time of seventy years was completed. He therefore commanded them to pray for the prosperity of Babylon.
At the first view this may seem hard; for we know how cruelly that miserable people had been treated by the Chaldeans. Then to pray for the most savage enemies, might have appeared unreasonable and by no means suitable. But the Prophet mitigates the hardness of the work by saying, that it would be profitable to them to pray for the happy condition of Babylon, inasmuch as they were the associates of their fortune.
…The Prophet teaches the Jews that they ought not to refuse what was required from them, when God [commanded] them to pray for Babylon, because the prosperity of that kingdom would be for their benefit…They were so connected with Babylon, that they could not expect to be exempt from all trouble and annoyance, if any adversity happened to Babylon, for they were of the same body. We now perceive the meaning of the Prophet.
…Hence [we] deduce a very useful doctrine, — that we ought not only to obey the kings under whose authority we live, but that we ought also to pray for their prosperity, so that God may be a witness of our voluntary subjection.
In our voluntary subjection to God’s appointed ruler’s (even ones we do not like), we must also act for their good:
He not only [entreats] them patiently to endure the punishment laid on them, but also to be faithful subjects of their conqueror; he not only forbids them to be seditious, but he would have them to obey from the heart, so that God might be a witness of their willing subjection and obedience.
He says, Seek the peace of the city; this may be understood of prayers; for דרש, daresh, often means to pray: but it may suitably be taken here, as I think, in reference to the conduct of the people, as though he had said, that the Jews were to do what they could, to exert themselves to the utmost, so that no harm might happen to the Chaldean monarchy…
Of course, this means opposing criminal acts (those would not be for their ultimate good before God,) possibly even to our harm. We are called to “seek their peace.”
So, we have a high bar to meet based on this example from antiquity. Not only must we pray for the prosperity of God’s appointed rulers (even those He uses as scourges,) but, we must act for their good to prove our willing submission to God who rules all.
For those of us who hope in the Lord Jesus Christ’s atonement for our sins, let us pray what Calvin prayed in his day:
Grant, Almighty God, that we may be more and more [accustomed] to render obedience to [you], and that whenever [you chastise] us with [your] scourges, we may examine our own consciences, and humbly and suppliantly [seek to avert your] wrath, and never doubt but [you will] be [benevolent] to us, after having chastised us with [your fatherly] hand; and may we thus [rest] on [your paternal] kindness, that we may ever look forward with quiet minds, until the end appears, which [you have] promised to us, and that when the warfare of this present life shall be finished, we may reach that blessed rest, which has been prepared for us in heaven, through Christ our Lord. — Amen.
We, who wait for a Savior from heaven, know this world is not our own. We are exiles. We should pray for Kings such that we, and our neighbors, might lead peaceful and quiet lives, and all would be, in His providence, saved.