I absolutely love the city, I always have! I've lived in Baltimore, Indianapolis, Chicago, and now Dallas. Whether it’s on the East coast, the Midwest, or down South, the city is always full of so much culture, great food, and amazing music. Streets full of people with the sounds of the city - sirens, construction and car horns - makes me feel right at home! Yet, my love for the city is joined with a deep burden for her woes. Her urban environment is a breeding ground where social ills grow and thrive.
Scripture is no stranger to issues of injustice. It is also no stranger to what it takes to live as a follower of Christ in a nation who rejects Him. One such situation pops up in the Book of Jeremiah. After a long history of bad kings and disobedience the Nation of Israel eventually found themselves in exile.They had been conquered by another empire and were being forced to move. The empire was Babylon, a powerful and very secular nation for whom the God of Israel was a non-factor. The prophet Jeremiah shares a message from the Lord with the Israelites to prepare them for their new reality. He tells them, "Seek the welfare of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it has prosperity, you will prosper." (Jeremiah 29:7) When Jeremiah speaks about seeking the welfare of the city he is literally talking about seeking shalom. The English translation for this word is peace, but shalom encompasses so much more than our American understanding of peace. It is not just an absence of chaos, but a sense of wholeness. It is an environment where everything is as it should be, as God designed it to be. Jeremiah told the Israelites to pray on behalf of Babylon because their own welfare depended on it. Whether or not they wanted to be, the Israelites were intimately connected to what happened in this nation. If it prospered, they prospered. If it suffered, they suffered. The Israelites didn't have the privilege of disengaging from their new environment.
The same is true for us. We do not have the privilege of not caring about the problems of our city. Social justice is not the gospel, but we cannot fully embrace the truth of the gospel and ignore social justice. We cannot say we love Jesus and fail to love the people made in his image. Please know the command to love your neighbor doesn't have a mile radius attached to it. The homeless man outside your office building is your neighbor. The undocumented immigrant who harvests the produce you eat is your neighbor. The women and children trafficked during sporting events are your neighbors.
In the heart of Jeremiah 29:7 God is calling us to pray for the welfare of our city. He is calling us to pray for shalom. We are to pray for our cities to be transformed into communities devoid of injustice and inequality. Our responsibility is to not just be a voice for change, but to request for the Creator of the Universe to intervene on behalf of his creation. For it is by His power and only by His power that real change can occur. So today set aside some time to pray for your city. If you aren't up to date with current events, below are a few issues that are affecting your neighbors, whether they live next door or on the other side of town:
Immigration. The War on Drugs. Human Trafficking. Homelessness. Unemployment. Mass Incarceration. Gang Violence. Gentrification. Predatory Lending. Public School Education Disparities. Healthcare Access. Food Deserts. Hunger. Poverty. Racism.
Pray that God heals and restores what is broken about your city. Pray for the people affected by the issues mentioned above. Pray for people to have hearts of compassion, softened to the humanity of those in need. Pray for our government officials who have the power to push for systematic change. Pray for the ministries and organizations that serve and resource the "least of these". Pray against the evil that fuels these social problems. Pray for ethnic unity. Pray for the gospel to spread and for people to come to faith. Pray for the willingness to be an answer to your own prayers. Pray for shalom in the city.
Elizabeth Woodson is the Singles and Small Groups Coordinator at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, TX.