At our While We're Waiting events, we always spend a lot of time talking about all the things we're looking forward to about Heaven ... meeting Jesus in person, wrapping our arms around child's neck (and holding on for a REALLY long time), getting caught up with other loved ones, and enjoying that whole "no more tears" thing.
But in our WWW support group meeting last night, we spent some time talking about what we're supposed to do until then. A long time ago, the children of Israel were wondering the same thing.
Our Scripture reference was from Jeremiah 29: 1, 4-7, 10-11. Here's what it says ...
"These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon ... '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. For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.'"
The Israelites found themselves in a very uncomfortable place. They were in captivity, in exile, in a foreign land, and they had no idea how long they were going to be there. They hoped that eventually they would be freed, but they didn't know what they were supposed to do until then. The prophet Jeremiah sent them this letter to tell them that it was going to be awhile (70 years to be exact), and that they needed to settle in for the long haul.
As parents who have lost children, I think everyone in our group last night could relate to these folks. We are in an uncomfortable, difficult situation ... a place we never thought we would be ... a place that feels foreign to us, where everything is new and different and we don't like it. We feel like we've been exiled from the life we once had, and we just want things back the way they were. We know that someday this "captivity" will end ... when we get to Heaven ... but what are we supposed to do until then?
Well, Jeremiah, under God's direction, gave the people of Israel some pretty good advice. Basically, it was, "Settle in, because it's going to be awhile. Build houses, plant gardens, enjoy your family ... find joy in life." We don't know how long we have here ... for some of us, it could be a matter of days, for others, it could be decades. Whichever it is, I don't think God wants us to waste that time. Jesus came to give us abundant life (John 10:10b), and I think that is still possible, even if our life hasn't turned out the way we thought it might.
Jeremiah also told them (and us) to seek the welfare of the city where they'd been sent. How do we do that? I think we can do that by finding our place of service. I've come to believe over the last few years that God wants us to heal, and reaching out and serving others right where we are is one of the best ways to do that. That's a great way to make the world around us better.
God made the Israelites a promise ... that their time of exile would eventually end. And at the conclusion of their captivity, He would bring them back home. He also assures them that He has a plan for their good and not for evil, plans to give them a future and a hope.
He makes that same promise to us today. We have a future and a hope. Our exile will come to an end, and when it's over, He'll take us home to Heaven. Our job is just to keep on living ... trusting Him and serving Him, until then.