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 have welfare. Jeremiah 29:7
How do you tell Christians living in the middle of severe persecution and repression to pray for the perpetrators? Well, that’s exactly what John Chew, former Archbishop of Singapore, told his thousands of parishioners who live in Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, Vietnam, and Thailand. Some of those countries are on the World Watch List (Open Doors) for persecution of Christians.
When I questioned Chew about this strange mandate, he reminded me of the context of this verse penned by the Jeremiah. Thousands of years ago, the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah warned the people of Judah of impending disaster if they continued to disregard God and his laws. In spite of repeated warnings from numerous men of God, the people continued to follow their own desires, worshiping idols, abusing the poor, sacrificing their own children, and turning their backs on God. Finally, they were taken into captivity in Babylon. Many would never return to their homes. In distress one of the exiles wrote a plaintive dirge (Psalm 137):
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the Lord
while in a foreign land?
And yet, it was to these very exiles that Jeremiah wrote the words that persecuted Christians in Archbishop Chew’s churches would also be given: 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 have welfare. Jeremiah and Chew both understood that God’s grace, whether in exile or in persecution, was abundant and that God would sustain through their prayers and repentance. “In its welfare you will have welfare” reminded them that nations and communities at peace are more likely to benefit the people than those experiencing deprivation, violence, or unrest.
Paul took this a step further when he admonished Timothy (2:2) to “pray for rulers and for all who have authority. Pray for these leaders so that we can live quiet and peaceful lives—lives full of devotion to God and respect for him.” He didn’t put any stipulations on the prayers such as “pray for good rulers” or “pray for the rulers you like.”
Perhaps one of the reasons we experience so much conflict at home and abroad is that we’ve forgotten that strange mandate about praying for cities, for leaders, for all in authority. It’s not too late to start.
Father, all the leaders of the world bear heavy burdens. Work your will, your peace, and your love in their hearts. Fill them with your wisdom to govern that we may all live in peace and bring glory to your name. In Jesus our Lord. AMEN.