Do you ever go into turtle mode? I know do, especially when things get tough. I’m positive God is going to show up soon and pull me out of the darkness, so I hide inside my shell and wait for the storm to end.
I wonder if the Israelites were ever tempted to go into turtle mode. They hadn’t been exiled in Babylon long when the rumblings of hope began to spread. Prophets popped up all over the place, sharing messages of a coming deliverance. They said freedom was just around the corner. They said to hold on a little longer. They said to be ready.
And then Jeremiah came along with a message straight from the mouth of God:
All those prophets were wrong.
They weren’t just a little wrong, either. God had seventy years of exile in mind, and there was no shortening that sentence with good behavior.
But in those seventy years, God had an important command for his people.
After telling the exiles just how long they’d be in Babylon, Jeremiah said, “Build houses and settle down. Plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters. Find wives for your sons and allow your daughters to get married so that they too can have sons and daughters.” (Jeremiah 29:5-6a)
Translation: Don’t bother scanning the horizon for a deliverer. Don’t hold your breath until the cavalry comes. It’s going to be a while.
The good news is God’s plan didn’t end there. Jeremiah went on to say, “Grow in number; do not dwindle away. Work to see that the city where I sent you as exiles enjoys peace and prosperity. Pray to the Lord for it. For as it prospers, you will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:6b-7)
Do you see how wild and weird God’s message is?
The Israelites are in Babylon. They’re prisoners in a pagan land.
And God says to work for the city’s prosperity.
He says to pray for it.
Now, I’ve never been an exile, but I have been unemployed. I’ve waited months to see a ministry kick off. I’ve found myself, time and time again, in what feels like the space on the board that comes before the space where God is going to use me.
Those are my favorite spaces to go into turtle mode. I withdraw. I hunker down in my comfortable shell, and I wait.
I wait for a job to give my life meaning.
I wait for a ministry to give me a platform for serving God.
I wait for the exile to end.
And the whole time, God is saying, “Get out of your shell. You’re going to be here a while.”
He says, “Stop waiting for the next space. Work for the prosperity of this one.”
Sometimes, God actually pulls us out of dark spaces quickly. Other times, he leaves us there for a while, and I think that’s so we can make those spaces brighter. And if you believe what Jesus has to say, we Christians are the light of the world. We have the power to make dark spaces bright.
So stop waiting for the darkness to end. Start looking for ways to shine.