Seeking the Peace of the City

What does it mean to seek the welfare of the city?

The other day I discussed Jeremiah 29:7. The famous passage says this: “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.” The context of this of course is the Babylonian captivity.

In 597 B.C. the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, killing many, and taking many into captivity. Jeremiah had said there would be a 70 year period of exile. It seems that Jeremiah was left behind, but he kept in touch with the exiles, and that verse contains part of his instructions to the people now living as strangers in a strange land. My earlier article is found here:

As I said there, what God through Jeremiah told the exiles to do (build homes, form families, etc) was for them only – not for all peoples in all places in all times. Yet as I also tried to make clear, Christians today can certainly get some general principles and application from a passage like this.

Christians in the West are also sort of living as exiles, undergoing our own Babylonian captivity. So how are we to respond to this? Philip Graham Ryken in his 2001 expository commentary on the book of Jeremiah has a great chapter on this passage. I quoted a snippet of it in my previous piece. Here I want to look more at what he had to say as he comments on this very passage.

Image of Jeremiah and Lamentations: From Sorrow to Hope (Preaching the Word)
Jeremiah and Lamentations: From Sorrow to Hope (Preaching the Word) by Ryken, Philip Graham (Author), Hughes, R. Kent (Series Editor) Amazon logo

He discusses what it means to be a believer today in a bustling city. He reminds us of Augustine’s great work, The City of God. The important church father (354-430) had viewed Babylon as a very real symbol of evil and ungodliness. He said that history was one long conflict between that city – the city of Man – and the city of God. Says Ryken:

To read Jeremiah 29 with the two cities in mind is to recognize that God’s people were prisoners in the city of Satan. They were refugees in Babylon, which represents everything hateful and odious to God.


Most postmodern cities are like Babylon. They are Cities of Man, ruled by Satan, and Satan is doing all he possibly can, all in line with his condemnation, to turn them into suburbs of hell. One can see it in the abandoned buildings, the graffiti, the tired faces of the prostitutes, the racial altercations, the slow shuffle of the poor, and the great buildings built for human pride. Satan has been very busy.

He continues:

What should God’s people do when their postcode places them in Satan’s precincts? When God’s people were captives in Babylon, they might have expected God to tell them to run away. Or revolt. What he did instead was tell them to make themselves at home. The gist of Jeremiah’s prophecy was that God was going to build his city in the middle of Satan’s city. 

So Jeremiah tells them to settle down there and let it become home – at least for a while. There would be no speedy return to Jerusalem. Says Ryken, “God practically sounded like the ad man for Babylonian Realty.” He goes on:

Imagine the reaction when Jeremiah’s prophecy was read in the Jewish ghetto in Babylon. There God’s people were, languishing in captivity, bemoaning their fate, complaining about the crime rate and the wretched Babylonian city school system. But God gave them the hard sell. “You’re going to love this place,” he said. “Wonderful place to raise a family! Exciting opportunities for small business! Great location, right in the heart of the Fertile Crescent!” One senses God’s passion for urban planning. Yet he was talking about the city of Babylon, of all places. His surprising plan for the redemption of the city meant building the City of God smack-dab in the middle of the City of Man.


No doubt when the captives discussed their sojourn in Babylon they used words like “abandoned” or “banished” or “condemned” to describe what God had done to them. But that is not how God saw things. He viewed the Exile as a mission. Literally, what he said was, “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have sent you.”  Nebuchadnezzar did not take them to Babylon. God sent them there. The exiles were not captives – they were missionaries.

Ryken then speaks about modern urban missions:

The Lord does not just call people to jobs and to spouses—he also calls them to churches and to cities. I sometimes challenge people to ask the Lord if he is calling them to make a lifetime commitment to Tenth Presbyterian Church. If he is, then I challenge them to ask if God is also calling them to live in the city. When it comes to urban ministry, “being there” makes all the difference. An outsider can seldom know the needs of the community well enough to know how best to respond to them. Rarely, if ever, can an outsider effectively lead the community in finding solutions to its own problems. The kind of leadership that empowers people comes from insiders.


Becoming an urban insider was no more popular in Jeremiah’s time than it is in the twenty-first century. The exiles thought their exile would end any minute, so they still had their bags packed to go back to Jerusalem. They were working part-time jobs. They were renting rather than buying. They were not committed to the city.

He then discusses what it means to seek the peace (the shalom) of the city:

God hereby commands Christians to do anything and everything to further the public good. Seeking the peace of the city means being a good neighbor. It means shoveling the sidewalk. It means cleaning the street. It means planting a tree. It means feeding the poor. It means volunteering at the local school. It means greeting people at the store. It means driving safely and helping people with car trouble. It means shutting down immoral businesses. It means embracing people from every ethnic background with the love of Christ.


Still, a church could do all those things and fail to bring shalom to the city. By themselves, random acts of kindness cannot bring enduring peace. The only basis for real and lasting shalom is the work of Christ on the cross. The city cannot be at peace until the city knows Jesus Christ, and him crucified. In its sin, the whole city is at war with God.  It deserves the wrath and curse of God. But Jesus Christ came to make peace between God and humanity. The Bible says that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). Anyone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ has peace with God.


Whatever shalom the Hebrews offered to Babylon, Christians are able to offer a much greater peace to the postmodern city. What we offer is eternal peace with God through the work of Christ on the cross. That peace is the basis for everything else we do in the city. It is what makes us neighborly, compassionate, and charitable. When the city finds peace with God, all will be well with the city.

He finishes by telling us how we might pray for our cities, and then says this about how they do this at the church he pastors:

Three times a year Christians gather in Center City Philadelphia to take a Prayer Walk in the neighborhood near Tenth Presbyterian Church. We walk the streets of the city asking the Holy Spirit to guide our prayers. We stop at apartment buildings and pray for the salvation of those who live in them. We stop at schools and pray for the teachers. We stop at businesses to pray for their owners. We stop at churches to pray for their ministers. We stop at the street corners and pray for the prostitutes. And we stop at the homes of Christians and pray for their ministry in the city. Prayer should not be kept within the four walls of the church or the home. Get out into the streets to pray for the shalom of your neighborhood. The prosperity of the city comes through prayer.

Let me offer a personal story here. Back when Peter and Jenny Stokes were running the Christian action group Salt Shakers here in Melbourne, we often would rent out a bus, fill it with believers, and pray for the city. Peter used to be a bus driver, so we would go into the city, stop at various places (brothels, casinos, Parliament, etc.), and have everyone get out and spend some time in prayer and spiritual warfare.

Or we would head up into the surrounding hills and do intercession and spiritual battle over witches’ covens, new age shops, schools, and other places. That is all a part of what it means to pray for the welfare of a city. So there is a real need today to want to seek the peace of the city, just as Jeremiah had sought.

Sure, most folk, if given the chance, would much likely prefer to live a quiet and peaceful life out in the countryside, rather than endure the hustle and bustle of a big, noisy, crime-ridden city. But most of the world’s population is now urban, and we need to reach people where they are at.

The city as mission field has been a big concern of missiologists in past decades. Titles like The Urban Christian and A Theology as Big as the City by Ray Bakke, and Discipling the City edited by Roger Greenway, were important earlier books on this theme. These were key authors when I was an urban missionary in Amsterdam in the early 1980s.

As mentioned, what Jeremiah instructed the people of God to do back then is not an ironclad template for us today. Our metaphorical time in exile may well go on for more than 70 years for example. But the principle of seeking the welfare of the city, of being salt and light, still remains, be it in Sydney or Chicago or Mexico City or Tokyo.

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12 Replies to “Seeking the Peace of the City”

  1. Thanks Bill. This reminded me of Francis Schaeffer’s book DEATH IN THE CITY which challenged Christians to speak to the culture around them. You have reminded us of the urgency to preach and live the Gospel.

  2. Bill, Thank you this article and for introducing me to another Christian author. I like this line from the excerpt you offered from Philip Graham Ryken’s book: ‘Nebuchadnezzar did not take them to Babylon. God sent them there. The exiles were not captives – they were missionaries.’ That speaks volumes about God’s expectations of His people then and now.
    I have great admiration for Peter and Jenny Stokes, and for you and all who have prayed and continue to pray for the people in the city of Melbourne, and Australia, and around the world.
    God bless you.

  3. Well, even at my age with my distinctly dodgy old knees, I regularly volunteer at the local Catholic street mission. Seeking the peace of the city can take many forms and because I’m a retired nurse, in my case, it’s helping to provide pastoral care to those who urgently need it. As a nurse and observant Catholic, I feel that this is the vocation that God called me to and that I can do some good helping others with it. This can take many forms- ministering to drug addicts, the homeless, the mentally ill and others. It can be as little as sharing a warm cuppa with them on a winter’s night, it can involve sitting with them in an ambulance, it can mean encouraging them to attend rehabilitation programmes or continue medical treatment, or provide emergency shelter and housing to them. And some of the mentally ill and homeless are Christians. Now, doing urban mission isn’t for all of us- I’ve been asked by my daughter and grand daughter why I don’t give it up at my age. My response? But it’s what our Lord and Saviour has called me to do at this time of life, dears. And I’ll keep on doing it for as long as I hear that call.

  4. Incidentally, this doesn’t mean that I discount the importance of praying over the city at all. I have many dear charismatic Catholic and Pentecostal evangelical friends who do so on a regular basis. But I also think that the good Lord sometimes calls those of us with a vocation to provide pastoral care in the city to insure that those who are vulnerable and in urgent need receive the gift of God’s compassion, mercy and love. Whether you take the Blessed St Francis of Assisi’s prayer “Lord Let Me Be the Instrument of Your Peace” or Matthew 25: 37-40 as your prompt, never doubt that you are doing God’s will and acting as a channel for His grace.

  5. ‘Nebuchadnezzar did not take them to Babylon. God sent them there. The exiles were not captives – they were missionaries.’

    My problem with this take is the last part as they weren’t told to convert people in Babylon to Judaism just to pray for their welfare. Missionaries is QUITE a stretch.

    ‘His surprising plan for the redemption of the city meant building the City of God smack-dab in the middle of the City of Man.‘

    His plan was not for the redemption of the city, after all it would be judged for the captivity, God was simply wanting them to stop fighting him and settle in and get used to living in enemy territory for awhile. They weren’t creating a city within a city to fight against Babylon, perhaps even overthrow it, but creating a separate living area, much like Gosher in Egypt, to keep them from being corrupted.

    I agree we should pray for people and do what we can but if we’re going to use ancient Israel we must understand they weren’t out converting people being told to build cities in enemy territory for the purpose of attacking that enemy.

    While I do see western nations committing the same mistakes Ancient Israel did I see the church as have to be much like the early church in having to be wise as serpents as far as what to do openly, what to say openly, and most importantly WHEN to do and say openly. Some may chirp back about not hiding our light under a bushel but when you are going to be beaten or killed or kept from society the instant you announce you Christian publicly and the first thing you do is go out and shout it out you’re not helping the cause of Christ your just fast tracking yourself to martyrdom. Christ told us to be ‘wise as serpents and harmless as doves.’ Perhaps we need more of the wisdom side of that equation since we’ve gone WAY overboard on the harmless side.

    A big problem we have is we are trying to RECHRISTIANIZE society. We know from the early church and missionaries how to CHRISTIANIZE a PRE-Christian society but we now face a unique challenge – how to RECHRISTIANIZE a POST-Christian society. Some argue post-Christian doesn’t exist just pre-Christian and Christian but actually POST does exist and is far worse than pre for this is a society that at one time knew the truth and rejected the truth and at the same time has perverted the truth into a lie that has similar language so that “Christianity” agrees with society so you can’t truly be Christian. In THIS society it isn’t just confronting the false gods and exposing them but confronting a false Christianity and false Jesus. In this battle your novice and intermediate Christians might not be able to stand because many times these people will quote scripture better than those Christians and can say biblical sounding things to confuse. A pre Christian culture couldn’t do that so a more novice or intermediate Christian could be a missionary to those cultures without difficulty. Certainly even novice and intermediate Christians will find themselves in situations they must speak and they must rely on the Holy Spirt to guide the speech but they should not be the ones seeking to speak. The devil has been a master of linguistics since Eden, if not before, and he and his people are great speakers and can confuse many and rile up many.

    In a POST Christian nation or western world we might have to start using our heads more and start finding our, and each other’s, abilities and delegate duties to those whose abilities match. Not every soldier can do every job certain soldiers do one job certain soldiers do another and certain soldiers do yet another. You would put a rifleman in the cockpit of a F16 and expect him to fly a mission. Or put a F16 pilot at the controls of a submarine.

    The 5 worse words anywhere, but ESPECIALLY for Christians, are “we have to do something”. Because something is an undefined term. Having high tea during a cricket match is something but it isn’t helpful to us. Painting your team colors on your body and standing shirtless in subfreezing weather during a football (what you non-yanks call gridiron) is something but isn’t going to do us any good. Much evil is done by those 5 words as well as much stupidity.

    We are not captives yet we are strangers. We are approaching a tipping point, a moment where many lines of history are converging in one spot, only God truly knows what is beyond that point but the clouds on the horizon don’t look very friendly.

  6. Thanks Paul. Although as to your opening remarks, a few things can be said. Yahweh always wanted Israel to be a missionary community – a blessing to the nations. He did not want them to live in a holy huddle, but to be a light to the world. So that included being a missionary people. Even if God does go on to judge a nation, he still wants them to know about himself. Thus God raised up a reluctant missionary in Jonah to preach to pagan Ninevah – and guess what? They believed the word and repented! Sure, later God did judge them. To seek the welfare of the city does include sharing life-changing truth with a people. So yes, God wanted the exiles to be a missionary people, among other things – just as he wants us to be a missionary people today, and not just seek self-preservation.

  7. Schaeffer certainly did talk about how we are now in a post Christian society. Yes I know we have Brethren who cannot speak out due to persecution. But those of us who face “soft totalitarian” persecution are we not failing God in not being watchmen/women to the culture, preaching Christ and warning to those around us??

  8. I guess it would come down to the definition of missionary. The way I have always understood the term was its ultimate goal was converting unbelievers and preaching the word, the Torah at that time, was a huge part of it. I’m just not seeing a equivalent to the great commission in the OT.

  9. Thanks again Paul.

    The ancient Israelite was meant to be a ‘missionary’: to share the truth of the God who exists who loves sinners and wants to have a relationship with those who do not yet know him.

    The NT Christian is meant to be a ‘missionary’: to share the truth of the God who exists who loves sinners and wants to have a relationship with those who do not yet know him.

    The only difference is we now have the fullness of divine revelation, and Christ is the means of making all this possible. But people of course had relationship with God in the OT and were meant to share it with others.

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