Seeking the Welfare of our Babylon

“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Jeremiah 29:7

The exiles sat down by the rivers of Babylon and wept as they remembered Zion. How could they sing the Lord’s song, they asked, while in a foreign land and far from home (Psalm 137). If John Denver had been with them, perhaps he would have composed for them a variant on his ‘Country Roads’ song – “Desert roads, take me home, to the place I belong”.

Daniel was one of the exiles but I somehow doubt that he would have spent much time joining others in their nostalgic longing for Jerusalem. For him, Babylon was a place in which to serve God. Had he read the letter sent from Jerusalem by the prophet Jeremiah from which the above verse comes? We do not know but it is apparent from the story of his life that he was truly a seeker of the peace and wellbeing of the city where God had placed him.

The word for ‘peace’ is that lovely Hebrew word ‘shalom’, of which Nicholas Wolterstorff writes this: “to dwell in shalom is to find delight in living rightly before God, to find delight in living rightly in one’s physical surroundings, to find delight in living rightly with one’s fellow human beings, to find delight even in living rightly with oneself”.[1] This cannot be reduced to the mere material wealth of a prosperity doctrine which is not worthy of the followers of the Man who had no home and who died on a Roman cross!

Sometimes, sitting in a classroom at the end of the day, we may weep and long to be somewhere else. Babylon can be a hard place but we can promote shalom there and in the wider community in which God has placed us. This is education for godly citizenship. Let’s dare to be Daniels today!

Lord, you have called us to be resident aliens in our Babylons. Help us to seek shalom in our classrooms, schools and communities. May those we teach discover something of what it is to dwell in shalom in right relationships with their physical surroundings, with one another, with themselves and, yes, with you, the God of peace. Amen.

[1] Nicholas Wolterstorff, Educating for Shalom, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns, 2004), p. 23.

What’s in a Name?

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31-32

In this short statement, Jesus is recorded as using Simon’s name no fewer than three times and what a difference that must have made to the impact of his words and to the relationship between them!

We have probably all had the experience in a crowded room with a hubbub of conversation all around us of someone somewhere mentioning our name and we hear it above everything else that is being said. Or we glance at a page of writing that happens to have our name somewhere in it and it leaps out at us. We seem to be tuned to the sound of our name or the sight of it in print.

Our names are special to us or, as a teacher once said to me, our names are like music to our ears. They are a kind of shorthand for all that we are as people. What we are is poured into our name. In Bible times and indeed up to fairly recently in the western world, parents gave attention to the meaning of the name that they chose for their children. They poured into the name all that they wanted the child to become. When God gave a new name and Abram became Abraham or Jacob became Israel, the new name showed what he saw them becoming.

The names of those we teach are like music to their ears. Learning their names, remembering them and using them is vital to the development of classroom relationships. Just observe their reactions when we get their names wrong or, worse still, when we call them by the name of that older brother or sister that we taught a few years ago! Knowing their names is not simply or even mainly important for the control that it gives us in the classroom – it is vital to the development of a community of learning, to the establishment of those bonds within which we learn and teach together.

Lord, called Jesus because you save people from their sins, forgive us our failures to remember and use the names of those we teach and help us to develop those classroom relationships that mould us together into a community of learning. Amen.