build houses and live in them

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This is the thought that occurred to me today, while outside doing laundry and a wealth of other household tasks at the house at 119, which I had left rather to the last minute and which needed the whole day to do: that God wants us to build houses and live in them. This is the task of the exiled people of God described in Jeremiah 29, where God reaches out to His lost people through the prophet and says:

“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.”

Essentially, this is our continued task – for me particularly as I live in Vancouver – to seek the welfare of my city. God says that in the city’s welfare, we will find our welfare.

Previously, I’ve equated this with going out and serving the least of these. I’ve associated it with initiatives for the social good – soup kitchens, and better yet, non-charity based things like offering opportunities for dignified employment or eating together at a common table. And so this verse took me by the wayside as I considered its implications – that God lays out his plan for the welfare of cities by saying build houses, live in them. Make gardens, tend them. Make children (lots of them, notice?), raise them.

Do you know how much time that takes?

How you can’t do that all by yourself?

God isn’t on a mission of efficiency here either – it’s not just build houses, make gardens, make children. It’s “live in” the houses, “tend” the gardens, “multiply” your children. These take concentrated amounts of time, much effort, and much labour. These aren’t projects that you can start and accomplish alone, and they’re not quick or easy – actually, they require regular cycles: houses need to be cleaned and the families in them need laundry done and groceries bought. Gardens need seeds and watering and weeding. Children – though I’ve not experience it yet – need a lot (a lot!) of time and care and thought and energy.

In my former life (which feels funny to say, being only 25), I lived at home. My mom cooked my meals, my mom even did my laundry (!!!), and I rarely cleaned my room. In no way did I need to be tied to a home, a garden, or thoughts of creating a sustainable future. Essentially, because I did not need to care for my basic needs, I was able to spend, spend, spend myself and my energies on behalf of others. I was always out of the house, always busy, always giving.

Now that I have grown up a bit more, and moved away from this kind of a ministry, I have realized a powerful fact: that way of living was lopsided.

How interesting that God desires us to do very time-consuming things in worlds that are “closed” – by that I mean, not needing to be extended enough to gather statistics for an annual report or able to reach out to every person who crosses our path. It’s a beautiful and hard. The laundry doesn’t feel like it accomplishes anything, the groceries need to be bought every week, the dust builds up when I don’t vacuum regularly. But I believe God uses these things in which we need to be faithful to change us, and to change his world.

Build a house; live in it.

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