As I write this, our oldest child is at an age where she is starting to become aware of how dark her room is and to wonder what is making the various shadows that she sees. Every so often, after having put her to bed, she will call out for me or my wife to come and inspect something that she doesn’t recognize. However strange she imagined this new element to be, once we take her in our arms and begin to rock her to sleep the potential threat is overcome with a wave of peace and she rests quietly on our shoulder. For her, the nearness of her parents produces a greater comfort than a fear of the unknown.
How Proximity Impacts Our Peace
This article will explore how a sober-minded approach to proximity, or a person’s location, can be a powerful producer of peace. Consider how often a person’s location can impact how peaceful their lives are. A person who signs a one-year lease agreement in a new apartment discovers the neighborhood is much rougher than it appeared to be when initially surveyed. Conservatives living in more progressive areas experience daily anxiety over government policy, public school curriculum, and the threat of increased taxes. A woman trapped in a loveless marriage struggles each night as she returns home from work and resents the home she shares with her husband. A child from a different culture faces ostracization in a school where the majority of children are not like them.
In all of these cases, location can be one of the most significant factors that fosters or even produces the challenges they experience. No doubt, some of the most common advice these individuals would hear when explaining their circumstances to another are also location-related: Back out of your lease agreement and find a new apartment! Pack up your family and move to a more conservative area! Divorce your husband and start a new life for yourself somewhere else! Enroll your child in a different school! While proximity-directed counsel like this may indeed be correct in specific cases, individuals would do well to remember that a mere location change may not relieve the various tensions they currently experience. In other words, the grass may not always be greener on the other side.
Proximity and the People of God
Throughout redemptive history the people of God have had some serious struggles with their location. From the moment God promised Abraham a definite land that would be an eternal inheritance for his descendants, Israel longed to be at home in the place God had set apart for them (Gen 17:8). As a result, one of the greatest trials that Israel faced in the history of their nation was the exile they experienced as punishment for disobeying the Lord’s command to steward that very land according to his word (Jer 25:1-11). How was Israel supposed to respond when they found themselves in exile? Should they rebel against the government? Zealously burn down false places of worship? Refuse to become residents of the new land in which they had been placed by God’s sovereign decree? This would appear to be the godly, wise counsel for those religious exiles now living in someone else’s land. Not surprisingly, that same attitude often underlies much of the proximity-based counsel that is offered in the present day. But that was not God’s perspective nor the substance of his divinely-mandated instruction:
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.Jeremiah 29:4-7
In his infinite wisdom, God corrects the old proverb—the grass is greener where you water it. In God’s location-related punishment for sin, Israel’s welfare was directly related to the welfare of the foreign environment in which they had been placed.
While this command was given specifically to Israel in their historical circumstances, the same principle applies to us in the modern age. Proverbs 3:3-4 reads, “Trust in the Lord and do what is right! Settle in the land and maintain your integrity! Then you will take delight in the Lord, and he will answer your prayers” (New English Translation, emphasis added). This translation renders the Hebrew grammar in a way that helps us see verse four as the result of verse three. In other words, when a person trusts in the Lord, does what is right, and maintains their integrity where God has providentially placed them, then they will experience joy in the Lord and answered prayers! In this way, proximity possesses a tremendous potential to produce peace in the lives of those who cultivate faithfulness where they are instead of where they are not.
This concept was just as important for New Testament believers as it was for Old Testament Israel. James wrote to encourage Jewish believers—members of the twelve tribes of Israel who were living outside the promised land—to rejoice in their present circumstances because their generous Father was producing in them spiritual maturity while they were living in their present location (James 1:1-27).
Godly Contentment in Your Current Location
In a similar manner, the apostle Peter opens his first epistle by encouraging believers scattered throughout the world to think rightly about their location in this present world (1 Pet 1:1-2) so that they will respond by blessing God for his incredible work in their lives (1 Pet 1:3-12). When people prioritize right thinking about location, it can have a powerful effect on any Christian, regardless of their circumstances. The new tenant in a rough neighborhood could take that year to develop a greater dependance upon God and seek to be a light in a dark place (Matt 5:16). The conservative family might discover that the gospel is able to shine more brightly through the choices they make as a family in a blue region than it would in a red region. The embittered wife may find relief in the promise that one of God’s greatest plans for winning her husband to gospel obedience is her pure and respectful conduct (1 Pet 3:1-6). The student may recognize their unfavorable environment as an opportunity to bless God for trials that prove the genuineness of their faith (1 Pet 1:6-7). When a person faithfully entrusts their location to the God of the universe, the possibilities for the greater glorification of his name are seemingly endless (2 Thess 1:11-12).
Are you lacking joy and peace in your present circumstances? Do you feel as though your prayers are not being answered? It is possible that your lack of peace and unanswered prayers are flowing from a desire to be somewhere other than where God has placed you for his purposes. Therefore, cultivate faithfulness where you are, believing that God is able to keep you in perfect peace as you trust him with your location (Isa 26:3).