“Picture this—you’re out going to pick up your lunch and there’s this random guy walking by with a handmade sign. I’m sure like most of us, we’d glance and keep it moving, but I decided to read his sign since I was at a stop light.”
This is how a woman in Jacksonville, Florida, described a recent experience to a local reporter. Here’s what made it newsworthy: The sign read “HAVE A WONDERFUL DAY!!! I LOVE YOU.” The man also held up another sign that read “YOU are RELEVANT.” As the woman snapped a few pictures, the man holding the signs gave her a sunflower. The reporter shared the story with the reminder that the kind messages came during National Suicide Prevention Month.
We need this reminder as much now as ever.
Billy Miller, an actor who played Marcus Specter on Suits and won three Emmy awards for his role in The Young and the Restless, died by suicide last Friday in Austin, Texas, at the age of forty-three. His mother stated that he “surrendered his life” after “a long hard valiant battle with bipolar depression.”
The number of deaths by suicide in the US increased last year to the highest rate ever. Globally, a person dies by suicide every forty seconds. Gallup notes that depression rates in the US have reached their highest levels ever reported.
These facts can seem overwhelming. What can you and I do to make a practical difference in our hurting world? One biblical answer is both counterintuitive and countercultural, but it offers hope we can embrace and share with those who need it most today.
“In its welfare you will find your welfare”
Peter called his fellow believers “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11). The former describes someone who is a foreigner or stranger; the latter refers to temporary residents. Taken together, they remind us that this world is not our home and that we are only here for a short time.
How are we to live in this foreign land?
The Lord’s letter to his Jewish exiles in Babylon is instructive (Jeremiah 29). It was preserved in Scripture because it has value not just for its original readers twenty-six centuries ago but for all readers across all times and cultures.
It begins: “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce” (v. 5). This is the opposite of what they might have expected. Rather than finding temporary shelter, they were to construct lasting structures in which to “live” (the Hebrew is literally translated as “sit down and remain”). Creating gardens takes time, but they were not only to plant them but to “eat their produce” in the years to come.
In addition, they were to “take wives and have sons and daughters” to fulfill God’s call that they “multiply there, and do not decrease” (v. 6). Rather than allowing their nation to wither in exile, they were to seek to grow and prosper.
Now comes the most shocking instruction of all: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lᴏʀᴅ on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (v. 7). “Seek” means to “run diligently after”; the “welfare” of the city refers to its peace, prosperity, health, and success. The exiles were to do all they could to promote the Babylonian city’s welfare and then to “pray to the Lᴏʀᴅ on its behalf” that he might do what they could not.
The reason was simple: “In its welfare you will find your welfare.”
Three ways to “seek the welfare” of our city
One response to the brokenness of our secularized culture is to withdraw into spiritual “huddles” with little concern for those outside our circle. But this ignores our commission to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). And it impoverishes us while denying others the good we can offer them in Christ.
What are some biblical ways we can “seek the welfare” of our broken culture?
One: “Show kindness and mercy to one another” (Zechariah 7:9). As the sign-holding man in Jacksonville reminds us, we cannot know the larger impact of a single act of encouragement and affirmation.
Two: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another” (1 Peter 4:10). John Grove argues persuasively in Public Discourse: “We do not need more self-conscious crusaders for the nation or even for Western Civilization, but instead more priests, teachers, businessmen, artists, writers, and parents who perform their own activities faithfully, serving . . . as ‘leaven for the whole lump.’”
Three: “Bring salvation to the ends of the earth” (Acts 13:47). Paul was “not ashamed of the gospel” because it is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). According to Tim Keller, “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”
How to love well
Christians have a unique gift for our culture today: we alone can demonstrate the kindness of Christ by offering our best service to hurting souls while sharing the good news of God’s love. But we cannot love well until we embrace the fact that we are well loved.
To that end, let’s close with this intercession from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer: “Help us so to know you that we may truly love you, and so to love you that we may fully serve you, whose service is perfect freedom.”
Will you join me in offering these words from your heart to your Father today?
NOTE: If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, I encourage you to call or text the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or go here. For Denison Forum articles on mental health, please go here.