What’s your favorite movie? What about your favorite song? Do you have a favorite restaurant you find yourself constantly gravitating toward? For me, all I need is a Brad Pitt movie (fellas, don’t judge me), a Miles Davis record, and some tacos, and I’m a happy camper! There’s something about favorites that keep us coming back over and over again no matter how many times we experience them.

This principle is true when it comes to scriptures in the Bible. As I read it, I find myself returning to a few favorites. One of them is Jeremiah 29:11, which says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.’” I love the encouraging message in this verse. God has a plan for His people. It’s a good plan—full of prosperity, hope, and a bright future.

I’ve quoted this verse for years, but as I studied the context of Jeremiah, I realized I was missing the whole point. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying God doesn’t want us to be blessed. But consider the context of Jeremiah 29. God’s people (the Jews) had been deported from their homeland and were living in exile in Babylon. It was a wicked, dark city, and it hosted a culture that couldn’t be any more countercultural to the kingdom of God. The Babylonians’ plan was to take the best and brightest of God’s people—the craftsmen, artisans, and leaders who shaped Jerusalem—and plant them in the middle of Babylon in an effort to get them to conform.

Well, because these were pretty smart people, their defense plan was to stay out of Babylon and set up shop on the outskirts of the city so they could preserve their values, culture, and traditions. As a plan to resist the conformity, they became separatists. Then God sent a message through the prophet Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 29:1–10, God rolled out a new, unexpected plan for His people. He told them to move into the city, build houses, live out their values and culture, grow their families, and represent God.

But in verse seven, God took it a step further by telling them to, “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” (emphasis added). God challenged them to embrace the place He had set them in, live out the values and ways of God, and seek to be a blessing to Babylon. And later, in verse eleven, He encouraged them by saying He would take care of their future.

This idea of being set in the middle of a dark place to be a blessing, a light, a representative of God sounds familiar doesn’t it? It’s seen throughout Jesus’ teachings as well as other parts of the New Testament.

I’m going to be candid with you. I often find myself seeking and praying for the peace and prosperity of me, myself and I. Rarely do I find myself caught up seeking the peace and prosperity of others. That’s why I love verse seven. It challenges me to live for more than just myself and for the well-being of my family.

So what does it mean to “seek the peace and prosperity” in the place God has sent us? Peace means wholeness, well-being, and completeness, while prosperity means value, wealth, and richness. I believe God’s people—wherever they are, whatever neighborhood they live in, whatever workplace or school they may be in—have been placed there by God to seek the peace and prosperity of others by serving and blessing people with no strings attached. It’s how we represent His heart toward humanity. I truly believe God’s people are called to add value by contributing, not just consuming. God’s people should make every place better and brighter as a result of their presence. Most importantly, the people of God should pray for and spiritually enrich that place.

So let me ask you this: Where has God placed you? Where is your Babylon? Here is my encouragement to you: Don’t be so worried about your future that you never take your place. God placed you there, so embrace it and let Him use you. Let’s make a commitment as the people of God that we will “seek the peace and prosperity” of the places He has set us in and allow Him to use us to make a difference in Jesus’ name.

Jason Laird is the executive pastor of Gateway Students. The Gateway Student Conference will be held July 22–24 at the Southlake Campus. For more information, visit gatewaystudentconference.com.