One of the driest times in my Christian life was, ironically, when I was in seminary pursuing a Master of Divinity degree. During that time I slipped into a “When/Then” mindset. I started thinking things like this: when I finish my degree, then I will start serving in my church; when I finish my homework, then I will spend time with the Lord (guess what … that rarely happened.); and when I get out of school, then I will start trying to make a difference in my city.
Having a “When/Then” mindset can be devastating to your spiritual life and the work that God wants to accomplish in and through you.
Interestingly, the Israelites were tempted to fall into this mindset when they were taken into exile in Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar (607-586 B.C.). They were ripped away from their homes and taken to a pagan land. Some of the prophets of Israel told those in exile not to worry, because God was going to deliver them soon.
In other words, don’t get too comfy, don’t get too involved, and don’t put your roots down. Press pause on your life and when you go back home, then you can start your life again. The false prophets were wanting the Israelites to adopt a “When/Then” mindset. Unfortunately, that is not what God wanted. So Jeremiah, a true prophet, sends a letter to all the survivors in exile, the elders, the priests, the prophets, and all the common Israelites. This is what the letter said:
4 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 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. 7 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).
3 Ways to Overcome the “When/Then” Mindset
1.) Put down roots where you are (v.5-7)
Just as God told the Israelites to put their roots down and start their life in Babylon, God is telling many of us to do the same. Don’t wait for all your circumstances to be perfect, start your life! Even if you think you are where you are temporarily, don’t put your life on hold. Build relationships. Get married. Have kids. Live your life. Wherever you are, God has placed you there for a purpose.
2.) Pray for the peace and prosperity of the people around you (v.7b)
You may not like the city you’re in, or the people that God has put around you, but He has called you to love them by praying for their peace and prosperity. What would happen to our cities if Christians would stop waiting for the next stage in their life and start praying for the people around them, and the city that they live in.
Paul makes this point clear in 1 Tim 2:1-2 when he says,
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
3.) Make your city a better place by serving (v. 7)
God did not want the Israelites to build walls and keep the big, bad Babylonians out. God wanted them to engage the city, serve the people, and help make the city a place that glorifies Him. He wants no less from us.
Until God calls us somewhere else, we need to get to work, serving and loving our neighbors. We need to stop waiting and start serving.
Have you developed a “When/Then” mindset? Are you waiting around for the ideal situation before you start to grow in your relationship with Christ and serve the people He has placed around you? Whether we like it or not, God has chosen to use us to be His change-agents, and if we develop a “When/Then” mindset, we will be deemed ineffective in His goal to change us, and our cities.