If you have been around here for any length of time, you have likely heard my testimony of struggling to keep the pen in God’s hand. In the past, I have dreamed up elaborate plans of how I would like the next years of my life to look, only to realize God has a completely different plan. A good plan but nonetheless a different plan. On the idea of God’s plans, I was talking to a friend recently about the verse Jeremiah 29:11 and how often it is misused in the Christian sphere. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. People tend to use this verse to cling to the incorrect interpretation of the promise of good. We have come to see it used to suggest that once we become Christian, our life will go on without a problem because … God’s good plans right? Well…not so much.
Yes, it is beautiful encouragement and yes, God has good plans for our lives, but as true as that is it is also true that we will face suffering and trial as a part of the broken world. We must read the verse in it’s context in order to understand what God is really saying. Simply cherry picking a verse out of Scripture and twist it to fit our desires, is not how God’s word works. When reading the Scripture as a whole, we quickly learn that God views prosperity (His good plans) in a different light than we humans. God is a master at creating beauty from ashes and until we reach heaven, there will be ashes.
Let’s take a look into the context of this verse to see what truths we can pull out in order to enrich our understanding of God’s will for our lives and how the promise of Jeremiah 29:11 fits in.
The book of Jeremiah was written by the prophet Jeremiah, a man God used to speak to people within the nation of Judah. This book is addressed to those who had been taken as captives to Babylonia by King Nebuchadnezzar. Knowing that, we know that this isn’t some happy prosperous time in Biblical history. It was heartbreaking and arduous. From Daniel chapter 9 we know that their captivity would last for 70 years. Which for most equaled a lifetime. In Jeremiah chapter 29 verses 4-10, we read of Jeremiah telling the exiles to more or less embrace their lives right where they are. He instructs them to build homes and marry, to plant gardens and to eat the produce, to have children and even grandchildren. God goes as far as instructing the captives to pray for the city which they now find themselves in, a city that was enemy territory.
Jeremiah 29:4-10 “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. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord. “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.”
Next we come across verse 11. God is telling these very same people that He has good plans for them, plans of prosperity and a hopeful future. In our human nature this makes little sense, we want to shake our heads and re-read the passage to make sure we understood God correctly. Prosperity in the midst of trial, hope in the midst of captivity…a promised future? It just doesn’t add up in our human minds. How could God take something so hard and bring beauty from it? We tend to wrestle with the idea that we even have to experience hard things in this life after we have come to know God. We bristle against the fact that these very hard things are often what God uses to sanctify His children. It would be so much easier to read this verse if it meant never having to worry about losing a loved one again, or if it was promising financial prosperity and never having to worry about where the money to cover a bill would come from…right? Instead we see a different story, a story of hardship, of a years long captivity and of a promised future.
Because that dear reader, is the very nature of the God we serve. Our God makes a way when there is no way. He walks on water, moves mountains and creates beauty from ashes. He isn’t stopped by hardship, He isn’t stopped by anything. He tenderly and compassionately loves His own. In the middle of the storm He is faithful. That doesn’t always mean He stops the storm, but friend He doesn’t let us drown. He holds us close to His side as the waves rage on. How much more beautiful is it that even in the midst of the raging sea, even in the hardship we have His promise. If all this verse meant was prosperity and never knowing brokenness I am convinced it would not be near as meaningful or beautiful. The hard is often where we find God closest, where we feel His presence the strongest. Perhaps the answers wont come this side of heaven, some of our lives biggest questions will not find answer until eternity. I believe that a large part of the promised future Jeremiah 29:11 speaks of is indeed heaven.
To add to our understanding of this verse, let’s continue reading a little of Jeremiah 29.
Jeremiah 29:12-14 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
Jeremiah 29:12 tells us it is when we call upon His name that He will hear us, when we seek Him we will find Him. In our sinful, selfish nature we are not so great at turning to God in our abundance. When things are going along smoothly, we simply do not cling to God as we do when we are in the midst of a storm. It often takes the pain that drives us to our knees for us to see our desperate need for God. Again, without that pain we would not know the opposing goodness that God promises. It is not that God enjoys inflicting pain on His children, or has some kind of trick up His sleeve to make sure we have enough pain dealt to us. That is not the case at all. He is a God of love, a God who is faithful and merciful. What is truth is that He uses our deepest pains to create beauty beyond comprehension.
Friend, the next time you see or hear this Scripture being used remember its context. Remember that it was given to a people who were in exile, a people who were living in enemy territory and would be their for 70 years time. It is not a cheap promise of good fortune, but instead a rich promise of God’s abundant goodness. It was a promise for those precious people so long ago just as much as it is a promise for us today. Hold tight to God’s goodness because truly… He has good plans for all of our lives!
Soli deo gloria!