That verse. You know the one:
“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 hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Christians often quote it, we claim it for ourselves, we assert God’s blessing in our life through it.
About a week ago, God prompted me to randomly open my Bible and read. I sensed He had something to say to me about a struggle I was having in a relationship. So, I did. It fell open to Jeremiah 28, which kicks off with a prophet saying that God would rescue the Israelites, His chosen people, from exile in two years’ time. I smiled big as I turned this into a message for me: two-year turnaround, two years and things will be “all better”. Well, I thought, there IS hope. God will come through. Then I kept reading…
It turns out the prophet who said this was lying, giving false hope. He was verbally shot down by Jeremiah–the real prophet of God–and then shot down by God Himself. Shot down dead.
At this point, I started squirming. Did I want to read more? Maybe I should have stopped after verse 4, after the “wow I can live with that–praise the Lord!” proclamation of the false prophet. If I would have stopped, I wouldn’t have known it was all a lie. Instead, I’d be happily whistling “Awesome God” or “Holy, Holy, Holy”. But nooooo, I’d gone too far for that. I couldn’t, in good conscience, chuck the rest of the story for the nugget I was happy with. The nugget had lost its luster…I had to look for the gem, God’s real message for me.
Jeremiah unpacked the truth. In chapter 29, he says the Israelites will be rescued in 70 years, not two years. The “plans I have for you” verse is in this chapter and refers to plans for the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the hearers, not for the hearers themselves. A collective jaw drop surely happened as they realized they would always live in exile, they would never get to go home.
God doesn’t leave them without purpose, though, for in those 70 years, God says to: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, 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.” (vs 5-7)
I got it…the message, that is. I need to stop thinking about myself, my comfort and well-being and start looking at setting the stage for future generations…what will be in their best interest. From these verses I see that includes not only the basics–food, water and shelter–but healthy, stable, God-centered marriages and families that pray for and seek peace with their enemies. Do you see the grandkids in these verses? Yep, they’re there…
You know the best part of all of this, the part that makes sacrifice now so worth it? It emerges from the verses that immediately follow “the plans I have for you” verse. Listen as God speaks about His relationship with the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the hearers:
Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to 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 will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” (vs. 12-14)
They’ll have intimacy with God…an intimacy so deep that God allows Himself to be found by them. An intimacy that leads them home…
Oh Holy Spirit, please set the stage through me…
–image retrieved from picapp.com: http://view4.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/8392667/birds-flying-formation/birds-flying-formation.jpg?size=500&imageId=8392667