“I know the plans I have for you says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans for a hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
This is an incredibly encouraging verse oft-quoted in times of prayer…and rightly so! Yet sometimes we so easily forget the context that we miss the challenge. Missing that challenge can easily lead to disappointment.
These words come in the middle of a letter from God to His people written by the prophet Jeremiah. They come in the middle of letter full of things the Israelites never expected to hear. Things they didn’t want to hear.
These were God’s people. They knew their history: chosen out of every other nation to be God’s, rescued through miraculous events from slavery in Egypt, promised and receiving a land that would be theirs forever.
Yet they also thought they understood their present: having compromised their faith wanting to be like everyone else rather than set apart for God, they were now reaping the consequences of their actions…they were now exiled by a godless nation.
So what would you expect to hear? Surely a call to repent, to stop compromise, to set yourself apart from every other nation, which must be followed by a swift victory and return to the promised land…
…that’s not what God said! Instead Jeremiah writes: “Settle down! Build houses and plant vineyards…you are going to be here for 70 years! Let your children get married and rooted down…and seek the prosperity of this people for you will prosper when they do…”
Can you imagine how they felt? “But God….you made this promise…we know we messed up, you told us exactly how…but this doesn’t make sense! How can you want us to stay with the people you told us to leave…?! We don’t understand!”
Have you ever faced this kind of situation? “I don’t understand what you’re saying God! I thought you promised one thing and now another thing is happening… I thought I knew what this would look like and now you seem to be saying something totally different…! What’s going on?!”
Take a closer look at the promise God makes….
“I know the plans I have for you says the Lord…”
Too easily we hear the promise for good plans and miss the person who’s plans they are. We hear a promise and envisage in our mind exactly what it should look like and how….we run after the promise itself and forget the one who spoke the word….when things don’t work out like we expected we struggle to understand why. When it all seemed so clear, how could it get so confusing?
Who’s plans are we counting on?
Real hope is found, not in the wishful thinking that a particular situation takes place, but in placing all our trust in the God of Hope – in the One who makes all things work for the good of His people – in the One who has good plans for us and walks with us into them.
Why did God call the Israelites to bless Babylon? To bless an enemy nation synonymous with immorality?
He was giving them an invitation.
An invitation to remember who they were as they remembered who He was. God’s plan saw further than theirs. Their focus was on their present and material place, on their circumstances and actions. God’s focus was on who they were made to be. God promised to make them a great nation to be a blessing and a light to every nation. They were made to be a conduit of His love to every people on earth! His focus was global not national, was eternal not immediate, was on who they were not what they did.
The walk of the Christian life comes with incredible promise: we are seated with Christ in victory; the Spirit that raised Christ from the dead is inside of us; we are Sons and Daughters of the King of Kings; we are empowered and called to heal the sick, raise the dead, to be salt and light that changes nations. Yet we step into these promises through an incredible challenge…do we trust God enough to enter into his plans rather than demanding that he enter ours?
Imagine your life as a play in a theatre. For many of us we are center stage. Everything revolves around us. For some, God has no place. For others, He has a bit part – an extra in the background – He’s there but makes no difference. Perhaps for others God is like a director shouting instructions so we either succeed or fail. For still others He may even be a supporting actor, a co-star, essential to the show but mainly to make us look good.
Yet the Christian life is so much more! Becoming a Christian is like having the roof lifted off our little theatre and looking up to see a far greater stage. A stage that stretches throughout time and eternity, that covers every nation, that has right in the center God Almighty Himself. We are called as Christians to become part of God’s story, of His great drama of salvation. He lifts us up and places us in something far greater than we could ever imagine. A story with a future, a promise, a hope!
If we want to enter, we cannot be the center…
…if we demand God enter our plans we will be disappointed. Yet every disappointment is an invitation to look up, give up having to control, and bring ourselves to God completely. He is faithful, He is good – will we walk with Him?