“And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.” – 2 Peter 1:4.
This week we are talking about a verse that most people have heard. Jeremiah 29:11. “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.” Now this is a classic example of a verse that can be taken out of context, misinterpreted, and misapplied.
One of the ways this verse is misapplied is the idea that this verse is all about me. It is easy to read Jeremiah 29:11 and say: “God has plans for me. God has plans to prosper me, not plans that cause heartache, financial problems and wayward children. No need to worry about the future because God has promised me that He has good plans for a good future and a hope.”
Jeremiah 29:11 follows a description of a specific time in history. Just to quickly sum up the previous 10 verses, God basically tells the Israelites exiled in Babylon, “You better settle in and make a life for yourselves in Babylon. For many of you, this is where you are going to die because it is going to be 70 years till I bring you out of that land.”
Imagine if you were in the exile’s shoes: Would you look at verse 11 in the same way? God is telling this generation of Israelites that it is going to be 70 years until God fulfills His promise to bring them back. If you were a baby when you heard Jeremiah 29:11, you would be over 70 before you actually see that promise fulfilled.
God gives the exiles His promise in Jeremiah 29:12-14: “In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.”
Now verse 11 makes sense. God is giving His people hope by promising that while they are in exile, He will still be with them, blessing them, and more than that hope. You see this hope a little clearer in verse 14 where God promises to bring all of His people out of exile, into one nation and there He will bless them. This is not a promise given to me as an individual that God has ‘plans of prosperity and not harm… to give you a future and a hope’, instead; this is a promise to the exiled Israelites.
There are Christians that are suffering and in that suffering, they turn and trust in God’s Word and Jeremiah 29:11. The Bible should be and is a source of inspiration and comfort. There are many promises in the Bible given directly to the individual. Romans 8:28 for example: ”And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” If you love God, then God promises that He is going to work all things together for good.
If you are going through a tough season of life, by all means cling to to Jeremiah 29:11, but cling to it for the right reason: not in the false hope that God will take away your suffering, but in the true, gospel confidence that He will give you hope in the midst of every trial.
- Read Jeremiah 29: 1-1; to whom is God speaking? What is the situation?
- What purpose might the seventy-year period serve? Have you ever had a period in your life when God’s answer to your prayers did not fit your time table? How did you respond? What did you learn during that time?
- Focus on verse 13: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (NIV) What does it mean to seek the Lord with “all your heart?”
- What is the difference between seeking the “plans” God may have for us and simply seeking Him?
- Can you think of a time in your life when you made seeking your own “plans” your priority? Can you think of a time when God revealed his plans for you after you earnestly sought Him?