“’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.’”
Ah, the verse of transitions – the one we give as gifts on dorm decorations or magnets to graduating seniors, the one we share with our friends going through a breakup, the one we read over and over when our life plans just aren’t working out as we envisioned.
But does it mean what we think it means?
Let’s look at the context. It’s dangerous to pick a verse, any verse, out of Scripture to claim as support for our opinions, arguments against others, even hope for the future, without considering the context of the book and story of the Bible as a whole. Without boring you too much with history details (which I actually find fascinating, but I’m nerdy like that!), the prophet Jeremiah wrote his book to God’s chosen people in Judah – before the faithless Israelites were conquered and exiled to unholy Babylon in 586 B.C.
It’s likely his warnings and prophecies of exile fell on deaf ears of hardened people, but perhaps the hedonistic Israelites perked up at these words, just as we do today:
“For I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you, not to harm you.”
Perhaps these were the only words the Israelites listened to, because they were good news! “Who cares about the rest of the warnings – the Lord make us rich and happy if we just make animal sacrifices!” Or, how about this one – “The Lord will make me rich and happy if I go to church on Sunday!”
But maybe, hopefully, as the Israelites were taking a death march to exile, stripped of status and pride, being torn away from their homes, they remembered God’s words to His people. “Plans to prosper you, not to harm you…”
I am overwhelmed by the deep, amazing love God has for each individual on this earth. The very hairs on our head are numbered (Luke 12:7). The Lord created me in my mother’s womb, carefully knitting me together, choosing strengths, personality, and characteristics for me (Psalm 139:13). I have no doubt that if I were the only person who had ever sinned, God would have sent His Son to die for me.
But – God spoke these words of future and hope and prosper to a nation of people. To His people, His chosen people, His exiled people that He let be captured out of love, so that they would one day willingly return to Him. “Then you will call on me, and come to me, 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.” (Jeremiah 29:12-13).
What if Jeremiah 29:11 isn’t about you as an individual, but us as a church? After all, as God’s church, we have been grafted in as His chosen people, His vessels to bring all the world to Him, and bring Him to all the world (Romans 11:17-24). We are the new Israel.
Jesus tells the parable of the shepherd who left the 99 sheep to find the 1…but he brought the one back to the flock. (Matthew 18:12-14).
I’d like to suggest that God’s only will for your life is to be saved, follow Him, and bring others with you (2 Peter 3:9). He has given us beautiful, dangerous free will to make all of our decisions – and they can either be in accordance with His desires, or not.
Other decisions, like your major or job or location? I don’t think God cares, as long as you are using your talents, gifts, and position in life to glorify Him and bring others to Him (Matthew 25:14-30).
(Now, there are wise and unwise decisions that could lead you towards or away from God, such as the person you marry and the friends you keep. There are decisions that honor God and those that don’t. Another topic for another week!)
I realize this might be a harsh statement, especially if you are in a confusing season of your life -I’ve been there! I stressed and prayed for a year in college trying to pick a major, asking God to show me His will. Through prayer and counsel of people much wiser than I, I realized what glorifies God the most is when I use my gifts, interests, and opportunities that honor Him and point people to Him.
So, loved one, the Lord cares about you deeply and madly. But He also cares for His church, and how you are connecting and relating to His other people.