I remember a time when I was speaking with my grandma about some different Biblical topics and we came upon the subject of a certain verse that was very important to both of us. If you call yourself a Christian I'm sure the verse is very well-known to you as well. We found ourselves in the book of the Prophet, Jeremiah. Chapter 29, verse 11 of my ESV Bible says this:
"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."
What an amazing and inspiring piece of Scripture! Doesn't it make you feel all warm inside that we serve a God that knows what He has in store for us? That the plans He has for us are for good and not evil? Well I sure get a lot of joy out of this verse. But like many other people that put this verse in their favorite quotations on Facebook or get it tattooed on their body, I wasn't aware of the context of this verse. I looked at it and thought, "Wow that's a really cool verse! Maybe I should get it tattooed on me!" But then my Bible plan brought me to the book of Jeremiah and I read the chapter in its entirety...
For those Christians (much like me) that aren't as well equated with the Old Testament, I barely had any recollection of what occurred within the text. But from hearing constantly about this Jeremiah 29:11 verse, my mind immediately went to pastors that use it as a means of preaching feel-good theology; a method of eliminating the negative parts of the Bible and only speaking on how much God loves us and has control over our lives. Do I reject these truths? By no means! But I feel that removing these verses and doctrinal truths is detrimental to an individuals understanding of the One true Word of God. The Word that my God divinely inspired, negativity and all.
I'm sure many would also claim that this verse is inaccurately used by preachers that teach what some would call a "Prosperity Gospel"; those televangelists that yell at the top of their lungs, "IF YOU FOLLOW JESUS HE WILL GIVE YOU EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED OR DESIRED! Now if the "holy spirit" within you urges your heart, please send us $1000 dollars to purchase your very own seed to plant a miracle tree."
That's where I usually turn off my television in frustration of the heresy and false teaching occurring in those that call themselves "the body of Christ." But that's another post for another time.
As many of you may not know, I grew up with three cousins that were basically like my immediate family. As of now, only two of my immediate cousins are still a part of this world. The other, the one closest in age to me, has gone to be with the Lord. Her name was Jori and Jeremiah 29:11 was her life verse.
My grandma and I were discussing the verse and how many people use it for the wrong reasons, much like I indicated above. We got onto the topic of Jori using it as her life verse and she asked me if I thought it was used appropriately. At that time, I was aware of the context of the verse so I was able to explain to her my thoughts based on study and not just the verse itself.
Jeremiah was called by God as a prophet in the land of Judah during the reign of King Josiah, "the last faithful king in Judah's history" (ESV Study Bible). Through many visions, God would show Jeremiah the approaching destruction from the north that would soon come upon Israel and all the land. All throughout the first 40 chapters, Jeremiah tells the people of Israel of their "covenantal adultery" and their need to repent for turning from their God. Despite his constant warnings, Judah continues to disregard Jeremiah and continues to sin against God, ultimately leading to the conquering of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. This brings me to Jeremiah 29 where Jeremiah is writing to the exiles that have been taken by Nebuchadnezzar into Babylon.
Life isn't looking too good for the exiles in Babylon. They are under a very oppressive leader and political system led by King Nebuchadnezzar, the very same king that threw Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into the fiery furnace for not bowing to the image of him. Existence was dismal. The exiles felt abandoned by the God they once served and loved. But the faithless Judah brought it upon themselves. They brought the judgement of the Almighty to the very gates of Jerusalem.
But Jeremiah reassured them, "Our God has a plan. I know things look bad but He is good and He will not abandon you." How often do we throw around this scripture without understanding the utter loss of hope for the Judean people?
We like this verse because it makes us feel like God has control and that nothing bad will happen, but is this really the reality of Christian life? Does Christianity guarantee a "Get out of Jail Free" card when it comes to suffering during this life? If anything, I think the reality of Christianity should embody the reality of the exiles in Babylonians. They felt like God had left them! They felt like they were without hope. In the midst of the storm they were told to hold on and not think that God had abandoned them.
There are times when the Christian will get discouraged by life. It's not always rejoicing and celebration, there are times of great suffering and weeping. Paul says to "rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15).
There are going to be times where life is not what we expected and that life takes a turn for the worst. Does that mean God has abandoned us? By no means! He does everything according to His purposes.
Many people that use this scripture without understanding the context don't understand that there are going to be difficult times in this life. They think that because God has a plan, nothing will grow wrong. I hate to rebuke (who am I kidding) the feel-good preachers, but the Christian life is one that is consistently marred by trials and tribulation. We are going to face tough times, Christ said so, and I tend to lean towards the camp that thinks Jesus knew what He was taking about.
But don't lose hope friends, because God got the exiles out of Babylon and God has provided you with a "Get-out-of-Hell-Free" card. That card only comes from the one true Savior, His Son, Jesus Christ. All you have to do is surrender yourself and let Him be Lord.