Jeremiah 29:11; “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.”
Heard that verse recently? I know I have, and with good reason. It is a verse full of promise, peace for the present and hope for the future. With virtual graduations coming up and so much uncertainty about what the future will look like, that verse with its familiar promises, feels like a warm hug.
But familiarity can rob this verse of its wonder. I hope that by shedding light on its context, I will help you see this verse in a new way.
This was a letter written to the people of God exiled in Babylon. They were far from home and from everything familiar. They were bereft. Lost. Uncomfortable. Aliens in a foreign land.
They, like us, were pulled suddenly out of their comfortable lives and into a completely new reality.
But in the darkest hour of their lives, God reached out to His people. He spoke to them, guided them and reminded them of who He is and what He will do. In the first 14 verses of chapter 29, God gives us his three principles for how to live a life honoring to him, even when you aren’t where you want to be, who you want to be with or doing what you want to do.
This is God’s prescription for Exiled Living, and his formula for quarantine as well.
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce… multiply there, and do not decrease. Vs 5,6
In other words, unpack your bags. Stop sitting around and waiting for God to rescue you so you can just go back to “normal”. It’s going to be a while, so put down some roots.
For us today, this may look like actually planting a garden. Or learning any new skill or hobby. Finishing that book you started two years ago. Completing that home project that’s been sitting half-finished in plain sight. Reading through the Bible. Making that prayer closet.
I know it’s tempting to put your hope in the timelines for re-entry, dreaming about the amazing St. Easter Memorial Flag Day of July party you are going to throw once we are allowed to gather again. But don’t miss out on the gift that all this time can be.
It would be such a waste if we emerge from this as exactly the same people we were in March
…seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Vs 7-8
The Babylonians were a pagan brutal people, led by King Nebuchadnezzar, one of the most reviled characters in all of scripture. But, nevertheless, God called his people to seek their welfare. He wanted them to be a blessing, even though they were essentially prisoners.
It was so important to God that he attached that promise/warning at the end of verse 8: your welfare is directly tied to the welfare of the nation in which you live.
So… Support that small business. Give to that food bank. Grocery shop for that elderly neighbor. Say thank you to your mail carrier. Wave to the dog walker. Model patience and contentment for your children. Be kind to the check-out guy. Pray for the nurses and doctors, the delivery drivers, the shut in, the sick, the anxious, the lonely. Be the blessing.
They are your city. Your welfare is directly tied to their welfare.
Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, vs 8-9
Friends, there is a lot of confusion, deception and twisting of the truth out there. I recently googled how long to leave groceries in the car before bringing them into the house. I only read things from scientific sources. I still have no clear idea if three days are totally necessary, or a panic-induced over-reaction.
Clearly, the truth is in short supply. There are so many voices screaming at us, telling us what to think, who to trust and how to behave.
God knows that when we are afraid and shaken, we are most vulnerable to lies.
“I can’t. I am not equipped. It’s too hard. I am alone. No one sees. No one cares.”
These are all lies that I have had knocking around my head these past few weeks. And I know that I am not the only one. Or maybe yours are a little different.
Does God care that I might lose my business? Does he see that I am barely hanging on? No one will know if I indulge just this once. I know I will be happy if I can just…
Our God is a God of truth. He teaches us to wash our minds in the Word. (Ephesians 5:26) He warns us to not be ignorant of the Devil’s schemes. (2 Corinthians 2:11) He invites us to know the freedom-giving truth. (John 8:32) He desires that we would be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:4)
Ask the Lord to show you your thoughts and emotions that are not based in his truth. It is hard to always be aware of a lie that you have slipped into, but I have always found the Lord to be faithful to show them to me, whenever I ask.
Let us join with David’s prayer at the end of Psalm 19:
Let the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Now, here is the payoff:
“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 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.
Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear 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 I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” vs 12-14
Do you see how our Lord’s heart is always on redemption, connection, reconciliation?
The exiles were enduring a very painful present, but the Lord, in his mercy, was showing them the light at the end of the tunnel. He was showing them that even though things might be terrible right now, THAT IS NOT THE END OF THE STORY.
Reread that last passage and let the grace and kindness of the Lord wash over you.
He knows our present suffering.
He forgives our past sins.
He holds our blessed future.
That is our God.