‘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’.
Jeremiah 29:11 NIV
We often approach Jeremiah 29:11 as a security blanket. We quote it, see it on cross-stitch pillows and all over Pinterest and other socials. It’s often read as a promise that our lives will flourish, that God has a plan for us that is all about the good times. But that isn’t what God was promising the Israelites, and it’s not what he’s promising us either.
To really get to grips with this verse, we have to hang out in the chapter before (28), and read chapter 29 in full. Here we get a better understanding of the history of Israel, the nature of the exile, and the promise of the future.
The Jewish people had disobeyed God in every way imaginable. They chased after other gods, and the exile was their punishment. Hananiah has been telling the Israelites all sorts of lies, promising them peace and an end to their suffering. Jeremiah quickly calls Hananiah out, and goes on to prophesy the famous verse we all know and love: “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”.
Problem solved, right?
Not so much.
When we take a closer look at the rest of the chapter, we see in verse 7 Jeremiah says: “Work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare”.
This isn’t at all what the Israelites wanted to hear! They want to be told they’re going home, that the hard times are coming to an end, and that God has a master plan to provide them with comfortable, safe, happy lives. And of course, they’d like all that sooner rather than later. Instead God wants them to stay put, and more than that, to help the nation that they’re stuck in. They’re told to find prosperity in their current place.
A famous blogger, Mary DeMuth writes “God doesn’t call us to escapism, but to find resilience in the midst of our trials. God gives us hope that this life is not all there is. Our suffering here means something. It helps us long for a better country, a better place.
Yes, of course God knows the plans He has for us. And ultimately, he will give us a glorious future. But as we walk out our lives on this crazy earth, let’s remember that the best growth comes through persevering through trials, not escaping them entirely. And when we learn perseverance, we find surprising joy.”
So you see, when we understand this verse within it’s original context, it becomes even more powerful. Pretty cool, huh?