“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.”
Yes, everyone loves Jeremiah 29:11. But let’s not forget that this favorite verse has a context and consequences. There’s so much more to unpack.
Before we get into it, though, I want to tell you something. This is important. I want to share this with you as delicately and urgently as I believe God would communicate it to you Himself: You can trust God’s plans for your life.
Maybe that statement takes you aback. Maybe it makes you want to click away. Maybe you’re thinking, “Megan doesn’t know me, or my life, and if she did, she wouldn’t suggest something like that because the life I’m living doesn’t feel like a plan God would write.” Well, here’s the deal. If you find that hard to believe, you are in exactly the right place.
You can trust God’s plans even though you don’t yet know what they are. You can trust them even if nothing in your life looks good. You can trust His plans for you because even though His plans may not be what you expected, they’re good, because He is good, in ways we can only begin to understand.
When that truth settles into our hearts, we can live in trust and active dependence on Him.
We need some context for Jeremiah 29. So let’s look at that briefly.
The book of Jeremiah preserves an account of the prophetic ministry of Jeremiah, whose ministry began in 626 BC and ended sometime after 586 BC. Here’s the back story. The Jewish people disobeyed God. As a direct result of that disobedience, God sent them into exile to Babylon. Jeremiah revolves around this Babylonian exile.
In chapter 28 we meet Hananiah, who (falsely) prophesied a near future of peace for Israel, saying they’ll be returning to Jerusalem within a few short years. This false prophet promised that their circumstances would get better, and soon. The problem was, things did not get better.
Today, we see Hananiahs all over the place, prophesying a similar message: Everything will get better and easier with God. No wonder people have pulled Jeremiah 29:11 out of its context. We want a hope-filled future with a dose of prosperity, but we don’t want exile. We want to be faithful like Jesus, but we don’t want to carry a cross. We want love without sacrifice, holiness without pain, and refinement without fire.
Jeremiah rebukes Hananiah and predicts his death in chapter 28. Yep, this is the same chapter that people use for the “hope and future” references iced on graduation cakes and pasted on greeting cards. Jeremiah goes on to tell the Israelites that their exile would continue. Relief would eventually come, but not quickly. In fact, it would take seventy more years. He encouraged them in the meantime to grow a family, plant vineyards and seek the prosperity of the city they lived in.
Back to Jeremiah 29:11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord . . .” Notice how Jeremiah doesn’t promise us that God will tell us all His plans. He simply wrote that God knows the plans He has for us. He then goes on to describe those plans to prosper you and not to harm you. God’s plans are for our good.
Sure, Jeremiah’s words were written to a specific people at a specific time, but the timeless truth stands. God has plans and they’re for our good. Let’s pause for a definition here, because I’m not talking about the Americanized definition of good. I’m talking about the good described in Romans 8:28: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” In the next verse, Paul tells us what he means by “good”: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters” (Romans 8:29). God’s good plan for us is to form us more into the likeness of Jesus so that we can do what Jesus did. The “good” God has for you is to transform you into the image of His Son, so that you can partner with Him in the restoration of all things. His plans for our lives are so much bigger and better than ours.
Which of your experiences have shaped you into the likeness of Christ? Successes and victories? I didn’t think so. Your formation into Christlikeness happened through trials and difficulty, right?
That’s how it was for the Israelites and everyone else in God’s Word, and we should expect that’s how it will be for us as well. God’s plan for us will include trials. God didn’t rescue Noah by stopping the flood; He kept him safe in the midst of the deluge. God didn’t save Daniel from the lions’ den; He saved him with the beasts at his side (Daniel 6:22). He didn’t save Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fire; He saved them right in the midst of the flames (Daniel 3:25). God’s plans provoke trust.
Does our Sovereign God cause or allow suffering? This question springs from an age-old debate in Christian circles. My take is that it seems like He does both. Sometimes, He seems like a Calvinist (causing); other times, He acts like an Arminian (allowing). Which goes to show us the inadequacy of our theological systems. God defies our categories. And when our theological brilliance fails us, we are left where we started: trust.
God uses suffering. He redeems suffering. Don’t miss that sentence. God wants to take your pain and heartache, and He wants to transform you through them. He wants to use them for His glory and for your good. Let’s remember the real definition of good: you becoming more like Jesus, not only for your own sake but also for the sake of the world. Your pains are part of His plans.
How might God use the trials you’re facing to make you more like Christ? How might your present hardship lead you toward further intimacy and dependence upon God? These questions will never lend themselves quick answers, but they will bring you to deeper intimacy with God Himself. That’s the plan.