Jeremiah 29:11 is often quoted, especially for graduates or anyone embarking on a new journey: “‘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.’” It’s a beautiful verse, but it gains more meaning when we take a look at the broader context. Take a moment to read Jeremiah 29:1-14.
In 597 B.C., the residents of Judah were exiled to Babylon after their capital Jerusalem and the entire nation had been destroyed by their enemies. A small remnant of Judeans remained home, and Jeremiah was among those few. The book of Jeremiah preserves the conversations that took place between those exiled in Babylon and Jeremiah in Jerusalem. Chapter 29 is a letter Jeremiah wrote to counter a message they were receiving from the false prophet Shemaiah who had the advantage of being physically present with the exiled.
As you can imagine, the Judeans were anxious to get back home, for life to return to normal. To placate their desires, Shemaiah gave the people a false hope that they would be immediately delivered by God.
Shemaiah was willing to lie just to give the people what they wanted to hear.
In contrast, Jeremiah had a Word from the Lord, and it wasn’t going to win him any popularity votes. Here he informs them that they need to get settled in because they’re going to be there for generations. “Go ahead: build houses, plant seeds, get married, have babies. You will need the fruit of your labor in this land. And while you’re at it, go ahead and invest in the well-being of your surrounding community because your own well-being is intricately tied to theirs. We’re all in this together.”
Gosh, this sounds eerily familiar: Life has been turned upside down. The desire for things to go back to “normal” as fast as possible. Community leaders disagreeing – some saying all will be back soon while others say we’re in this for the long-haul. It’s frustrating, and we feel stuck here. Perhaps, we’re in a place that feels quite useless to us, and like the Judeans, we’re begging for God to just let us get on with our life already.
Jeremiah assures us that God is right here with us. We may not like our current destination, but we’re encouraged to fully invest in life as it is now, confidently knowing that God is at work. We don’t actually have to just sit and wait, feeling useless. Instead, we can use our energy to seek after our Lord. And when we do, God promises to meet us right where we are.
The challenge issued to us is to find God’s peace in the midst of uncertainty and anxiety, and to let go of the way things used to be so we can embrace what God is doing right here and now in order to shape our future.