It’s getting to be that time of year again when high school and college seniors are graduating from their respected levels of education. It’s a time to to reflect on the past years, to look forward to the times ahead, and to take Jeremiah 29:11 completely out of context.
“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
I feel like I almost didn’t even need to include Jeremiah 29:11 in this passage. Modern Christianity has made it one of the most popularly quoted passages of scripture of all time. I get the appeal. This verse is a guarantee that someone up there is looking out for us. It comes with a promise of prosperity, a higher plan, and hope that all things will work out for good. The verse doesn’t ask for much of us when read by itself and it creates this image of a vague benevolent force that’s got your back.
I do believe that God does have a plan for you, and that he has given you hope and a future. I also believe that God’s amazing and wonderful plan for your life is probably not going to be the wish-fulfilling prosperity and comfortable life we tend to imagine.
For starters, let’s address the book this passage is taken from. Jeremiah was known as “The Weeping Prophet” and for a good reason. God sent Jeremiah to warn the people of Israel against the coming disaster that they were heading towards because of their abandonment of God. Jeremiah loved his people and devoted his life to winning them back to God, only to be hated, abused, and mistreated for most of his life. Jeremiah did his job by warned the people, but on this side of eternity he never received what we would call a “prosperous life.” Jeremiah put his heart and soul into his ministry, but at the end of the day he hardly saw any fruits from his labors.
He is far from the only person in the Bible to end up on the seeming short end of the stick. Jumping ahead to the New Testament church leaders, we see that Paul spent the majority of his life in prison while Peter, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, James, Thaddeus, and Simon would all eventually be crucified for spreading the good news of Christ. Others were burned, speared, stabbed, stoned, tortured, and left for dead due to exposure. Does that sound like a prosperous life?
I guess what I’m getting at is when we use Jeremiah 29:11 out of context we can easily stray off into a border line prosperity gospel message, and that just isn’t Biblical. God’s wonderful plan for your life, if you choose to actually pursue it, will probably not be a comfortable one. We as Christians today are so big on comfort. We don’t want to inconvenience ourselves or others with sharing the gospel because it might get awkward.
Our wondrous and prosperous life is living in the reality that our sins have been forgiven and we get the honor and privilege of sharing that good news with the rest of the world. God doesn’t promise each of us riches, comfort, earthly pleasures, a nice house, or even a loving spouse. The american dream is not exactly what Jeremiah 29:11 was talking about.
We really have only two ways we can conduct our lives. We can either live our lives for something eternal or something fading. I don’t think we truly grasp just how amazing it is to consider the fact that we have a purpose at all. The universe certainly doesn’t owe us one, and if we approach reality form the view that we were nothing more than a chemical reaction and chance, then we really don’t have a purpose. Life outside of God is an empty and meaningless endeavor.
Instead God promises us that there is a plan and a purpose behind all of this. Our lives are not without meaning and we aren’t just random accidents in a chaotic universe, we have a plan and a purpose to our lives. Not only do we have a purpose, but we are promised prosperity. Our lives may not seem like successes by worldly standards, but even the “worst” life that follows God is better than the “best” life pursing fading, empty, and pointless passions that will never leave any eternal impact.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon mourns the pointlessness of life. He was a man who had every pleasure and desire imaginable. He was prosperous and lived in excess by almost every human standard. He had any food he desired, more money and riches than could be spent, more wives than he could ever need, and anything his heart desired… and in the end he found it all empty and useless.
“Meaningless! Meaningless!”says the Teacher.“Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”
– Ecclesiastes 1:2
King Solomon needed a purpose. He needed a reason for everything, or else nothing he did or obtained seemed to matter.
God gives us a purpose, he gives us a plan, he lets us play a part in his redemptive story. He gives us a reason to live, a goal to strive for, and the guarantee that it is not all in vain. Nothing else on earth can guarantee that. There is no cause, fight, goal, or achievement apart from God that can give you the guarantee that in the end it will not be forgotten and made worthless by the ever ongoing annuls of time. Only God can give us a purpose, only God can help us truly prosper, and only God can give us something eternal.
“God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”
– C.S. Lewis.