One of the hardest temptations to resist is the temptation to selectively hear God’s words. Ignoring the context of God’s promised plans for good makes those plans seem unconditional. Here’s a common example showing how it works:
“For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer. 29:11)
How many times have we heard those words used as an encouragement? They tie in with an over-simplified theology of God’s unconditional love, and grace as a favor. Most of us relish the rising hope that the words bring for our future. The promise is sweet and easy to swallow. There is nothing wrong with verse 11, but the context transforms the promise into true spiritual nutrition.
The promise is stapled to its context by that little first word, “for”. Jeremiah is writing a letter to Jews living as exiles in Babylon. False prophets have told them that their stay will be relatively short; however, God has shown Jeremiah that it will last seventy years. The Jews need to invest themselves long term in Babylon—plan for great-grandchildren! Seek to be a blessing. Only then will God’s “good word” about returning to Jerusalem be fulfilled (Jer. 29:10).
In verse 12 that little word, “then”, introduces a description of what will happen after the seventy years of exile. The people will begin calling on God.1 And God promises that those who seek Him wholeheartedly will find Him, and that He will listen to those who come to Him and pray (Jer. 29:12-13). They will not only be physically returned to the land of Israel; they will also be spiritually repatriated to God.
But it’s not as though God will have nothing to do with His people during their exile. He promises that even as they pray for the welfare of Babylon He will answer (Jer. 29:7). Israel was chosen to pass God’s blessing on to the nations (Gen. 12:1-3). Even in Babylon that plan of God can be fulfilled. You see, welfare is not limited to life in Jerusalem after the exile. It is not on hold for seventy years. Welfare does not depend on outward circumstances; it flows from relationship with God. The word translated “welfare” is the well-known Hebrew word, shalom. Shalom indicates an expansive peace—wholeness, restored relationship, fulfillment in undertakings. We spend so much time trying to resolve the ragged areas of our lives, things that we are convinced have to be different—like Jews who long for Jerusalem. God wants our focus to be on Him. That’s where peace is found.
The most important promises of God in this chapter are the promises that when we come wholeheartedly to seek Him and pray, He will be found and will listen. Perhaps we can say that the presence of God in our lives is proportional to our pursuit of Him. His presence produces the blessing of His expansive peace. That peace overflows to bless the lives of others; even our enemies. When we stop trying to tidy the ragged mess of our situations and focus on God we begin to experience the unfolding of God’s plans for good. It starts in the present; it expands into our future as we draw closer to God.
The goal of Bible Maturity is to promote spiritual growth and faith in God. Please share these short Bible devotions with your friends and family and pray for revival.
- As they did in Egypt (Ex. 2:23-25). [↩]