In the middle of the book of Jeremiah, there’s this verse that I suspect most Christians consider their “life verse.” It’s everywhere. It’s on t-shirts, coffee cups, posters (maybe with a beautiful landscape or cute fuzzy animals), greeting cards… you name it, there’s probably a product with this verse on it:
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope — Jeremiah 29:11
It’s a great verse, no doubt. It’s incredibly inspiring. Many read it and, in application to themselves say, “Wow, God has a plan for me. A plan for my welfare and for my future!” And while that’s true (see Romans 8:28-29), there’s something else going on. When God said this to the Israelites, in a letter from Jeremiah, they had just been taken into exile in Babylon. And during that time, many “prophets” were giving the people false hope, telling them that they would be back in Jerusalem on top of the world in a couple years, tops. But this is not God’s plan for them; just the opposite, in fact.
God says to them, “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord” (Jer. 29:5-9).
God says to the people, “Settle in Bablyon. Get jobs. Get married and have children. Be a blessing to the city—because you’re going to be here for the rest of your lives.”
“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord.
Sometimes I wonder how seriously we take the verses preceding Jer. 29:11. God has a plan, but it’s no mystery. For the Israelites, they were taken to Babylon both as a disciplinary action and as an opportunity for God to be glorified as they sought the welfare of the city. Likewise, Christians today are providentially placed in the exact places and times we are so that we too can seek the welfare of our cities and nations. We are to be “a light to those who are in darkness” (Rom. 2:19b), as we grow into the image and likeness of Christ, who the light of the world (John 8:12).
For Emily and I, it’s meant that we’re trying to seek the welfare of our community by becoming a part of it. We’re getting to know our neighbors, getting involved with community groups… just being present. We’re not looking for the “out”—the “perfect” opportunity to sell our home to buy a bigger one in a “safer” neighborhood on the outskirts of town (we live on one of the busiest streets in Ontario). We want to be here, where God has placed us, to be a part of the city and to love the city for Jesus.
We’re not supposed to be sitting on our duffs waiting for Jesus to come back. We’re supposed to be glorifying Him as we seek the best for our communities.
And in doing so, we see the plans God has for us, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give us a future and a hope.
So where are we at? Are we embracing God’s plan?