Saturday, March 19, 2016

(I'm Glad) Jeremiah 29:11 is not for Me

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"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, NIV)
Practically all of us are familiar with this promise. It’s cross-stitched on pillows, it’s used to decorate peoples’ homes, it’s the go-to verse for graduation cards – and understandably so; it’s quite a nice-sounding promise.

There have been some dream-killers, though, who argue that this verse doesn’t actually apply to us modern-day Christians. These meanies think that we should stop claiming that verse for ourselves.

Oh, I forgot to mention: I’m one of them. And you should be too.

Now, before you close the page, understand that I’m very, very glad Jeremiah 29:11 does not apply to me. And if you’ll bear with me for a couple minutes, I hope you’ll see why.

Firstly, why in the world would I think that this verse doesn’t apply to me?

To answer this, let’s think about the context: Israel had been captured by Babylon and held as exiles. Understandably, they were in some serious despair. But in the midst of that despair, the Lord guided Jeremiah to write a letter to them, reminding Israel that God promised their good.

But in Jeremiah 29:10 (the verse just before 29:11), God explains the context of the promise: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon …” Seventy years. To put that into perspective, not a single person who heard that promise would actually live to see it come to pass! So not only does this promise not apply to us Christians, but it didn’t even apply to the individuals hearing the promise when it was spoken!

When God made that promise in Jeremiah 29:11, he was making a national and a long-term promise, not an individual one. God’s plan was not to prosper the individuals to whom the letter was written. He planned keep them in exile for the rest of their lives! And then, when the time came, He would deliver their children from Babylon. So God’s plan was indeed to prosper Israel, but it was going to be long after these people were dead and gone.

Isn’t this is in stark contrast to how we often use Jeremiah 29:11 now? We use it to encourage people, telling them that God’s going to bring about better times in their lives or that He has a bright future planned for them. This leads me to an important point.

Applying Jeremiah 29:11 to our individual lives is incredibly dangerous.

We can see the danger in applying Jeremiah 29:11 to our lives when we see Christians who never experience this promise. After all, what happened to the “future” that was promised to the seven-year-old boy who died of cancer? And wasn’t the African martyr promised no “harm”? What about the homeless man who starved to death? Wasn’t he supposed to “prosper”?

How do we then explain why Jeremiah 29:11 wasn’t fulfilled in these people’s lives? Was God not able to fulfill His promise? Did these people do something wrong? These are the questions we ask when we misapply Jeremiah 29:11; we demean God’s wonderful nature and cause ourselves and others to doubt our Lord.

But the question remains: Why am I so glad that I don’t have this promise?

I’m glad because God has given me an even better promise: “all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

But isn’t this statement the same as Jeremiah 29:11? No, actually, it’s not.

God’s promise to the nation of Israel was prosperity. His promise was that, after the exile was said and done, He would make them great again. But that’s not what He promises each of us. We’re not guaranteed to prosper, we’re not guaranteed to be great, and we’re not guaranteed a future.

What we’re promised is so much better.

We’re promised that everything – whether it’s a lost job or a terminal illness – works out for our good. But that good is not a temporary, earthly good; it’s an eternal one. How do we know this? Paul gives the answer in the next verses:
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30)
If we are saved by His grace, we will without a doubt be conformed to His image by His grace and rise into glory by His grace, for He is the “Author and Perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

The Lord has promised to graciously work everything in my life together to make me more like Him. No, he has not promised me a successful career. No, he has not promised me a faithful wife or obedient children. No, he has not even promised me tomorrow. But what are all these things compared to being like Christ and spending eternity with Him?

"Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (Philippians 3:8).