Misunderstood: Plans for you to Prosper

Insights from The Weekly REBOOT

By: Evan Owens

For a number of years, Jenny and I called a townhouse in Pleasant View, TN, our home. It was a comfortable space, but as time passed, signs of wear and tear began to surface – marks near the doors, damaged baseboards, and a floor spot affected by water damage. Oddly enough, these issues didn’t bother us much. We had grown so accustomed to them that they simply faded into the background.

It wasn’t until the day we decided to put the property on the market that we truly took notice of its imperfections. As the realtor conducted a walkthrough, every flaw that needed attention was highlighted. Suddenly, the problems we had overlooked for years became glaringly obvious. What had become so familiar to us, we had walked past without a second thought.

This scenario mirrors our relationship with the Bible. There are verses we encounter so regularly that we tend to breeze through them without truly absorbing their meaning. The frequency of exposure can lead to apathy or laziness in our understanding.

Therefore, it becomes crucial to step back from certain verses and approach them with fresh eyes. This is precisely what we aim to do with the verse we’re exploring today.

The focus of our attention is a widely known yet often misunderstood verse from the book of Jeremiah. It’s a verse I’m almost certain everyone is familiar with.

You’ve probably encountered this verse on artwork adorning every Hobby Lobby, heard it at countless graduation parties, and cited it to uplift someone navigating life’s uncertainties.

Let’s say it together if it sounds familiar:

“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).

It’s quite possible some of you even have it on your water bottles or displayed as bathroom art.

And you know what? That’s perfectly fine. Please remember, my intention is never to judge but to gently guide us in the right direction.

This verse, stemming from Jeremiah 29:11, is undeniably popular and frequently misunderstood. It provides solace during challenging times, assuring us that God’s plan is one of prosperity, success, and safety. It’s like a comforting prescription to brighten the day of a struggling friend.

However, despite its positive intent, the interpretation might not align accurately.

As we’ve done with every verse in this series, the initial step in understanding it is to place it within its broader context. The verse starts with, “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon…” (Jeremiah 29:4).

Now, here’s a question for us to ponder: who was this verse originally addressed to? Who do you believe God was speaking to when He conveyed these words through Jeremiah?

Understanding Jeremiah 29:11

Let’s revisit the verse once more: “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon…

The focus of this verse is on the Israelites whom God had transported to Babylon. It’s essential to recognize that in this verse, God isn’t addressing individuals like you or me. Instead, He speaks to the entire nation of Israel. This becomes even clearer in verse 10, where He states, “after seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.”

God’s promise to prosper them in a land of safety and wealth wasn’t an immediate commitment, nor would it unfold as the Israelites expected. Though He assured them of a future and hope, it would manifest differently from their expectations. Despite their longing for immediate freedom, God essentially advises them to settle in for the long haul. Verses 5-9 encourage them to marry, have children, and build homes, emphasizing that after 70 years, He would rescue and return them to their land.

However, when this verse is shared, it’s often through a lens of offering immediate hope and confidence that one’s wishes will be fulfilled. Interpreting the verse in this manner, we miss out on a broader and more profound meaning.

The good news about this misunderstood verse is that, even though originally directed at the Israelites, the principle of the promise still applies to us today.

Here’s how:

First, God indeed knows the plans for each individual, including you and me. While these plans may not align with our expectations, He has specific intentions for us.

Second, in Christ, “all of those plans work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.”

As a side note, there’s another frequently misunderstood and misquoted verse we could delve into, but that’s a topic for another discussion.

Returning to the beauty of this verse, it doesn’t merely speak of past redemption for Israel. It also alludes to future redemption. While the immediate context addresses the 70-year period the Israelites were currently living through, the subsequent verses in Jeremiah 29, starting from verse 12, provide a more detailed description of the promise.

Verse 12 begins, “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you, declares the Lord, and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

Do these words remind you of any other verses or statements from Jesus?

Timeless Promise and Its Fulfillment

This verse speaks to the Israelites in a way that resonates with us today. The beauty of the Bible lies in the interconnected threads of narrative that weave throughout its pages. Repeatedly, Jesus refers to, completes, or fulfills ideas and thoughts found in the Old Testament, and this verse is no exception.

God communicated to the Israelites about the end of their captivity, mirroring how we, as believers, also know the conclusion of our story. He promised their rescue upon turning to Him, much like Jesus assures us of His return and our rescue.

Reducing this verse to a blessing of wealth or success overlooks its most significant aspect. God’s words here don’t pledge to grant us our every wish; rather, they offer eternal hope that He will return and lead us out of this earthly exile, uniting us with Him one day.

The promise deepens as we await His glorious return, knowing that we can call on Him, pray, and He will listen and respond. When Jesus speaks in Matthew 7:7-8, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you,” it seems as though He is referencing and fulfilling this verse from Jeremiah.

God’s promise assures that He has plans for His people, and regardless of our experiences during our earthly exile, His plans for us are to ensure eternal safety and provision. This is the future we, as saints and followers of Jesus, have – and that’s incredible news!

So, the next time you hear someone quoting this verse to encourage someone in a challenging season, remind them:

God does have a plan for them, even if it may differ from their own.

They need not worry because God’s plans will work for good as they trust in His purpose.

They can call on Him, and He will hear them.

One day, He will rescue them.

How much more healing and helpful is that!

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