OK, God. I get it. You have a plan for me – a good one filled with hope. But when, oh, when, Lord, will you let me in on it? As the great philosopher (ok, 80’s rocker) Tom Petty wrote: “the waiting is the hardest part.” I, a perfectly flawed human being, want God to give me a clear sign (a billboard in the sky would be nice) of what the future holds in store for me. Am I going to live out my vocation as an Associate in Ministry or full time church staff member? Am I going to get a job in the business world and live out my calling by volunteering my time and talents to serve God’s people? I don’t know. I just don’t know. Ok, enough of my pity party. Let’s get back to my point.
Jeremiah 29:11 is frequently pulled out and used to give encouragement to people in transition: graduates, those in between jobs, those searching for love, those feeling lost and hopeless. And while it is a very positive verse and brings comfort and hope, it must be used cautiously because as a stand-alone saying, it conveys a sense of immediacy – help is on the way! God is gonna show you the way, give you what you want. God knows his plans for you and he will reveal it and all will be well. It kind of gives you a warm fuzzy feeling that all will be resolved and wonderful in the near future. Reading the verse in context, though, gives a completely different twist. Jeremiah, chapter 29:
1 [A Letter to the Exiles] This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2 (This was after King Jehoiachin and the queen mother, the court officials and the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the skilled workers and the artisans had gone into exile from Jerusalem.) 3 He entrusted the letter to Elasah son of Shaphan and to Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. It said: 4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” 8 Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord. 10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 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. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. (Jeremiah 29:1-11, NIV)
Verse 11 “For I know the plans” is a wonderfully sweet promise from our good and gracious God. His people are being held captive in Babylon, far from their home in Jerusalem. They are not where they want to be. They would rather be back home in Jerusalem, but even there, their holy temple lays in ruins, destroyed by the Babylonians. But in his goodness, God reassures Israel that he has not forgotten them. He will bring his people back from exile. He will continue to bless them. Sounds great!
But read verses 5 & 6: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.” In other words, get comfortable where you are. Live your life in the here and now. It’s gonna be a while, says the Lord, but trust me, I do have a plan to give you a future filled with hope. Trust me. But remember: live your life in the here and now. Get comfortable, it's gonna be a while.
This is where it really gets tricky for me. I do not like the unknown nor do I like waiting. I like clear, concise directions to where I am heading and have a definite estimated time of arrival. I find it difficult to get comfortable in limbo-land. But, for now, I guess, that is exactly where God wants me to be. In his time, he will direct my steps and I, too, will catch a glimpse of what he has in store for me, if I will just get comfortable where I am, let go and let God!