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For I know the plans

"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

You may have heard this verse used to encourage you when things are tough, or you are not sure which direction to go in. But is that Jeremiah’s message? Was this his intention when he wrote these words?

We live in a society that focuses on the individual and stresses the importance of our own personal fulfilment. We’re encouraged to look after ourselves and to ‘fulfil our potential’. What does this mean for followers of Jesus? The following might provide a start.

  • We should take responsibility for our well-being and our souls.

  • We should make the best use of the talents and gifts that God has given us.

  • We carry the primary responsibility for ensuring that our needs are met, so that we can fulfil our purpose. Part of that is spending time with God to allow him to feed and nurture us.

  • We should be self-aware, maintain healthy boundaries, and know when we have reached the limits of our capacity.

  • We should take action to protect ourselves and others.

  • We must recognise our total dependency on God for our very breath, admitting our own helplessness aside from bowing the knee and acknowledging Jesus’ total and complete gift of redemption.

So how should we read these verses in Jeremiah? The words were spoken by the prophet Jeremiah to the exiles in Babylon. God spoke through him to encourage the remnant of his people to live by faith and remind them that he had not forgotten them. Their current situation was not a disaster. God still had a purpose and a plan even if it was very different from their expectations. The plan was for them to continue living as they had in Israel before they were exiled. It did not include putting their lives on hold, waiting for their return.

There is a lesson here for us who live thousands of years later.

When we too are unsure of a direction, or we’re facing challenging times, so often we hold our breath and wait. We hesitate and take our eyes off our primary goal of serving Jesus with our whole lives. These verses, however, urged those first readers (or listeners) to keep breathing and doing the ordinary things as before. Continue praising and talking to God about all things; continue meeting with people; engage in all your regular activities. Exercise, social, work, community as well as church.

In truth, we share the same purpose and plan that God had for his people in exile in Babylon. As with the exiles, God desires to have a relationship with us, to grow in intimacy with us. He wants us to delight in him, and to live lives that glorify him and point others to him.

In the New Testament, when Jesus prays for us in John 17 or when Paul writes out his prayers in his letters, it is notable that their primary focus is the importance of an intimate relationship with Jesus or God. To increase in our knowledge of how much he loves us. For strength to live the Christian life, for unity. The apostle Paul writes these words to the Ephesians.

I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called - his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.

Eph 1.18 (NLT)

Notice, his prayers don’t focus on knowing which job to choose, or even where to serve in the church. Could it be, then, that God created us with our unique character traits and skills with the expectation that we use them for his glory in whatever context? His primary purpose for us is to have an intimate relationship with him, with the ultimate goal that in time, his name is known and glorified throughout the world. Although we live in a particular place and time in history, God has a much longer and broader perspective. After all, he knows the beginning from the end, and all the in-betweens. People have been expecting Jesus to return for over two thousand years. Yet, to God, one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day.

Frustrating as it is, when we want to know what’s next, or where the Lord wants us to serve, maybe we should just prioritise seeking him first—without other motives or other things on our minds. Perhaps as we do, he will show us the path. It might not be as exciting or dramatic as we would like or expect. It might even seem mundane, but as we each play our part, we can rest in the knowledge that God is working his bigger purposes out.

In certain circles, there is the familiar call to ‘fulfil our purposes’, as though this requires us to ‘do great acts for God’. Sometimes, the message seems to be that unless we have demonstrated great power, or done something that draws attention to the spectacular, then we have missed our potential or failed in our calling. But while ‘great acts’ may be laudable, is the idea of becoming known for ‘great acts’ an aspiration we should value?

In many ways, it is much harder to be content with an ‘ordinary’ life, and to allow God to do extraordinary things in us as he changes us little by little into his likeness. It may seem mundane simply to pray for our families and friends and to reveal God through our actions in the everyday. Yet this is our calling and our privilege. The (seemingly) little things really do count for much in God’s economy.

Our attitude when kept waiting at the check-out.

Responding in love to the unlovely ones in church.

Exercising patience, love, and grace towards our loved ones at the end of a long day or week.

These are the ‘great acts’ we do for God.

They are the very things that display his glory in our lives.

These are . . . ‘the plans I have for you . . . plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’


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