So often, Christians agonize, clinging to the phrase, “God has a plan for you.” Typically they’ll quote Jeremiah 29:11, believing that verse to be a personal promise rather than part of a prophecy to Judah at the dawn of the Babylonian Captivity. They strain to find His plan, supposing it involves marriage, career and/or ministry opportunities. And on one level, those suppositions are correct. Certainly, the Lord guides us to where we can most effectively serve Him.
Ah, did you catch that concept? “Where we can most effectively serve Him! Most Christians, it seems, seek how they can feel fulfilled, blessed or useful, subtly perceiving themselves as the focal point. I find myself thinking along those lines, as if my well-being was uppermost on His list of priorities. And, while it’s true that He numbers the very hairs of my head, it’s evident as I study Scripture that my self-focused attitude concerning His will is slightly out of alignment.
Let’s think about Jeremiah 29:11 in its context to determine if we really want to apply it personally, and then let’s think about God’s plans for us as 21st Century Christians. Jeremiah wrote a letter to the Jewish leaders whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into slavery, instructing them to settle into Babylonian life because they wouldn’t return to Jerusalem for 70 years (meaning their generation would pretty much die out before the Lord restored them to their land). The he wrote the following prophecy from the Lord:
10 “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 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. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear 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 I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. ~~Jeremiah 29:10-14 (ESV)
But before you turn that paragraph into an allegorical promise that God will turn your earthly circumstances around, you might want to consider the next paragraph of Jeremiah’s letter.
15 “Because you have said, ‘The Lord has raised up prophets for us in Babylon,’ 16 thus says the Lord concerning the king who sits on the throne of David, and concerning all the people who dwell in this city, your kinsmen who did not go out with you into exile: 17 ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, behold, I am sending on them sword, famine, and pestilence, and I will make them like vile figs that are so rotten they cannot be eaten. 18 I will pursue them with sword, famine, and pestilence, and will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a curse, a terror, a hissing, and a reproach among all the nations where I have driven them, 19 because they did not pay attention to my words, declares the Lord, that I persistently sent to you by my servants the prophets, but you would not listen, declares the Lord.’ 20 Hear the word of the Lord, all you exiles whom I sent away from Jerusalem to Babylon: 21 ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning Ahab the son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah, who are prophesying a lie to you in my name: Behold, I will deliver them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall strike them down before your eyes. 22 Because of them this curse shall be used by all the exiles from Judah in Babylon: “The Lord make you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire,” 23 because they have done an outrageous thing in Israel, they have committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives, and they have spoken in my name lying words that I did not command them. I am the one who knows, and I am witness, declares the Lord.’” ~~Jeremiah 29:15-23 (ESV)
We’re quite fine with that part of Jeremiah’s prophecy applying specifically to the Jews, aren’t we? But in reality, the entire prophecy pertained to them. It teaches us God’s faithfulness to His people Israel as He disciplined them and then restored the remnant to the Land He had promised to Abraham.
Clearly, reading ourselves into Jeremiah 29:11 abuses the text. As much as it appears to assure individual Christians that the Lord has monumental plans for our temporal lives, we should keep it in proper context. Whatever plans He actually does have for you and for me have more to do with how we can glorify the Lord Jesus Christ than with how He can fulfill our “felt needs.”
Instead of limiting our understanding of His will in terms of how it will affect and (in all honesty) benefit us, shouldn’t we broaden our vision to ask about His overall will? As I read through Genesis, for example, I see God arranging marriages, not primarily to make the patriarchs happy, but to 1) build the nation of Israel and to 2) form the bloodline of Messiah. While many of those marriages probably were happy, that happiness was a by-product to the Lord accomplishing His purposes.
We are created for His pleasure, but all too frequently our attitudes and behavior betrays our unacknowledged belief that His job is to bless us. Well, God does bless us, and in abundance, but does so for His glory and honor. His will in our lives works for the advancement of His Kingdom, not our individual lives. Is it possible that we should stop clamoring to find His will for us in favor of seeking His will for His own glory?