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. 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 29:10-11 (NIV)
I think Jeremiah 29:11 may be the most popular verse of the entire Bible. It’s easily Top 5. You see it everywhere from bumper stickers to graduation trinkets. And it’s well-known for good reason… What a beautiful promise of God for us to cling to!
But as great of an assurance as it is, unfortunately it’s often severely taken out of context. Verse 10 gives us the entire perspective. God’s promise of successful plans and expectant futures would come after his people lived as captives for 70 years in a foreign nation. To make matters worse, there were other false prophets telling them what they wanted to hear and claiming that they were going to be returning home soon. But God had plans for later.
When life is in disarray, some people will turn to verses like this and cry out asking, “God, you say you ‘know the plans’… Why is this happening? Why am I going through this, right here, right now? Don’t you want the best for me? You could change my situation this very second if you wanted to, so why aren’t you living up to your promise?”
And that’s where God’s words become distorted. Jeremiah 29:11 doesn’t exist as a guarantee that life is easy, nor is it a reference to your circumstances now. Rather, it is a proclamation from God that even when life is hard, he is still in control. He still reigns. He’s still the God of the universe.
Does God know the plans for your life? Absolutely. Does God still want you to prosper and keep you from harm? Definitely. Does God continuously want to give you hope and a future? Unquestionably.
But we’ve got to remember… Sometimes that includes 70 years of exile first. Before the promise of hope, we will often find ourselves waiting somewhere we don’t want to be. And maybe that’s where you are right now — somewhere you don’t want to be. And that’s when it’s easy to believe the lies of the false prophets… When it’s easy to hear what you want to hear instead the truth found in what God is saying.
Like the verse, maybe it’s all about context. Your life isn’t chaotic because God breaks his promises… Maybe it is simply that way because you are in exile. And for your God-ordained destiny to materialize, exile is exactly where you need to be.
While it may not make sense to us, it’s in those moments that we should embrace and take Jeremiah 29:11 to heart. While we muddle in the depths of uncertainty, we can be certain that God has not abandoned us and he will see us through.
For God knows the plans.