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God’s Plan is Perseverance, Not Escape

 

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Just my talented friend’s photo of a few of us watching the sunrise in someone’s cornfield. It was a regular thing for a while, now I am back to sleeping in until eleven!

Over the past few weeks, I have been tested. A lot of my quiet times have consisted of journaling out how I was feeling because, honestly, I couldn’t focus on much else. Today, in fact, I was writing yet again, and while I reread my raw emotions scribbled on the page, I realized I had to combat these negative feelings with scripture. I was done wallowing in disappointment and discontentment. Strangely enough, Jeremiah 29:11 had really stuck out to me during my times of struggle this month, but I had never read it completely in context. I had seen it as a comforting scripture, but not for the reasons it was meant to be interpreted as. I feel many other people have the same issue – we cling to scripture that is encouraging to hear, never look at its full meaning, and gain a false knowledge and hope according to our own interpretations of the verse rather that the absolute truth. I was strangely and inexplicably comforted, though, once I read Jeremiah 29:11 for its full value.

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.

A little context with Jeremiah 29…

The Israelites were banned from Jerusalem (their beloved home) and had been conquered by their enemy, Babylon. The consequences for their unfaithfulness and disobedience to God were being carried out through this exile. The Israelites had lost just about everything; they were ready to go back home. The exiles began to go through a period of unrest, listening and bringing up false prophets to tell them that they would be reunited with Jerusalem in just two years. One false prophet, Hananiah, keeps telling the population of Israelites that God has told him this will come to pass, and spoiler alert, it doesn’t! Here in Jeremiah 29, Jeremiah, a prophet of God, writes the exiles a letter to denounce Hananiah and others alike, and instead tells the Israelites the truth about the how long they will be captive in the land of their enemy. What Jeremiah has to say, though, does not sit right with the Israelites.

Here comes that dose of reality that no one wanted to hear. Here comes the harsh truth from God himself. Are you ready?

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 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. 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.” 

Wait, wait, wait, what? The Israelites have been believing they would get out in two years, and now God is saying to settle down and stay awhile? That doesn’t seem right. Where’s the grace, am I right? Verses 4-7 make it clear what God is saying. God orders the Israelites to stay and build a life in the land they are captive in. Jeremiah’s letter tells them to build houses and settle down, to plant gardens and eat the produce from them, marry and have sons and daughters –it sounds like the Israelites will be there for a while. I’m sure hearing those words was like a stab to the heart for most of the exiled people. How could Hananiah’s prophesy come true when God is telling them to settle down and repopulate the very land they wanted to get out of? There is nothing to satisfy their “itching ears” anymore. Hananiah is now dead. The truth has been told through Jeremiah. The captives are not happy.

Let’s just take a closer look at verse 7, shall we? Not only does God tell the Israelites to reproduce and reside in a foreign and unfamiliar land, he goes further to say that the exiled nation should pray for peace and prosperity in the Babylonian land.  The nerve of him! How could he subject the Israelites to a life of such hardship and then tell them to pray for it? This does not seem fair or like God’s character at all! Then the following verses seem to snuff out any additional thoughts of denial the Israelites may have had lingering in the back of their mind. Jeremiah tells them that they have bought into the lies they wanted to hear, and now he warns against further falsehood.

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. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.

God basically says, “So yeah, guys. The things you wanted to hear were false. In fact, you were deceived by these lies because you wanted to hear them rather than the truth straight from my mouth. You put your hope in fine-sounding doctrine, but that is not from me. I have not sent them.”

Let’s just stop here for a minute because it’s a lot to reflect on. Here these Israelites are, hoping in a lie, anticipating something that was never from God or in his plan. That’s what really got me thinking. Am I praying for prosperity in a land I don’t want to be in? Despite how badly I want to be in Jerusalem, a land of comfort and familiarity, am I making the best of my time in Babylon?

As I sat there, reading through my complaints and cries to God on my journal page, I realized the answer to my questions was no. I wanted God to take away my pain and suffering, not help me endure through it. And it was hard to come to this realization because I had hidden the motivations and hopes of my heart way down in the pit of my soul. I fooled myself into thinking I was hoping in God alone, but when the hope of something in this world was taken away, my eyes were opened to just how much hope I was putting in things not from God.

Specifically, for me, my “Hananiah” hope was in a doctor’s diagnosis and cure for a physical weakness I had been suffering through. When the specialist told me that they had no answer for the pain I was experiencing, no medication or solution to make it stop, I broke. I was confused as to why God wouldn’t let me get help and healing, and I was so hoping for the suffering to be taken away from me, in the form of medication or surgery, that I had completely blocked out the hope in God that I should have clung to in the first place. I had listened to fine-sounding words in my head, telling me there was bound to be something to help me escape my chronic pain, my Babylon. “This will be over soon,” I told myself. Hm, sound familiar? The Israelites had hoped their season of suffering in the land of exile would be over, too, putting their own plan above God’s accord. So much so that they brought up prophets to tell them what they wanted to hear, they tried to relate their easy way out to God’s plan. It didn’t work, though. The same holds true with me, and whatever lies you may be convincing yourself of today. God’s timing will always prevail, God’s plan will never fail.

But I would like to point out, going back to verses 4-7 from before, God subjects the Israelites to the land of exile, yet still provides for them! He gives them shelter, food, family – blessings can be found in these things despite the place they resided in. Even though we may be subject to a land we do not want to be in, God still lavishes us with his love in the form of blessings on earth! Yes, this isn’t what you may have prayed for, but just take a look around at all of the other things God has freely given to you amidst the trial!

In verse 10, God makes it clear what his will is for the Israelites at this point of their life. God tells them to wait not two, but seventy years to return back to the land they once called home. God’s timing is key in this. He still promises to deliver on his word and be gracious to his children, however we must submit to his clock, not ours. This sets up the verse that originally attracted me (vs. 11) for an even deeper hope in God. In understanding that he will bring us back to a land of happiness, God’s love is shown in that he will take us out of Babylon when the timing is right, when we pray for prosperity and peace instead of escape from the tribulations, and when we put our hope in truth and not falsehood.

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.

This verse has a different meaning to me now, an even deeper, more profound message. As blogger Mary DeMuthe puts it, God’s heart in Jeremiah 29:11 is not that we escape our lot, but that we thrive in it. So often this verse is used as a security blanket, a verse to assure ourselves that the lot will be taken in due time. Surely plans to prosper, not to harm, and give hope and future cannot come from trials and struggles. That is not what God declares here, though. Definitely not for the Israelites, and not for us either. Keep in mind, God says this right after he tells the Israelites that he will not let them escape their lot, and most of them will probably not even get to see the day that they escape exile. Seventy years is a lifetime to them, so their hope in breaking out of bondage has been taken away rather bluntly. God reassures us in verse 11, though, that despite the things that don’t go our way, despite the pain, the suffering, the hardships, the discontentment – all of it – that the plan is to grow us in faith, maturity, and closeness to him. God does not always allow us to escape the land of exile in the timeframe we want, sometimes we have to endure it with the hope of truth and salvation as our only motivators. God’s plan is perseverance, not escape. Harm is not the design; a hopeful and prosperous future is!

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. – Romans 5:3-4

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. – James 1: 2-4

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