Jeremiah 29:11. If you’re like me, this verse immediately brings to mind graduation cards, Youth Sunday sermons, and notes passed when to someone when they move, get a new job, have a baby, get married, etc.
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.
It’s a good verse, seemingly well suited for those previously mentioned occasions, but…well, not exactly used in its context. And context matters. A lot.
When we look at Jeremiah 29, we see that it was written by the prophet Jeremiah to the people of Israel who were exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem. He was writing to remind them that they were not forgotten and that when 70 years was completed, God would bring them back to Jerusalem. Jeremiah needed them to understand God was not finished with Israel as a nation; that His plans for them were to give them hope and a future.
So, yeah, a little different than graduating from high school or getting married.
But, as I read this chapter, I see striking similarities to our world today. In a sense, we, as believers in Christ and citizens of His kingdom, are in “exile” on earth. If our reality is God’s kingdom, than this current reality is passing and fleeting. We have a promise from God of hope and a future eternally with Him.
And like Israel, when we look around at this world, we can get discouraged and think perhaps we have been forgotten or think this is all there is, and we need reminded that there is hope and there is a future…if not for us, than most certainly for our children.
If that’s true, than what principles can we find in Jeremiah 29 that we could be reminded of today?
This is not our home, but we should live here
Jeremiah tells Israel to “build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.” In other words, live in Babylon. Don’t just sit around waiting for the exile to be over. Engage with the world and community around them. Be a part of what is going on. And at the same time, never forget who you are and where God is taking you one day.
We live in America. We live in towns and neighborhoods. We are called to be in the world, but not of the world. This is not our “home” or our “country” but it is where we live. In a very real sense, this is where we belong for this time and place. So we should engage with this place that for now we call home.
America isn’t God’s kingdom, but we should pray for its peace and prosperity
Yes, you read that right. Jeremiah tells Israel to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city [Babylon] to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” In other words, we don’t just live here; we actively seek for its good. We want America to be a peaceful and prosperous place and we pray for that very thing.
In our current politically charged context, this idea of praying for our country (not our candidate or political party) can be lost. A lot of the prayer I hear for this country comes from a place of fear and foreboding, feelings I’m sure Israel shared, but Jeremiah’s call to prayer isn’t founded in fear but rather in hope and belief of a future. Imagine if we prayed, together as a body of Christ not divided as political factions, for the good of our country as a whole with faith that God is ultimately in control of our eternal future.
We might be the adults now, but we won’t be forever
70 years is an interesting amount of time for God to choose for Israel’s exile. Enough time for three generations to grow, and one generation to pass away before they ever saw a return to Jerusalem. So, if fear had ruled the roost, there would have been no generation left to experience God’s promises of hope and future. But Jeremiah specifically addresses this saying, “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.“
Frankly, this is the thing that worries me the most about the current Christian culture in America. We are breeding fear in the next generation (See what Andy Stanley says about this). We are not teaching them to live here, to engage with the community, to pray for the nation, to look forward towards God’s kingdom and our hope for an eternal future. We are teaching them that our exile is our true reality, that our political leaders control our future, and that fear should motivate our actions.
We are not increasing the numbers of those who are in God’s kingdom; we are decreasing. The generations who follow us are walking away.
This is not right. This is not good.
We need to change our speech. We need to change our actions. We need to remember that while this is not our home, we are called to live here, not in fear but in hope. We should be praying for America’s peace and prosperity, more than we are praying for or against a political candidate. We need to speak words of life and hope and future rather than perpetuating fear and despair and hopelessness.
Then the words of Jeremiah 29:11 will most definitely apply to our context in very real ways; ways that we can share with those who follow us. “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.”
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About the author
Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com