“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, NIV).
The verse above is often used by Christians as a source of comfort when our plans fall through, or life just gets too hard. I know in my own life, because I have so much to deal with in relation to my health, it's nice to have one of those "go to" verses that help me to not lose hope or give up entirely.
Prosperity teachers would have you believe that Jeremiah 29:11 is all about how God wants us to prosper financially. But that is not what this verse is all about. So what does Jeremiah 29:11 tell us about God? What are His plans for us? In order to get to the heart of this verse, we need to first take it in context. This was a message from God to the Jews who were being held in Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar. The verses surrounding Jeremiah 29:11 are specifically to tell the Jewish people that God had a plan and after seventy years, He would bring them back to Jerusalem. You can read the whole chapter at Biblegateway.com.
So, does that mean the verse has no benefit for us today? On the contrary, we are at the heart of God's plans. So what does this verse tell us?
For I know the plans I have for you,"
God had a plan to redeem captive Israel from their rebellion toward Him. Due to their disobedience they would be exiled to a foreign land for seventy years. God assures them right off that this is part of His plan.
We may not see the "good" in God's plans right now, but they do have a purpose.
The Hebrew word for "plan" is machashabah and while it can mean plan, it also means "thought". Did I think God's thoughts were good toward me, when I fell down a flight of stairs and was permanently disabled? No. Did I think God's thoughts were good, when I was diagnosed with an incurable disease that has destroyed my lymphatic system? No. Do I accept God has my best interests at heart and He is just working out a greater purpose for me? Yes, I do! I know life can have its horrible moments. But if this verse teaches me one thing, it is that God thinks about me and has a plan all worked out for me. The first major plan was my salvation, which was made possible for me (and you) through Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. The rest of the plan for my life, will differ from yours in scope, but the end goal is the same - to one day stand before God and hear Him say, "Well done!" (Luke 19:17). It will be my choice on whether or not I hear those words.
"Plans to prosper you and not to harm you."
This is where prosperity teachers say God wants us all to be wealthy. This is also where those who don't get wealthy from claiming this verse, get frustrated and instead give up on God. DON'T DO THAT! Because this verse has been mistranslated in our modern Bibles and taken out of context by prosperity preachers. This is what it really says in the Torah and in the KJV:
"For I know the thoughts that I think toward you," says the Lord, "thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope" (Jeremiah 29:11, KJV, JPS).
As you can see, God does not promise to prosper us financially. In fact, the word used in the original Hebrew is shalom which has many meanings (yes, one of them is prosperity), but the main one is peace or goodwill. In other words, God has plans for your welfare. Prosperity teachers say that since all parents want good things for their kids, God wants the same things for us. Meaning material things. Since we discovered last week that God's main concern is our spiritual welfare, we know that this peace (shalom) is what He had in mind. Your welfare is improved ONLY by your relationship with God. If you are damaging that relationship through direct disobedience or rebellion, like the Jews during Jeremiah's time, then God will take the necessary measures to get you back on track. In the Israelites case their disobedience cost them 70 years in exile. What will it take to keep you faithful to God? That's up to you.
But if God doesn't want to harm us, why do we suffer?
God thinks thoughts of peace towards us and not of evil (or harming us). But He is not going to let us go astray without first pointing us in the direction of repentance. His thoughts are not evil. His corrections are for our good. That is what a loving parent does. Prosperity teachers would have you believe that a loving parent would give you everything you want and keep you perpetually happy and healthy. That's not how life works! It's so unrealistic and is a horrible example of good parenting. We are God's children, He loves us too much to give us everything we want. That's how spoiled brats are created.
Sometimes God's plans require suffering.
Jesus knew that more than anyone. In order for God's plan to be carried out, Jesus had to suffer an excruciating death. But it had to be done for our salvation. Right now you may be going through some horrible stuff, but it will result in you becoming the person God is calling you to be. His thoughts towards you are peace, not evil. Trust Him. He knows what He's doing. Because the end result concerns where you will spend eternity.
"To give you a future and a hope."
Our future, our hope is not to be a millionaire, living in a mansion, or being famous (at least it shouldn't be). Our future and hope are to spend eternity in God's presence. Eternity begins now. God is currently preparing you for the day when you meet Him face to face. His plans are all about your spiritual condition. For it is through the Holy Spirit that we have communion with God. If that were not the case, our bodies would not get sick, grow old, or die. We are spiritual beings first, created in God's image (Genesis 1:27). God's plan has always been that we should have a relationship with Him. That is our future and our hope. That is God's plan for your life and mine.
"Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:12-13).