Hi, my name is Chase. I’m a former addict to cynicism.
And I’m about to have a relapse.
Hearing people quote Jeremiah 29:11 is one of those things that makes me cringe. It has never sat well with me, and I finally put my finger on why.
One Sunday while visiting a church, I was hesitant when the preacher first asked us to open to this famous, oft-quoted passage. But then the preacher spent most of the sermon talking about the passage’s context, which made me think, “Good! Seeing the context of this passage is a big deal.” So he spent about twenty minutes talking about the exile of the Israelites and the calamity that was upon them.
Then, to wrap up at the end, he essentially just assured us of the same exact interpretation of the verse that everyone already uses – that God has good plans for us, to bring us hope instead of harm. With no offense meant toward the man who was preaching, I was pretty upset with this outcome.
I’ve seen the same occurrence in an article from Relevant Magazine, where the author seemed to have a strong desire to correct everyone from taking the verse out of context…but in my opinion ended up with a conclusion that also pretty much just affirmed the way everyone already uses the verse.
So what’s really happening here?
(Before I continue, I want to say that this is not an attack against the people who have used this verse with a right heart, even if I may disagree with their usage of it.)
First of all, a single person cannot apply this verse solely to themselves. It was spoken to a group of people. We can take Jesus’ statements to His disciples and apply them directly to us because, even though Jesus was technically talking to a group, He knew that His disciples would soon disperse: Jesus knew He was speaking things to singular people. In Jeremiah, God is speaking to a large group of exiled Israelites – that’s a big difference. We also relate to being disciples, but we don’t (or at least mostly don’t) relate to being exiles.
Also, I immediately disagree that any Christian can just go out and claim that God has a prosperous future set out for them – not only does this verge dangerously close to the ‘Prosperity Gospel’, but it also directly contradicts the lives of so many Christians who have walked directly into poverty and martyrdom by following God’s will.
Now, let’s expand the passage for a moment: ” ‘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. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.’ ”
I’ve finally realized that when we talk about this passage, we are always looking directly past the bigger picture here. Something beautiful that is happening throughout the Book of Jeremiah is that there are plenty of Messianic prophecies that point directly toward Christ.
My argument is that this verse, in its own way, is also a Messianic prophecy. For us today as believers, we get to experience exactly what verses 12-13 are referring to: direct relationship with the Lord, direct contact through prayer, revelations of God when we search for him.
So here’s why I have a problem when Christians quote Jeremiah 29:11 as a promise for their own life. Guess what? We have it! We have the hope! We have the future!
His name is Jesus!
We are prospering spiritually right now, through the grace of Jesus Christ found by faith. So why in the world would we be talking about this verse as if it still needs to happen, when instead we could be talking about this verse as one of the many prophecies and promises that Christ already fulfilled?
Furthermore, as Christians, is there something we feel we lack? Do we still desire to prosper? Do we desire some sort of greater hope beyond what God has already given us? Do we forget about the eternal future of glory we have been promised and focus instead on wanting a better future while here on Earth?
If those are the reasons why Jeremiah 29:11 makes us feel so warm and fuzzy inside…we might need to take a deeper look into ourselves.
Jeff Schneeweis (of Number One Gun) cover songs