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“For I know the plans I have for you… plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future,” (Jer. 29:11). This is the second most searched Bible Verse in 2016 (the first is still John 3:16 believe it or not). Usually, when Jeremiah 29:11 is quoted it is intended to encourage people that God is going to help them fulfill their dreams and aspirations in life. The problem with this interpretation is if you read chapter 28, or even just the rest of 29, this verse means almost the exact opposite. But let me tell you why that’s good news.
Long story short, the people of Israel continually sinned against God, ignoring all of the repeated warnings God gave to them through His prophets (Jeremiah being one of them). So God sovereignly ordained that the Babylonians would take over their nation. And just like my son does, Israel repented too little too late.
There were false prophets in the land before they were ever taken to Babylon telling them that they wouldn’t have to go, but would stay in Jerusalem and live in “peace” (Jer. 14:13-14), so they refused to listen to Jeremiah. And now that they are in captivity, another false prophet named Hannaniah tells the people that their stay won’t be long. They will only be in Babylon for two years and after that the Lord will bring them back home. This was wonderful news.
But then God spoke to Jeremiah and told him that it wouldn’t be two years, but seventy. He told the people to make themselves at home because most of them would die in Babylon. That’s the context of this famous verse. “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… plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jer. 29:10-11).
70 years is a lifetime. Almost no one alive at that time would ever see their homeland again. Most of the people who would one day go back would be seeing Israel for the first time in their lives. Yes, this verse was intended to bring encouragement, but not excitement. Jer. 29:11 was a glimmer of hope that they could cling to in the midst of a painful reality.
Unfortunate Good News.
But God also is not done with His people. No, they will never see Israel again, but this doesn’t mean that God is finished with them, or that He’ll only revisit when they’re all dead and the next generation is on the scene. Instead, God does speak of their livelihood and destiny. He says, “Build houses and settle down… 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” (Jer. 29:5-7).
The people of Israel didn’t want to get too comfortable because they were told that they would only be there for two years. But God says, “Settle in and settle down. because the only way you will prosper and live the life you want to live is by embracing the place where I have you, where you don’t want to be.
What Jer. 29:11 Really Means For Your Life.
I tend to live with a sort of detachment, like a nomad who isn’t quite sure how long he’s staying. So I don’t easily put my roots in the ground. I don’t pour into relationships the way I should. I don’t pursue new friendships, or open up easily.
I think many people who have big dreams can live like that. Never fully giving their heart to anything because it may not be the “right thing.” Usually we view our dreams and aspirations as our ticket “out of here.” But Jeremiah 29:11 calls us instead to pursue our dreams by planting our roots deep into the ground.
The people were never going to Israel again, and as long as they were distracted with longings to go back, they wouldn’t live fruitful lives. Only when they let go of their aspirations and commit to be faithful where they were, instead of where they wanted to be, would their lives be what they hoped for. I believe God is calling us to the same thing. If we continue to look for that big break, we will miss all of the opportunities that He has for us here, where we are right now.
Jeremiah 29:11 isn’t telling us that God will make all our dreams come true. But it also isn’t saying to give up on them. Instead, in Christ our cheap dreams die so that “God dreams” would be birthed in our hearts. He wants to transform our selfish desire for fame into a humble desire to have influence. He wants to transform our greedy desire to have wealth into a generous desire to be a giver. Don’t give up on your dreams, but let God transform them for His glory.