Jeremiah 29:11. The verse seems to bring warm, fuzzy feelings all across this campus. “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.” Aaaaw. Isn’t that nice? Forgive the extreme sarcasm, but I’ve had enough of this verse (in our nice little IWU context) to last me the rest of my life.
For those of you who read this verse trying to find comfort because you can’t decide what major to study, you MIGHT want to read this verse in context. The Israelites were in captivity, people! Furthermore, what does God tell them in the middle of all of this?
“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, see 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.” (Emphasis mine)
These people are in the middle of exile.. banishment from their homeland because God had carried them there. Can you imagine the spiritual battles occurring?! Going on…
“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 tells them that there are going to be people trying to convince them that they come in the name of the Lord, when really they’re doing nothing but tearing down their spiritual understanding in an already-distressed state. I understand that many people read this as “don’t worry, God has it under control.” Yes, that’s true. However, we’re failing to miss the real point in this story…
God may carry us into, or may allow us to be carried into spiritual exile – James 1:2-4 – “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” It’s going to happen. And what did God tell the Israelites to do while they were there? Settle down. Make it feel like home, because you’re gonna be here for a while. Get comfortable and go about your daily life. Don’t change anything. Keep on keepin’ on. Too bad we leave that out whenever we read Jeremiah 29. Get comfortable with your distress, because God may need you there to teach you something. Too often I think we look for a way out of our messes. Should we? I’m tempted to think that even when we bring this upon ourselves that we aren’t necessarily going to find a way out. Jeremiah 30: 12-15 – “Your wound is incurable, your injury beyond healing. There is no one to plead your cause, no remedy for your sore, no healing for you. All your allies have forgotten you; they care nothing for you. I have struck you as an enemy would and punished you as would the cruel, because your guilt is so great and your sins so many. Why do you cry out over your wound, your pain that has no cure? Because of your great guilt and many sins I have done these things to you.” Let’s face it – it’s probably more often than not our own fault we’re sitting in the middle of discipline…exile, if you will. And then we try to get out…Ha!
There are going to be moments when we aren’t going to know why things are occurring the way they are. That may be a good time for us to step out of the situation and ask ourselves if we’ve done something to get ourselves there. If so, we can probably assume God’s trying to get our attention. Now that I think about it, when I look at my own life over this school year and I ask God why something’s happening, I think I’m just now hearing him absolutely scream at me, “HELLO!!!! IT’S ALMOST MAY!!! I’VE BEEN TRYING TO GET YOUR ATTENTION SINCE LAST MAY!!! NOTHING’S WORKING!!!!” I have to laugh at myself because I think God’s been standing in front of me jumping up and down, waving his arms, and planting a megaphone right in my face and proceeding to scream through it. *chuckle* No but really. =P I seem to be excellent at missing God when he’s being as obvious as possible. I’ve been asking why when he’s been answering the entire time. Duh, Hannah.
Sometimes “bad” things are punishment, and sometimes it’s because God has been trying to get our attention in every way possible but nothing is working. For those who are really trying to get the whole ‘walk-with-God’ thing down, I don’t think he’ll hesitate to allow unfortunate circumstances to happen if that’s what it takes to get our attention. I’m a little put off with people that say God won’t allow something unfortunate to happen to get our attention because he “loves us too much” to do something like that. Oh please. That’s the thing – he loves us too much to want to lose us. If it takes a little bit of pain to wake us up and turn us back to him, then I’m pretty sure that’s worth it.
My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?
In summary, when God’s trying to get your attention, don’t make light of it. Don’t tell yourself you can put it off til tomorrow. He’ll do what it takes to get you to wake up. Yes, he has plans for you, but if you’re sitting in the middle of exile, ask yourself why you’re there. Stop trying to fix the problem yourself. Look to Christ. Let him guide you. Let the Lord take you back to Jerusalem. You have to decide that you want to go back, but you have to allow him to take you back.
Pray on, friends. Pray on.