‘“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.”’ (Jeremiah 29:11-12)
A verse that has encouraged and challenged many these days. I have seen this message in many groups, forewords, and social media this season. An excellent promise to hold on to as we go through this long uncertain period.
Reading through the sections of the Bible from where this is taken, I realised that this promise—given to the Jews in captivity in Babylon—sits in the context of a few calls and commands to the captive nation. I want to look at the context and highlight five commands or calls that God was giving them through Jeremiah.
There were two communities to which Jeremiah was bringing God’s message. First, the leaders and communities that were under siege (lockdown) in Jerusalem hoping for a lifting of the occupation in the imminent future. The second was the captives who were taken away to Babylon and living in the hope of a return soon. They had leaders who were constantly telling them that this context would pass soon. (Jeremiah 28:10-11, Jeremiah 29:15)
Jeremiah, through visual demonstration of a wooden yoke around his neck and later a picture of an iron yoke, communicated a long-term perspective to both the communities. In contrast, the leadership was giving them hopes for a short-term challenge and quick reversal soon! (Jeremiah 27:2, Jeremiah 28:13.)
I want us to consider five calls God was communicating to these communities through Jeremiah.
A call to submit to the context. (Jeremiah 27:11) The short-term thinking of the leadership had to be ignored for a longer-term perspective. They were being asked to submit to the context of a longer-term captivity and a new phase of life.
A call to live fruitful and engaged lives in the present. (Jeremiah 29:4-7) The group that had been taken captive were waiting, based on the promises of some of their leaders, to be brought back soon. They were looking back to the past, remembering it and looking forward to a day when they could return. Jeremiah challenges them to build houses, plant vineyards, marry, have children and seek the peace and prosperity of their captors and the land where they were. A call to live engaged lives in the current context.
A call to live prayerful lives. Jeremiah not only asks them to seek the peace and prosperity of the land where they were taken as captives but to pray for the land, because in the well-being of the land was their well-being. A call to live prayerful lives for the nation that had destroyed their land and taken them as captives. (Jeremiah 29:7)
A call to live discerning lives. Jeremiah challenges them to discern between the wisdom of the world and godly wisdom. Discern between falsehood and truth. (Jeremiah 29:8-9, Jeremiah 29:31-32) He was challenging them to understand the context and the season through God’s perspective and not be caught up with the false messages going around.
A call to live hopeful lives. The fifth and final call was one of hope for the future. Hope of a physical restoration and a spiritual restoration. The physical restoration would take 70 years! (Jeremiah 29:10) Many of that generation would not be around to see this restoration become a reality. In one sense they were like those described in Hebrews 11: ‘All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.’ (Hebrews 11:13) They were to live lives of hope for a future beyond their lives! At the same time, a hope for a spiritual restoration of a relationship with God and His relationship with them. (Jeremiah 29:12-13)
Sandwiched between these calls was the promise: ‘“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.”’
A reminder to us this season – to hold on to the promise of God’s great plans for our lives. At the same time, a call to live lives of submission and fruitful engagement in the present. Lives of prayer for the context and our nations, discerning God’s purposes for us and the nations this season. Holding on to a hope of a physical restoration in his time, but a spiritual restoration today.
May God enable us to live such lives!
Santhosh Mathew is Regional Secretary for South Asia and Head of Training at ICMDA.