“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11, ESV).
Jeremiah sent a word of prophecy to all of the exiles in Babylon in the form of a letter. Nebuchadnezzar had defeated Israel and brought captive the people of Jerusalem. In this letter, God encouraged the Israelite captives to live their lives not as slaves, but as free people. He told them to work for the good of the city wherein they were exiled, for their good is wrapped up in the good of that city. Then He reminded them that He would be true to His promise to return them to Jerusalem after 70 years. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11, ESV).
The subjugated Israelites had experienced an almost unimaginable tragedy. They were torn from their homes and the Holy City of their people. I can almost see them looking back as they are led away, smoke blanketing the sky and blocking the sunlight. I can see their tears as darkness buries their hopes and dreams. I imagine that they remembered that Jeremiah had warned them that this exile was coming (Jeremiah 25:1-11) but they had failed to listen.
Then the Word of the Lord comes to them from the very person who had prophesied the devastation they have endured. I’m sure that it was exceedingly difficult for them to perceive how this was all a part of God’s plan to prosper them. Perhaps they were still angry with God for having been sent into exile. Perhaps they decided that “if God were good, He’d never have let this happen to us.”
I’ve had storms in my life. I’ve had some difficult times. And while I was in the midst of them I couldn’t imagine anything worse. Yet, truth be told, none of my storms or difficulties were near as monumental as my dark and angry mind made them out to be. I spent many years in a self-imposed exile, devastated that the life I had imagined in serving the Lord had been ripped from me. Whenever I had a glimmer of hope, it seemed, that was snuffed out as well. As long as I held on to my bitterness there could be no return. God was using those times to work at changing me from the inside, chiseling away the granite that was my heart and forming in me a new heart of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19).
It can be extremely difficult to see God’s plan for our good when we are face down in the mud and muck of our own self-pity. Yes, sometimes God schedules times and seasons for us to figure out our faith, re-establish our relationship with Him, and grow in our understanding of grace. There are times where faith is difficult but paramount, times when we need to “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12, ESV).
Plans are for the future. No one makes plans for yesterday. But I think that all too often we expect God’s plans for us to be now. We are rapidly nearing the start of a new year. Resolutions are made, though usually less than resolute. We decide that this is a new start. We make plans.
Someone once said that life is what happens when you have other plans. Sometimes life has a way of dismantling our plans as if they were houses built of cards. We rarely plan for the worst-case scenario, though sometimes that is the very one we end up with. We should make plans. Plans are good. But let’s plan, also, our response to life, that we will not focus on the negative things that happen, but rather we will always look to God’s Word and see and believe that He has good plans for us.