“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.” Jeremiah 29:11 NIV
This passage is a very common verse for people who are moving into the next chapter of their lives, for students who are graduating, or for people who are feeling the weight of change. It speaks to the human desire to find order in chaos, to know there is a plan and a reason for things. And yet, much of the time the history and context of this brief verse is forgotten or missed.
The Israelites, who were the audience of this passage, were in exile. They were taken out of their homeland and out of their comfort zones. This was later to be known as the Babylonian exile. The Israelites were constantly wondering when this time would end and they could go back to the lives that they were forced to leave behind. They would pray, asking when their lives would go back to normal.
Many people would rise up and tell the Israelites exactly what they wanted to hear. That the exile would end sooner rather than later, that they could go back to the normalcy of their previous lives. And yet, this was nothing more than just empty positivity. It wasn’t true and it didn’t lead the people of God to where they wanted to be.
And so, the namesake of this Old Testament book, Jeremiah, was sent as prophet of God to speak to the Israelites. Jeremiah approached the people of God and told them, that the exile was not going to be something short, but very well might be quite long. But then he shares with them this hopeful truth from God, “I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”
I have found that many of us are wondering the same things as the Israelites. We wonder when all of these things will go back to normal, when life can resume, and when this sickness will be nothing more than just story and history we share. But for now, we are in the thick of it, and we want good news.
The lockdown is driving us all a bit crazy. Boredom is setting in. Fear is heightening. And our frustrations are hitting an all-time high. We want to know the end date, but none of us know for certain, and the ambiguity is getting to us.
So, as I wondered what encouragement I had to offer this week, I found myself whispering the words of Jeremiah to myself.
“’I know the plans I have for you.’ declares the Lord”
Jeremiah is sent to talk with a group of people in captivity and exile. And the hope he has to offer is the fact that God is not absent. God is not distant or detached. Instead, he is still here, and he still has plans for his people.
When the “stay at home” order started, many of us hunkered down with the assumption that this would all be over pretty quickly. And by now, it has drawn on much longer than we thought, and it continues to extend. The people of God, in the book of Jeremiah, were waiting for their captivity to end and the good news that Jeremiah has to offer is not an end date. He doesn’t come to tell them that they only have to wait two more weeks, but instead he tells them that they are not alone in their waiting.
We don’t know when the “stay at home” order will cease, or when everything will start running “normally” again, but what we do know is that while we wait, we have a God who is present. A God who continues to plan. An Emanuel God who is “here with us”. A God who knows what lies ahead.
Another thing to note is that even when the Israelites do escape captivity, leaving their exile, and returning home, things didn’t go back to normal. Their lives were not the same as they were before. This may go without saying, but whenever a big life event happens, the definition of “normal” changes and shifts to adapt to the world as we know it.
COVID-19 is changing our world. And that may make many of us uneasy, and for good reason. Change is always jarring. And yet, no matter the world we enter back into, whether it is similar or different to what we have always known, God will not leave us.
As Moses commissioned Joshua to take his place as the leader of the Israelites, as he shared with him what would lay ahead for them, he gave Joshua these marching orders, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you… The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31:6;8)
As we wait, and even as we enter into the unknown, we can trust that God is here. That God will not leave us. So, my encouragement to you this week is to continue to wait, patiently, holding on tightly to the hope of God.
No matter how long this takes. No matter the things that will take place, or even the changes that may take place. God is not gone. He is here. Have hope this week; you are not alone, even as we navigate our new normal.
And my prayer for you comes from Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Be safe. Be wise. Be Jesus. And know that you are not alone.