11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11 New King James Version (NKJV)
That is a tricky verse, especially when we personalize it. It was given to the Hebrew nation when they were taken into captivity. The people as a whole would not return to Jerusalem, many would work as slaves or servants. Some would gain ranking jobs where their talents would be used. Think about Nehemiah, Daniel and Company, Joseph.
The verse makes me nervous—especially the translation: “thoughts to prosper you….” My mind always goes to money and I get my deposit slips ready. Sometimes, that is exactly what a person of faith does/should do, but God is telling the Hebrews the contrast of “peace versus evil,” or “prosper” versus “ do you harm.”
“The plans I have for you…” (NIV).
God is telling us that we, or the Hebrews, are not in the quick sand because He is angry with us. Even after the missteps or sin, He has a plan and it includes “a future and a hope.”
I listened to a couple of sermons/teaching recently that reached into my soul. Kris Vallotten works as Senior Associate at Bethel Church in Reading, California with Pastor Bill Johnson.
Vallotten talks about Joseph from Genesis 49-50. Though not his intention, the message speaks to the current secular abhorrence of Christians and their churches. Joseph, as you recall, was sold into slavery by his brothers when he was 17. His career path takes him through the pit, the prison and several other ground floor beginnings before he interprets one of Pharaoh’s dreams which saves many lives and earns Joseph a corner office. With lots of setbacks and bruises, Joseph must have caught on and prayed, “How can I fit into Your plans for me?” He listened until he heard.
I have never paid attention to Joseph’s experience when his father Jacob died. Pharaoh and the Egyptians loved Joseph although he served Yahweh as God. The Egyptians wept and mourned for 70 days when Jacob died. Joseph had served the nation and Pharaoh so well he won a unique spot in their hearts. When Joseph told Pharaoh his father had asked him to take him home to bury him in Canaan where Abraham had purchased a family burial plot, Egypt’s king not only gave permission, he said, “We’ll go with you!” Pharaoh took his whole staff in the funeral possession to Canaan. They wept!
(I want you to listen to that whole message.)
It would be great if we had Joseph’s journal to read his entries how those days affected him. Now I grasp how powerful the words are: “A king rose who knew not Joseph.” (Exodus 1:8).
“My plans for you.”
There is also the biography of Daniel who spent every day of the 70 year Babylonian exile as a captive—but trusted and loved counselor to the king.
Jeremiah 29:11 is a greater promise than I have allowed. It is not a promise of escape or free ticket back to what used to be. The challenge is to find the plan that will lead to the future and hope if we will fit into the plan.