“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. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
Rightly or wrongly, Jeremiah 29:11 is one of the most quoted scriptures of the 21st Century. Bible scholars will look down their noses at those of us who use Jeremiah 29:11 out of context and don’t understand all of the political and historical background surrounding Judah and the loss of its best and brightest in the Exile to Babylon. But what makes verses like Jeremiah 29:11 and its wonderful follow-up 12 and 13 so profound is that I don’t have to know the context in order to gain truth and inspiration from it in a variety of ways.
As I have studied this passage and the entire chapter, what I realized is that those in exile were in a place they did not want to be – physically and spiritually. They thought they couldn’t experience God where they were because, in their minds, God could only be found in the Temple in Jerusalem. They were told by a few false prophets that they would be leaving soon, and they took a “what do we care” approach to their existence in Babylon. Why should they even try to make a living or contribute to society in this God-forsaken place if they would be soon exiting? Jeremiah, delivering God’s message, tells them otherwise. In the lead up to our passage, they were told to get married, plant crops, be good citizens, and try to prosper, even pray for the city they have been forced to. God is asking them to trust him because he knows the plans, and they are good. He is asking them to seek him, even 800 miles from home because they will find him even there.
My wife, Leah, was not in the country when my father died on July 8. She was in Zambia, Africa on a mission trip. She was in a place she wanted to be but not at that moment in time. In our fractured conversations over the phone, she asked me, “What do you want me to do?” She was hurting and emotional and wanting to help, but I didn’t want her traveling 7,000 miles by herself and my Dad wouldn’t have wanted that either. I told her, echoing the words of Jeremiah 29, to do what she was called to do: to serve the kids in the orphanage where they were staying, to share Christ’s love to the Zambian ladies they were on retreat with, and to boldly deliver the gospel message of Jesus. I believed and tried to express to her that we have to be faithful to our calling and to trust that a faithful God has the plans in place that would prosper what she was doing while allowing her to find God in the midst of such disconnect and distance from the one’s she loved.
On the night my Dad died, after a session led by my wife, 22 ladies gave their lives to Jesus. God was moving because Leah decided to prosper where she was planted and live up to the calling that brought her to Africa. She had every right to check out, to take an emotional break, to say everything was too much, but that was not why she was sent to Africa and that would not have been what my Dad would have wanted. She, in the midst of pain and uncertainty, sought God and found him in Zambia.
I was also in a place I didn’t want to be.. Who wants to watch their father die? But as my mom, sister, and I held hands and prayed over my deceased father, we had the assurance of all of the great promises of scripture, including Jeremiah 29:11-13. Even in our pain, we knew we had hope, and we knew we had a future. And as we sought God, he listened to us and came to us.
As verse 14 states, “I will be found by you, declares the Lord.” Are we willing to be found by God no matter what situation, good or bad, we find ourselves in?
 Peterson, Eugene. Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best. Downers Grove, Illinois, InterVarsity Press, 2008.
Scott, Thanks so much for this timely word. I have spent this summer in a place where I pretty much don’t want to be. It has been necessary for me and my kids to be away from home all summer while they are enrolled in a program to help their cognitive development. Some aspects of this time have been really nice; other aspects have been miserable, particularly the lack of time spent with my husband. And I have been counting down the days until we can go home, but your comments remind me that I still need to make the best of the time we have left here. What a blessing that you and your wife were able to find the strength to both stay where you didn’t want to be–but where you knew you needed to be–at the time of your dad’s passing. Thank you for sharing this experience. –Jocelyn
Thank Jocelyn. What a wilderness time you have been through. I know much growth can come from these times. I pray that this is the case for you.