Jeremiah 29:11 - God Speaks Into The Mess of Your Life With a Dream & a Plan For the Future.
"Context is KING!"
I remember sitting in Bible college and hearing that phrase more times than I can count. "Context is king" is a simple and profound reminder that we can't pull a single verse or phrase from scripture and understand its meaning all by itself. But we do it all the time and slap single verses on verse-of-the-day posts, home decor, t-shirts, and all sorts of Christ-centered swag.
Several come to mind when I think of oft-quoted and frequently out-of-context verses:
Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through him who strengthens me."
Matthew 18:20, "For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them."
And Jeremiah 29:11, "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."
To name a few.
The Good, The Bad, & The Beautiful of Jeremiah 29:11.
Jeremiah 29:11 is a great verse! Yet many fail to recognize the even greater nature of that verse in its context. A simple reading of Jeremiah 29 would bring a perspective that we probably wouldn't expect if we were only familiar with verse 11.
Embedded in the context of the often-quoted Jeremiah 29:11, God has a plan for His people, but that plan comes in the midst of their exile in Babylon. What's also interesting is that multiple times, God tells them or reminds them that "I carried you into exile," taking credit for the difficult times they're experiencing.
In the verses leading up to and after Jeremiah 29:11, we see God's people expect to be freed from exile and will go home to Jerusalem soon. But that's not the case. God rebukes the deceitful prophets for lying to the people in His name and instead tells His them in Jeremiah 29:10, "that's when seventy years are completed," He would bring them back to Jerusalem. Yeah, you read that verse number correctly. In Jeremiah 29:10, God tells his people who are slaves in another land, filled with false hope of getting home sooner rather than later, that they still have 70 years to go!
One thing occurs to me when I read this. Life expectancy a few hundred years before Christ was probably less than 70 years. That means that every single soul hearing the beautiful promise of Jeremiah 29:11 would more than likely pass away before they would be delivered to their homeland!
Amid our present reality of instant gratification, waiting 70 years and never seeing the fulfillment of God's promise would be a little more than "difficult." It sends my heart searching for what kind of legacy God has planned for my own future and that of my family in the midst of my present reality.
There's so much that could be said about this chapter and verse. Another thing to note is that even though we often dream of God removing us from our current circumstances, He has a plan for right now. In Jeremiah 29:5 and following, He tells the Israelites to build houses, settle down, plant gardens, marry, be fruitful and increase in number, and seek peace and prosperity for the city of Babylon. God describes a dream of bringing them back to Jerusalem in Jeremiah 29:11, but that dream comes with a plan for what to do right now.
Yes, God knew the plans he had for them. He knows his plans for you and me, but that dream doesn't deny our current circumstances. Yes, God has a dream for the future but also a plan for right now!
However, there's a significant difference between having a clear dream or vision of the future and a fantasy or daydream that you use to escape your present reality.
3 Shifts To Overcome The Trap of Confusing Dreams with Fantasies.
For most people, it's challenging to imagine God's dreams for us because we struggle to see past our current "Babylon" to the "Jerusalem" God has for us. In the second half of the Younique life planning process, we address the tension of learning to dream again despite the circumstances we're going through.
Three things I remind people of as I walk them through this passage in Jeremiah 29 are:
First, we see that dreams FACE reality while fantasies often DENY reality.
God's dream for his people here comes in the midst of exile. They hear lies from false prophets about how they'll be home soon. God affirms that they will be delivered... eventually. But not until 70 years are up. In the meantime, they have work to do.
It's easy to be drawn towards a false sense of hope when we live in the escapist mindset trying to rid ourselves of our current trials. The Israelites were in a foreign land, longing for their home and lacking hope. The false promise of the prophets speaks to that need for hope, but it's just a fantasy. They were in Exile.
Co-founder of Younique, Dave Rhodes, shares that "Exile is where dreams go to die. Exile is your worst day over and over again." It's the feeling of being trapped or enslaved by your sins or situations. It's difficult to find hope in the storm. That'sIt's where the Israelites were. They had to be asking the question, "Has God given up on his dream?"
It would be easy, almost expected, for them to get into survival mode. But God speaks into their present reality, encouraging them as he encourages you and me that we can actually face the reality we are in today because His best for us is not confined by our worst day or decision.
When you define someone by their worst decision, you confine them to their worst life. God comes to His people in the midst of their devastation and says I still haven't given up on your dreams. "'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
Still, sometimes it's hard to see hope.
In his incredible book Good to Great, Jim Collins shares the Stockdale Paradox. Inspired by Jim Stockdale, an admiral and a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
During an interview, Stockdale was asked how he survived his time as a prisoner of war. One of the things that Stockdale said was that he never gave up hope. He knew that this would be a defining moment of his life, yet he knew that in the end, he would win. So he never gave up.
Collins then asked, "who didn't survive?" Stockdale replied, "oh, that's easy... the optimist." The optimist thought they would be out by Christmas, and then Christmas would come and go. Then they would think they would be out by Easter, and Easter would come and go. Eventually, they died of broken hearts.
Collins said, "you should never confuse having a deep belief that you will win with being able to confront the brutal facts of your life." The people who can move from Good to Great are not afraid to look at the brutal facts of their life, but they also hold a deep belief that, given enough time, they will win.
Dreaming doesn't deny your reality. Dreaming recognizes that God's plans for you are right in the middle of your present reality. The truth is that you might be in the midst of a mess. But we know that God comes near to us right in the midst of wherever we're at.
Second, dreams MOVE THROUGH reality while fantasies TRY TO ESCAPE reality.
Again, the false prophets insist their time is short, and God declares it's 70 more years. He says, in the midst of that, settle down in Babylon and work for the prosperity of the city. God's prosperity for their lives is not just tied to Jerusalem (their dream) when they get there one day. He has a heart and a plan for them there! In Babylon!
Maybe you've felt stuck between Babylon and Jerusalem in your life. You have a dream for Jerusalem, but you're living in Babylon. You might be reading this thinking, "maybe God's heart for me is to prosper once I get to Jerusalem one day?"
But God is saying, "No, I’ve got a heart for Jerusalem and a plan for Babylon."I've We need to have the same attitude. Yes, discern God's dream for your life and Jerusalem. But also determine His plan for here and now in Babylon.
Here's an interesting question, who might you be robbing of their prosperity because you are not dreaming and planning for your life?
The Israelites, like us, could've been easily focused on their own hopes and dreams while living in conflict and anger toward their captors. Yet God tells them to work for the prosperity of the city. While they know God dreams of restoring them to Jerusalem, their job is to work and be a blessing to their enemies. It sounds like Jesus teaching to "love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you."
Back to that question. I wonder how many people I've overlooked because I've been so focused on the dreams, jobs, and tasks in my own life. (Insert Good Samaritan story here). The truth is that amidst the long-range dreams God has for our lives, it always includes the good works that He places before us every day.
Don't let your heart be troubled by your circumstances. Move through the storm intentionally, looking for those to bless along the way. Yes, you have a dream for Jerusalem. But don't miss the plans God has for you.
Now I know that we live in a world with dream people and plan people. Dream people don't seem to like the plan people because whatever they come up with feels like a glorified to-do list. Just as well, plan people don't like the dreamers because they've never seen a dream in an executable format.
But God comes into our world with a dream and a plan. He has a dream for Jerusalem and a plan for Babylon.
Most of us won't get a straight line to the dream. But it's in the ups and downs that God makes us into the kind of people that can handle His dream.
Third, dreams eventually BECOME reality, while fantasies often leave you TRAPPED in reality.
Throughout the Bible, God comes on the backend of every lousy moment and re-establishes his dreams. Abram, Moses, the Israelites here in Jeremiah 29:11, and countless others who felt their dreams were dead, God speaks into it and reminds them that he hasn't given up. God comes over and over to offer grace to His people.
Here's the point:
God has not given up on His dream for your life.
We need to re-learn to dream and plan with God. To dream with God and plan with God so we can co-create God's better future as we pursue our part in the Kingdom. But it takes work.
We must move past the daydreaming fantasies of a better situation, better health, better job, different spouse, a bigger house, cooler car, larger bank account, or whatever trap the Enemy has you in right now. We need to open our eyes and look around us to see the good works God has prepared for us. Especially in the midst of Babylon.
Ephesians 1:4 says that God "chose us in [Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight." Paul goes on to say in Ephesians 2:10 that "we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."
So, do I believe God knows his plans for us? Plans to give us hope and a future? ABSOLUTELY! He has been dreaming of our lives since before the creation of the world and has good works that He's prepared for us. However, we know that it's not all sunshine and roses. Jesus promises us that in this life, we will have trouble.
So, where do you go from here? How do you discern the dream and the plan God has for you? Some people might see that bright light from heaven that stops them in their tracks as Jesus describes what to do next. For the rest of us, we're left to the good work of discerning the will of God in our lives. For me, the Gospel-centered life design process of Younique was a pivotal journey. Let me know if you're interested in learning more about this profound, Christ-centered process!