In 2018, Jeremiah 29:11 was considered one of the most popular verses in America, and it will probably always be one of the top two or three. If you are unfamiliar with Jeremiah 29:11, it says, “For I know the plans I have for you” — this is the Lord’s declaration — “plans for your well-being, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”
Easy to Love
When you think about it and look at Jeremiah 29:11 on its own, of course it’s easy to love that verse. Why wouldn’t you want someone to have plans laid out for you? Why wouldn’t you want those plans to be without evil and of abundance? Why wouldn’t you love for those plans to be your future and provide you with hope? Of course we would!
We live in a country that is filled with so much despair, division, and the unknown of what our future holds. Everything from mass shootings to racism, suicides, domestic violence, homelessness, and immense debt are leading us in a direction of instability in America. We used to think these things were anomalies, but we can no longer assume any of these as one-offs. It is no surprise why so many turn to Jeremiah 29:11, it brings hope in the midst of so much anguish. It is a verse that has become a lifeline for America! It’s filled with so much hope and promise that allows the American people to endure the present distress knowing that life will get better.
Or will it?
The Real Meaning
Many will go into the new year claiming this verse for their lives. Churches will preach it, congregants will claim it, and stores will sell it—but this passage may not mean what you think it means. Jeremiah 29:11 was not only one of the most popular verses in 2018, but it was also considered one of the most misinterpreted verses. For years, this verse has been taken out of context and applied it in a way that flirts with the prosperity gospel. This leads them in the direction of a “name it and claim it” approach.
In my experience, this approach has left many friends and family members with unfulfilled and unclaimed promises wondering if they have done something wrong. This approach is detrimental to the Christian faith and makes God look like a liar when people claim things He never promised. Churches and Christians have recklessly shared this passage in a way that lures the weak and weary to take a spiritual prescription that was never meant for them to take. Many have individualized this passage, making it personal for them and their isolated circumstances. Christians insert their own idea of plans and a future and believe that the “not to harm” means that they will escape the valleys of life. But when this text is read in its entirety, this isn’t what it means at all. Let’s break it down.
Can’t Miss the Context
This chapter begins by telling the nation of Israel to:
Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. (Jeremiah 29:5-7)
In other words, get comfortable because you are going to be staying for a while. But He doesn’t stop there. After He tells them to get comfortable and make themselves a home, He then tells them that it will be 70 years before the promise comes to pass. Can you imagine that?
What if we were told that our country wasn’t going to get better any time soon? What if it keeps getting worse? What if you are unhappy with the political climate or who is in the White House? How would you handle yourself? Well, I think we can learn from this passage.
We are to seek the peace of the city and pray for its welfare. While many personalize this passage the truth is that this is written to an entire nation. The “you” in this passage is plural, not singular. So this is not to an individual but instead a group of people. We are all in this group of people. So how does this apply to us?
We must always be sure to interpret Scripture in its proper and original context. Of course, I believe that the entire Bible shows the character of God and there are certainly scriptures that can stand alone to do so. In its whole, for all of us and not the individual, Jeremiah 29 does exactly that.
Here are three biblical truths to remember as you read Jeremiah 29:11:
- God desires to restore and redeem us, just as He did with Israel.
- God knows the plans He has for us, just as He did with Israel.
- God still offers hope for the future, just as He did with Israel.
God knows the plans he has for us, and he loves us, but that doesn’t mean life is always going to be easy.