There are certain “go to verses” that generally most Followers of Christ know well. Philippians 4:13 is one of those verses. We see that verse posted around in various places; t-shirts, posters, social media, even on eye-black of some sports players. John 3;16 is another one of those verses. This is generally the first verse many Followers of Christ memorize, and it’s probably the most used “evangelistic” verse.
Jeremiah 29:11 is probably not quite as well-known as John 3:16, but it is a very well-known and popular verse. It’s a verse many people can quote, and it’s a verse that is often shared from one person to another as a source of comfort.
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. (Jeremiah 29:11)
This verse tells me that the Lord has a plan for me. A plan that is good, a plan that gives me hope for the future. I like a good plan that offers me hope for tomorrow.
We all like the idea that God has a plan for us that is good and gives us hope for the future. No one in their right mind wishes for bad plans, or for their future to seem hopeless. Even when we are feeling that way because of difficult circumstances, we search for anything to give us hope for a better tomorrow. That is exactly what this verse does for us…which is why this verse is a very popular verse.
However, what we must always remember when reading the Bible is that it’s not full of random quotes. The books within the Bible are written messages…messages that were shared in various ways (letters, prophecy, sermons, poetry, etc). So it is important to understand the message contained within the context where we find a single verse that we like to quote. It’s important because if we remove a single line or phrase from a message, it can be very easy to misunderstand that line or phrase.
So let’s look at Jeremiah 29:11 within its immediate context to get the message of the verse we often like to quote.
For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 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. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. (Jeremiah 29:10-14)
In just these few verses we see there is a lot more going on than just what is contained in verse 11.
There are 2 main things we can gather from this short passage to gain understanding when it comes to the message being shared here:
First – verse 11 is one sentence in the midst of a message being shared by God through Jeremiah to the people of Judah, specifically those who were “the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon (verse 1 of chapter 29).“
Jeremiah had warned Judah that they were being unfaithful to God, and if they did not repent and return to him, they would be punished. Unfortunately they didn’t listen, and they were taken into captivity. That was their punishment; it was God’s discipline for their sinful actions.
This message contained in chapter 29 is a message to those who had been taken captive and exiled from their homes. The Lord was reminding them that even though they had been unfaithful to him and he had to punish them because of it, he still loved them and would still be faithful to them by one day restoring them back to their homes.
It wasn’t so much a simplistic message of “God has a plan for good, so don’t worry”, which we can easily simplify it to if we take it out of context. Rather it is a deep message that “God still has a plan for your life despite the mess you created and the fact that you are currently being disciplined for your actions, so trust in God and be patient for the future he has for you.”
Second – verses 12-13 say “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” Right after verse 11 when God reminds those in captivity that he still has a plan and he hasn’t forgotten them, he reminds them that they have the responsibility of repenting and returning to him.
“Call on me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you“. Repentance, complete and true repentance, begins by calling upon the Lord and praying to him; it is a crying out to him because we are broken over our sin, asking him to forgive our sin. That is the beginning of repentance.
“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all of your heart.” After being broken and crying out to God, the next step in repentance is to run back to God. To seek after him with everything, to chase after him with all the energy it takes, to offer him the heart that we had given to something else when we walked away. We will find him WHEN we seek him with all our heart.
After verses 13 and 14, the encouraging message that began in verses 10 and 11 picks up again in verse 14…”I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”
This short passage reminds us of a couple very powerful truths. It reminds us that even when we make a huge mess of our life by walking away from God, God still wants to be faithful to us because he loves us. It also reminds us that when we fully repent and return to God, we will find him and he will restore us.
Does God have a plan for our lives? Yes. Is God faithful even when we are not faithful? Yes. Will God discipline us for our sinful actions? Yes. Does God expect us to repent and return to him when we have wandered from him. Yes.
Encouraging and comforting for sure, but also convicting with a strong reminder of our responsibility.
Be careful when quoting Jeremiah 29:11. It would probably be best to quote the surrounding verses as well…at the very least, quote 11-13 if you don’t quote the whole passage.
May we seek to understand God’s Word, so we will be able to properly use and share its message.