A Hope and a Future

Jeremiah 29:11. An often used verse of hope for the future:

“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.”

How nice. Plans for a future. Hope in the future. But what about today? It wasn’t until I read the book Run With The Horses by Eugene Peterson that I saw this verse in it’s context.

This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “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. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Yes, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the LORD.

This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. 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 upon 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. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

Jeremiah 11:4-15

So often we use these verses as a “put your hope in the future.” We wind up in a situation or stage of life we can’t bear to live in, so we close our eyes to it and “look ahead.” But that seems to be the exact opposite of what God was telling the people to do, and the place at which this verse finds its home. These Israelites being written to are in exile. They’ve been taken from their home that God gave them, and are now living in a pagan land, surrounded by pagan people, pagan idols, and a pagan way of life. And what does God tell them to do?

  • Build houses and settle down
  • Plant gardens and eat what they produce
  • Marry, have kids, so that you can have grandkids
  • Pray for the prosperity of those who’ve taken you into exile

Every one of these seems counter-intuitive. You’d think that if you were in a place you didn’t want to be and hoped to get out of soon, you wouldn’t settle down or take the time to plant a crop of tomatoes. You’d do everything you can to prepare for your return. You’d live in seclusion, trying to separate yourself from the world around you. But God warns the people to not even listen to the prophets that tell the people what they want to hear (that they’ll be headed home soon). This exile thing is serious. It’s going to span multiple generations. BUT, says God, it’s not the end. I have plans for you. This is for your good. All of this pain, is for your good.

Over and over again, even in these few verses, God reminds them of the long term promise: I will bring you back. You may not even be alive when I bring you back in 70 years, but I will do it. Live like you want your family to be alive and ready when that time comes. Live like you believe in me. That’s where this “hope and a future” concept comes from… not simply hoping tomorrow will get here sooner, but hoping and realizing that today is part of the path God has for me to get there.

This understanding of the context of Jeremiah 29:11 has both helped me see the bigger picture of the hope God wanted for the Israelites, and has also opened my eyes to the world around me. The hard things I go through – whether they are learning new skills, parenting an infant, dealing with my own faults, living in an imperfect family… these things need not determine my future, but they are part of it. The future 5 years from now depends somewhat on what I do today, tomorrow, and next week. God’s promises will be fulfilled, but that doesn’t mean I should (or can) sit idley by and let him do all the hard work.

Run with the Horses – "Hard Times"

“Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my seventy-five years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence, has been through affliction and not through happiness, whether pursued or attained. In other words, if it ever were to be possible to eliminate affliction from our earthly existence by means of some drug or other medical mumbo jumbo… the result would not be to make life delectable, but to make it too banal and trivial to be endurable. This, of course, is what the Cross signifies. And it is the Cross, more than anything else, that has called me inexorably to Christ.”

Malcolm Muggerridge, A Twentieth Century Testimony

I’m reading a book by Eugene H. Peterson (translator of The Message) titled Run With the Horses right now… I don’t know if it’s intended as a chapter-a-day thought provoker and heart awakener, but that’s how I’ve found it to work for me. Today I read the 7th reading… “Pashur Beat Jeremiah.”

It’s quite natural to want to avoid “hard times,” isn’t it? I’ve certainly found that to be the case throughout my entire life, naively throughout my childhood and teenage years, and then with full-blown intention as I grew into a man, husband, and father. We come into life with parents who keep us from pain, who teach us not to touch the stove because it will burn us, and not to ramp our bikes over the creek because we might crash. I wouldn’t dream that pain upon my own son or family, either. But at the same time, at one point or another, we’re going to be introduced to the world of pain. Whether it’s through parents who decide “it’s time” and let us do what they know is not good for us but we’re dead set on doing, or whether it’s through running headfirst into the brick wall of life and discovering that marriage isn’t easy, a “career” is anything but security in life.

As I read this chapter, and from everything else I read of this book so far, I’m impressed by what a man Jeremiah had become. I find it intriguing to see where he got the affirmation he needed to go from the excuse of “I’m only a youth” to condemning the top-of-the-ladder man of the temple with a new name: “Terror on Every Side.” I can hardly wait to get to this book in my year-through-the-Bible reading plan this year, as I think it is shedding new light not only on Jeremiah’s ministry, but also on his person, his faith, his confidence, and above all, his God, who is also mine.

A few more quotes from this reading that hit home with me.

One group of people sees religion as a way to successful happy living; nothing that interferes with the success or interrupts the happiness will be tolerated. The other group sees religion as a way in which hurt, flawed, and damaged persons become whole in relation to God; anything will be accepted (mockery, pain, renunciation, self-denial) in order to deepen and extend that reality. One way is the way of enhancing what I want; the other way is a commitment of myself to become what God wants. (p. 86)

The task of a prophet is not to smooth things over but to make things right. The function of religion is not to make people feel good but to make them good… God does not want tame pets to fondle and feed; he wants mature, free people who will respond to him in authentic individuality. (p.89)

Truth is inward: we must experience within ourselves that which we profess. Truth is social: we must share with others what we profess. Statistics are a farce. Popularity is a smoke screen. All that matters is God. (p. 91)

Jeremiah was humiliated, but not intimidated. (p. 92)

We don’t have to like it. Jeremiah didn’t like it. He yelled at Pashur, and after he yelled at Pashur he yelled at God, angry, hurt, and somewhat bewildered that all this was happening to him (Jer 20:7-10). He didn’t like any of it, but he wasn’t afraid of it because the most important thing in his life was God – not comfort, not applause, not security, but the living God. What he did fear was worship without astonishment, religion without commitment. He feared getting what he wanted and missing what God wanted. It is still the only thing worthy of our fear. What a waste it would be to take these short, precious, eternity-charged years that we are given and squander them in cocktail chatter when we can be, like Jeremiah, vehemently human and passionate with God. (p. 93)