Jeremiah 29:11 NIV 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.
We latch on to this verse because we want to claim the promise that there are good things ahead of us, especially when life is chaotic and seems to be getting worse every day. We have been going through chaos for the last eighteen months with COVID, social unrest, police brutality, an insurrection, weird weather patterns, and most recently the collapse of a condominium in Florida. All this in addition to our personal trials and tribulations. It’s too much to bear.
We turn to this verse for reassurance that there is a better plan, especially if it means something better than we know now. To be prosperous, we may believe, is to have an abundance of what feels good or seems good to us. Typically, we interpret the idea of prosperity to mean a life free of bad and full of good. The problem is that what we are looking for is our version of good. If we rely on our definition of good, absent God’s larger view, we set ourselves up for disappointment.
What Did God Mean When He Said, “For I Know the Plans I have for You…?”
The first thing that we need to understand is that this popular verse came from a prophet who was very unpopular. Jeremiah spoke of judgment. The people of Israel were deeply ingrained in idol worship, and God called them to repentance. Jeremiah’s message from God, “I know the plans I have for you” was to the Israelites exiled from Jerusalem. I bet they didn’t think things were “good”.
The Hebrew word translated as “plan” also means thoughts, intention, and purpose. When God says, “I know the plans I have for you,” he says he knows what we do not know. God knows the big picture, from the beginning to end. His thoughts and intention for us is always for restoration. It is his intention to bring us closer to him and closer to his original design.
Romans 8:28-30 NIV And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
Although God’s people were repeatedly unfaithful, God remained faithful. In fact, He told them to build homes, plant food, and settle down even in exile.
Jeremiah 29:5-7 NIV “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.”
The thoughts, intentions, and purposes of God are to help us experience his good no matter how bad it is. It may not include our view of prosperity.
What 'For I Know the Plans I Have for You' Doesn't Mean
God wants good for us. All the time. Peace. Joy. Freedom. Love. Kindness. Throughout the days of creation, God called his work good. However, the enemy knows that we tend to seek our own version of good. He uses things that seem good to keep us from experiencing good in the plans God has for us.
This is what God says.
Jeremiah 23:16-17 NIV This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They keep saying to those who despise me, ‘The Lord says: You will have peace.’ And to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts they say, ‘No harm will come to you.’
Jeremiah 27:9-10 NIV So do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your interpreters of dreams, your mediums or your sorcerers who tell you, ‘You will not serve the king of Babylon.’ They prophesy lies to you that will only serve to remove you far from your lands; I will banish you and you will perish.
Unlike the false prophets, the good God speaks of in one single verse of scripture isn't how he operates, which we see through a larger view of Scripture. His goodness isn’t based on false promises that line up with our version of good. His goodness is based on his love and the big picture view of what’s good.
1 Corinthians 13:9-12 NIV For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
It means that God is always working towards our good.
Romans 8:28 NIV And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
He works even when the world is full of people seeking their own way. The reality is, that bad things happen. When we turn our hearts away from God’s plan it keeps us from receiving God’s best. He can’t give us something we aren’t willing to accept.
Jeremiah’s story shows us that bad things still happen even when we follow God. Jeremiah received ridicule. He was lonely. More than once, his life was in danger.
Jeremiah 11:21-23 NIV Therefore this is what the Lord says about the people of Anathoth who are threatening to kill you, saying, “Do not prophesy in the name of the Lord or you will die by our hands”— therefore this is what the Lord Almighty says: “I will punish them. Their young men will die by the sword, their sons and daughters by famine. Not even a remnant will be left to them, because I will bring disaster on the people of Anathoth in the year of their punishment.”
Jeremiah 26:10-11 NIV When the officials of Judah heard about these things, they went up from the royal palace to the house of the Lord and took their places at the entrance of the New Gate of the Lord’s house. Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and all the people, “This man should be sentenced to death because he has prophesied against this city. You have heard it with your own ears!”
He was a prophet and priest in the thick of political tension who challenged the prophets and said the Israelites’ enemy would experience victory.
You may have experienced ridicule, loneliness, persecution of some form, people who misunderstood you, and fear of doing the things God calls you to do. God doesn’t guarantee there will be no harm or hurt, but he does remind us that his goodness is available in and through it.
God Provides Good in the Bad
Throughout Scripture, and in glimpses of Jeremiah’s life, God draws near to us, as we draw near to him.
Jeremiah 29:12-14 NIV 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. 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.”
If we trust Him He will lead us down a path of good.
Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
God wants us to turn towards him no matter how bad things have been. God reminds Jeremiah that he knew him before he was formed. God knew the plan he had for Jeremiah, and it included challenging work in the face of opposition. God reassured Jeremiah of his presence with him and that he didn’t have to be afraid. Deliverance would come.
Jeremiah 1:4-8 NIV The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” “Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.
God knows all the challenges you face. Bad happens, but it never changes who God is or his love for you. He remains faithful to be with you in every circumstance.
Deuteronomy 31:6 NIV Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
God is not surprised by bad things. He is not overwhelmed by the bad we do or the bad we feel in life. He knows we are incapable of living perfectly good lives and that we need his goodness. God provides the good we need to experience more of him and more of Hs goodness in our lives. When we acknowledge and accept these two truths together, we are better able to join God in the plans he has for us without trying to take over with our plans instead.
To know God’s plans for us, we need to know God. ] He speaks through scripture, through creation, and to our hearts. One of the enemy’s ways of getting us off track and relying on our understanding of good and evil is to fear that anything we think is a good plan could be wrong. Ask God to give guidance and respond based on your best understanding of who God is, how he operates, and what you believe he’s asking you to do.
We won’t get it all right. Good and bad may happen as we move forward. When our hearts move forward in confidence and humility, we can follow God’s leadership with readiness to change direction.