” For I know the plans I have for you”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope…” (Jeremiah 29:11).
There is a school of “Christian” thought which looks at this verse as an open and shut case in determining the will of God for every individual. That line of thinking looks and sees a promise of prosperity across all facets of life – prosperity in health, prosperity in finances, prosperity in career – more prosperity than you can shake a stick at. True enough, the promise in this verse is indeed for prosperity. It is the Lord’s plan to prosper and not to harm, and because of that unshakable plan we can hope for the future.
So God promises prosperity… but not yet.
We would do well to remember that this verse was part of a letter the prophet Jeremiah wrote to the exiled Israelites. These were the people who endured the siege of their city, bore witness to the destruction of the temple, and were at present living under the rule of a foreign king in a foreign land. And most, if not all, of those who heard these words would die in the state they currently found themselves:
“When 70 years for Babylon are complete, I will attend to you and will confirm My promise concerning you to restore you to this place…” (Jeremiah 29:10).
70 years. That’s not an overnighter. That’s seven decades of deportation. Seven decades of lack of national identity. Seven decades of foreign oppression. So yes, Israelites, God will prosper you. But not yet.
We, as post-resurrection Christians, face much of the same dynamic today. Much as we might want to believe that the prosperity of God is a present-tense reality, we have our own seventy years to live. Seventy years of cancer. Seventy years of persecution (in some parts of the world). Seventy years of living out the values of an eternal kingdom in a hostile culture. Seventy years as exiles. And who knows what that seventy years equates to in our case. It might be over tomorrow, or we too might live and die in this foreign land without seeing the true prosperity of the Lord come to pass when Jesus comes back.
For the Israelites, then, the question was how to respond: What does one do when you know God will prosper you and yet that prosperity will come some time from now? That truth can be paralyzing; they might have hung their heads in the midst of their deportation and exile and simply tried to wait it out. Or they could be motivated to a different end:
“Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters. Take wives for your sons and give your daughters to men in marriage so that they may bear sons and daughters. Multiply there; do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it has prosperity, you will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:5-7).
The other option is to live. Live for the sake of the true kingdom in the midst of a foreign one. Take life a day at a time and make the most of the moments you have rather be lost in the idyllic vision of the future. The same thing is true for us.
When will our own deportation end? When Jesus comes back. When we see our own selves caught up in the resurrection that Jesus began with His own resurrection. Then we will know what true prosperity is. But in the meantime, we are to seek that kingdom in the midst of this one. We are to live with contrary values and contrary ideals right in the middle of this hostile territory. And the motivation for that kind of live is the face that God will indeed prosper us. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow… but the prosperity of the Lord is coming, just as it has come. And His name is Jesus.