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 (Jeremiah 29:11).
It’s one of the well known single verses in the Bible, and for good reason. It’s a verse that’s about hope. It’s about God’s providential care. It’s about looking forward and moving that way. It’s no wonder that this single verse finds itself onto all kinds of graduation cards, figurines, and email signatures. Problem is, it’s one verse. And often when we isolate down to just one verse, we lose at least part of the overall message inside of which that one single verse is couched.
We see this kind of thing happening all the time in other parts of our lives besides our Bible reading. We read a single quote that someone said and yet without all the other words around it, the true meaning can be obscured. Our children quote back to us something we told them one time and yet that one thing was part of a larger conversation. We seize on quotes from scientists, politicians, and movie starts – and yes, those quotes might be true – and yet more times than not they are part of a larger conversation.
Isolation is dangerous. In multiple ways.
Such is the case with this verse. Because yes, it is a verse about hope. And the future. And God’s providence. Absolutely. But the broader message adds the depth, and the broader message here is a letter the prophet Jeremiah wrote to the struggling people of Judah. These were the people who had seen their city, temple, and way of life destroyed, and they had been taken into exile in Babylon. These were the people at the bottom of the pit, despairing in their present and radically uncertain about the future. The message from God, through His prophet, was more than this verse. It was more than this promise. It was a statement that they were going to be in exile for 70 years, and that even despite that long period God was not finished in His commitment to them. Here is a bit more of that context:
This is what the Lord of Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the exiles I deported from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat their produce. Find wives for yourselves, and have sons and daughters. Find 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. Pursue the well-being of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it thrives, you will thrive.”
For this is what the Lord of Armies, the God of Israel, says: “Don’t let your prophets who are among you and your diviners deceive you, and don’t listen to the dreams you elicit from them, for they are prophesying falsely to you in my name. I have not sent them.” This is the Lord’s declaration.
For this is what the Lord says: “When seventy years for Babylon are complete, I will attend to you and will confirm my promise concerning you to restore you to this place. 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” (Jeremiah 29:4-11).
Yes, verse 11 is about hope. But the bigger message is about perseverance. And that is a good message for us today. It’s not just a good message because it feels like persevering is the hard work of faith right now, given disease, shut-down, downturn, and all kinds of varying opinions about what should happen next. It’s a good message for us because we, as a people, are not very good at simply staying the course of faithfulness.
In reading this verse more in its context we can drill down on at least four characteristics that make up Christian perseverance:
Perseverance, for the Christian, is not about a denial of reality. These people were in Babylon, and they were going to be there for seven decades. It would do no one any good to fail to accept that fact as if it weren’t true. No, Christian perseverance is not rooted in a denial of our circumstances; in fact, it means to courageously and faithfully accept where we are. But Christian perseverance also recognizes that there is another reality – a greater reality – that sits over and above our circumstances. That God is still the ruler. That He does in fact love us. And that we are, even now, His sons and daughters.
Christian perseverance is never just about sticking it out through the tough times. There is always a forward looking dimension to it. Just as the these exiles were given the promise of what was to come, so also do we know that our names are written in the book of life, and that someday, what is unseen will become visible. Our inheritance is safe, and so are souls, with Christ in God. But this hope, for the Christian, is not some pie-in-the-sky optimism that maybe, just maybe, things will get better. Rather, it is the sure and certain promise that God will never leave us or forsake us and will, in His time, bring us safely home.
That might seem like a strange word to describe perseverance, but it’s one of the ways Christian perseverance is different than stubbornness. A stubborn person might persevere in a sense, but they do so because they are simply unwilling to change. To adapt. To alter their plans based on what’s happening. But these people? They were told to live. To make real life decisions. To seek the good of the city right where – and when – they were. We are not just moving obstinately through life, but instead, we are free to take opportunities as they present themselves for the glory of God.
Finally, there is this – it’s just a reminder that this letter was written to a group of people. They were to read this together. Believe this together. Live this together. And so it is with all Christians who desire to persevere. Sometimes perseverance has the connotation of individual strength. That it’s just about one single person’s will to carry on. But for us, as people of faith, perseverance is a group project in which we draw strength and hope and adaptability from one another. We help each other along the long road.
And as we do, we believe together, that though this road may indeed be long, that God is still good. That He does indeed have plans for us. That in Him, there is yet still a hope and a future.