Summary: The context of Jeremiah's written promise of God, "I have a plan ad purpose for you" speaks to how can we endure the hard times and stay faithful to God.
In the Meantime
All of us have stored in our mind favorite scripture quotations. We often pull them out to quote on an appropriate occasion. That may be called Biblical “cherry picking.” Seldom do we look at the larger passage from which the quote is found.
Today’s scripture passage is the context from which we look at a familiar favorite promise. “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.” Jeremiah 29:11. We quote these words to help people be encouraged, focus on the future and give God the credit.
A look at the preceding verses, the context of that statement, shows us another picture of trusting God. The people receiving this promise were not very encouraged. More than six hundred years before Christ, the Israelite people had been conquered by the nation Babylonia. King Nebuchadnezzar had led his army to defeat their nation, destroy Jerusalem’s walls and houses and take back to his country those citizens most useful to him - craftsmen, teachers, musicians, key leaders and even the king and queen. He marched them to Babylon as slaves. They were forced to adjust to being slaves, find a place to live and take care of their families, captives in a foreign land, humbled and discouraged.
In the early years they dreamed of going home. Their prophets and fortune tellers told them their stay in Babylon would be short. Only God’s true prophet would tell them the truth. Jeremiah was left in their native land, consoling those left behind. He wrote a letter to the exiled remnant of his people to tell them the truth. “They are captives of things they cannot change.”
We have our own story and offer our best excuses. We are often captive of what we can’t change. It may be our health, jobs or careers, finances and debts, marriage and family, our faith and our failure. Jeremiah told them how to handle this “in the meantime” chapter of their nation’s history.
I. Face the Facts
Jeremiah tells them they must come to terms with their circumstances. (29:1, 9-10a) Here are the facts – they are exile slaves, and will be for 70 years. They cannot change that. He also told them that the voices that they are hearing were not of God. These were false prophets, wanting to please people. They were leading people to have false expectations of the future. They were not sent as a messenger of God. They must face reality. Their generation will die in Babylon. The only hope for contributing to the future of their nation will be through their children and grandchildren. Scott Peck, a Christian psychiatrist, spoke about the dangers of avoiding reality. He called that “the beginning of mental illness.” Jeremiah coached them on living in this “meantime” period of their country.
In Psalm 137, the writer tells about their attitudes during this period in Babylon. They wept because as slaves, their masters insisted that they sing the songs of their homeland. Their question was this. “How do we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” In their resignation they chose to hang their harps on the trees and stopped singing! There are times when each of us want to give up, lay down and quit.
II. Don’t Put Your Lives on Hold (Jeremiah 29:4-7)
Their future would not be fulfilled in their lifetime. They would marry, build their homes, and raise a garden. They were told to keep on living. There is a popular Christian song that encourages us to think about “until then.” Their best contributions in their life will be living for the future of their nation. Building family is a way of building a good foundation for our nation also.
Live in a space called “in the meantime.” “In the meantime” pray for and seek peace in the strange land they found themselves in. It could not be the contribution that kings and leaders dreamed of making, but it was something they could do. As a pastor, I have walked with some gifted and committed Christians through the gates of a prison where they would spend the next chapter of their life. They chose to study the scriptures, witness to other in-mates, hold Bible studies when possible and walked away a blessed person.
A stranger instruction is this, pray for peace and prosperity of Babylonia, their place of prison. The benefit of this is that the slaves will prosper also. That peace and prosperity will not come by listening to the false prophets. “Until then,” keep on praying and working in peace.
Reinhold Niebuhr wrote this prayer:
O God, grant us the serenity to accept what we cannot change, the courage to change what can be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference.