Summary: Plans are upended, dreams are derailed, life is scary and uncertain. How good it is to hear the Lord's still got a plan - a good plan to prosper us, provide hope and point us to the future he has prepared for us.
Which plan are you now on? Plan B, C, D, L, Q, Z? It feels like whenever I’ve made a plan during the last week, it needs to be changed every couple of hours. Last weekend we gathered in this place for worship with some precautionary modifications, and at the end of the service I said, “We’ll continue to have worship services until we no longer are allowed to do so.” A couple of hours later came the “no assemblies over 50 people.” On Tuesday afternoon I sat down to write the letter to our members that we would be cancelling public worship services until further notice. I typed the words, “assemblies of 50 people” and by the time I got done writing the letter, I had to change it to, “assemblies of 10 people.” If you have school-aged children, how often have your plans changed over the last two weeks? Suddenly you find yourself searching for childcare which you thought you had all figured out. Some of you are now working from home, your hours at work have been reduced and maybe you’re wondering if you’ll have a job in the coming weeks. Vacations and doctor’s appointments have been rescheduled or cancelled. Maybe you find yourself separated from loved ones that you regularly saw or spent time with. You can’t help but begin to wonder, “What’s next?” and maybe even, “Where is the Lord is in all of this? Lord, what’s your plan?”
If you find yourself with those thoughts and feelings, you’re certainly not alone. These words were written to people who may have felt that way. In Jeremiah 29:11, “’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’” (Jeremiah 29:11). While those words might by familiar to you, do you actually know when and to whom they were written? This is part of a letter that the Lord had the prophet Jeremiah write around the year 600 BC to a small group of Jews who were now living in Babylon, about 400 miles to the east of Jerusalem. These Jews living in Babylon were not living there by choice. They were exiles. The Babylonians had come and ripped them away from their families and friends, forced them to leave their jobs and their homes, and to live in a culture and world that was completely new and foreign to them. This was certainly not anything that any one of those Jews living in Babylon had planned or wanted! You can imagine how often these exiles must have wondered, “What’s next? Has the Lord forgotten about us? Lord, do you even have a plan for us any longer?”
Well, if you thought that self-quarantining for a few weeks is a long time, in the previous verses the Lord told these exiles in Babylon to get comfortable in their new surroundings, because they were going to be there for the next 70 years. But the Lord also assured them that what they were going through was part of his plan for them, a plan not to hurt or harm them. A plan with a purpose. What was that purpose? Three words: the Lord planned to prosper them, to provide hope and a future.
Do you feel like those exiles? I certainly have over the last few weeks. The world that we live in today is vastly different than the world we lived in even two weeks ago. How many of our plans have been upended? How many people’s dreams have been derailed? How many people are feeling scared and lonely, suddenly separated from loved ones and family members? The Lord comes to you this day and says, “I want you to know that I have a plan for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” The Lord has a purpose for what we are going through.
I’ve heard a lot of people saying, “Don’t worry, we’ll get through this.” I appreciate their optimism and when it comes from a Christian, I am grateful for their encouragement to trust God’s promise that he will be with us and bring us through. But one of the things that I think we need to be careful of, is JUST getting through it. I think the bigger question is to ask is, “What is the Lord trying to TEACH us through this? What does God want us to learn from this?” Remember, the purpose of God’s plan is to prosper us.
Remember those Jews living in Babylon? The reason that they were there was because of their spiritual apathy towards the Lord. Many of God’s chosen people had become no different than their unbelieving neighbors. They ran after the gods of their friends. They bowed to the gods of selfishness and greed, injustice and violence, sexual sins and drunkenness. For the most part they had decided to do what THEY wanted to do, instead of trusting the Lord and his goodness. And as their lives went along, they thought that they didn’t really need the Lord. The Lord sent prophet after prophet, calling people to repent of their sin, to return to the Lord and to receive the forgiveness of their sins that he offered through the promised Savior, but they refused. Finally, the Lord did something drastic, something painful that he hoped would get their attention and bring them back to him. He allowed them to be carried off into exile, hoping that this would lead them to recognize the weakness of the gods they relied upon, that they would repent of the sins they had committed, and return to him so that they would have the hope and the future he wanted them to have.