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.
This is a verse oft-quoted in what’s commonly known today as the Prosperity Doctrine in Christianity, and there have traditionally been plenty of arguments and debates regarding this verse. I am personally not much of a subscriber of the Prosperity Doctrine, though I’m not about to start an argument about it. I’m saying this just to bring out the point that any subscriber of the Prosperity Doctrine might be better-placed to discuss this verse than I am, but in this short study of Jeremiah 29:11 I shall try my best to sidestep all the known arguments and focus entirely on the word. I am definitely not the best person to talk about this verse, which is why this study ought to be, at least a little, interesting.
Jeremiah 29:11 is a very well-known verse, and many people cling to it for the promise that God gave to the Israelites in this. I’m not going to focus on the ‘prosper’ part of this verse, but instead, my focus will be on the ‘hope and a future’ part. Still, let’s tackle this verse step by step.
For I know the plans I have for you – well, most of the time, we don’t know the plans that God has for us. But He does. He does. And because he knows, it’s okay even if we don’t know what he has in mind for us. It’s okay even if we don’t know what lies ahead for us. Because our future are in his hands. They’ve been planned for. We’re going to be fine.
plans to prosper you – many scriptures in the Bible speak of prospering – Psalms 1:3, Deuteronomy 28:6; however, when looking across the various translations, terms like plans for good, plans for welfare, plans for well-being, thoughts of peace are used instead of the term prosper – connotations are generally positive, but perhaps there are more interpretations possible here than prosperity. I personally believe that there are bigger and better things at the end of the spectrum of positive things than prosperity, and while I do not deny that prosper is a good interpretation of this phrase, in a more macroscopic view, plans for good and plans for welfare might be more apt and suitable in general.
and not to harm you – God plans are for our good, not for our evil. Why would God plan to harm us, seriously? That doesn’t make sense at all. I’d like to think that good and bad both comes from God, and good and bad are both part of God’s plans for our good eventually. The Israelites might be going through a rough patch, but that too, is merely a step in God’s plans for the general benefit and good of his people. It’s a mind blowing point of view to take – the perspective of the heavens – and more likely than not, when we’re embroiled in the middle of pain and suffering, and we’re not the third-party looking on in interest from the sidelines, we often cannot throw away our myopic view to the circumstances that we are in. That’s when verses like this come in handy. No matter what, God plans for our good, and not for our bad.
plans to give you hope and a future – in context, the Israelites were at a stage where the future seemed hopeless. But God hasn’t abandoned them. Through a whole string of prophets, Jeremiah (the weeping prophet) included, God establishes the fact that he will still be there for his people. In desperate times, we find hope in places we least expect. Turning to God is a sure-fire way of seeking hope, but in times when we think that we cannot see God, in times when we feel that God is not there for us and we cannot feel his presence, surely God will use ways we cannot expect to rekindle our hope. I know not what godly ways God can come up with, but one of those more common ones would surely be his word. These verses. They may be but just a bunch of words stringed together, but because they are from Him, they hold power. They can empower us. They can bring us hope. Heaven and earth will pass away, but God’s words will never pass away [Mark 13:31].
There has been a long-standing argument that Jeremiah 29:11 was meant for the Israelites and not meant to be taken out of context for any random situation in our lives today. I don’t want to join that debate, because it extends to the rest of the Bible. I do have a stand, certainly, just that it’s probably best kept to myself. Take a stand if you will. Take a stand, be convinced about it, and keep to it. As long as it does not blatantly goes against God’s teachings, and as long as you’re at peace with it, I don’t think it matters. At the end of the day, God must be glorified.
Do you believe with all your heart that despite the pain and suffering that you might have gone through, God plans are only for your good, and entirely for your good? Can you still believe this when, year after year, decade after decade, you are still suffering and God has not given you your deliverance? Our faith is always tested. Sometimes it wavers. Sometimes it shatters. Sometimes, we may not live long enough to see the ‘deliverance’ that God has promised. Even so, going slightly off topic, it’s my personal ‘mantra’ (or whatever you call it) that whether life is good or bad depends not on circumstances but on attitude. If we would only believe in Jeremiah 29:11, if we would only believe in the Bible, if we would only obstinately believe in God’s words no matter what the rest of the world thinks, I think that half the battle will already be won, because just by putting our faith in Jeremiah 29:11, we will have hope for the future.
We might not know what God’s plans to prosper us are, we might not know how he plans to give us hope and a future, but Jeremiah 29:11 is a self-fulfilling prophecy – the verse in itself can be our hope for the future. If we would only cling onto it.