Jeremiah 29:11, you keep using that verse. I do not think it means what you think it means.
All right, all Princess Bride jokes aside, it truly hit me this morning that Jeremiah 29:11 is taken out of context quite often.
When I was seeking comfort this morning, Jeremiah 29:11 popped up, so I turned to chapter 29 in the hopes of understanding better, the context of this verse.
It just so happens that I am reading through Job in my quiet times right now, so in reading Jeremiah 29:11, I couldn’t help but feel irritated over the fluffy interpretation we usually take from that verse. At least for me, when I read it, I take it as God will give me all the good things I want, and my wait or suffering will end and some day soon, things will be wonderful.
However, as I walk my christian journey, I see more and more that suffering can continue for a long while, even in the lives of the most faithful servant of Christ (in fact, more so for them than anyone else!).
Unable to glean a new interpretation on my own from this verse and chapter, I turned to other commentaries on 29:11. It was both sad and a relief to instantly find people, theologians, saying this verse has been taken out of context and misunderstood repeatedly.
So what is Jeremiah 29:11 about and how does it apply to us?
The Israelites are in exile in chapter 29 and a false prophet has told them that God would free them in two years. Imagine their joy over that!
So, here comes Jeremiah, the “party pooper”, the true prophet and he calls out the lie of the false prophet and gives Israel 29:11. However, prior to that, Jeremiah tells the Israelites that God wants them to (v.7) “seek peace and prosperity of the city to which (He) carried them into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
God not only wants them to stay in exile, but find peace there and seek the welfare of the place and the people around them. In so doing, they will prosper and have a future and hope, which may or may not include going home (spoiler alert: none of them end up going home).
Don’t we all have seasons or situations we want to escape? I know I do, and I have used 29:11 as a promise that I will escape, but verse 7 is much more challenging and comforting to me.
In your tough season, remember God carried you and placed you there. “I have carried you into exile.” It’s no accident that you are where you are. The Lord is in control of everything. He gives us free will, of course, but where we are isn’t outside of His will for us. If we are experiencing a long season of waiting or pain, rest assured that God has us there for a reason and because of that we should…
“seek peace and prosperity there.” What if, instead of looking for a way out or agonizing over when this will all be over, we look for joy, fruit, gratitude in the midst of our suffering. We sit there and find God working in it. Thus, we don’t desperately look to get out of the season. We find our home in the place of exile.
Because, just as it says, “if it prospers, you too will prosper”, when we allow a particularly hard season to be used by the Lord, when we choose to find contentment there, we will prosper. God will give us a future and hope. When we accept our circumstances and set our eyes on God’s goodness, our hearts begin to change in the midst of that season and we no longer suffer, but find joy and begin to thrive.
Let’s not constantly seek a way out of our messy seasons, let’s seek to thrive in the midst of it and look for God’s promise for a future and hope within the place of exile.