One of the greatest verses of comfort and reassurance of God’s plan for your life is found in Jeremiah 29. In the midst of Babylon’s conquest of the land, God’s assurance of His plan for His people rings out:
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:11-13 ESV).
Jeremiah reads the Words of the Lord to the people in exile in the form of a letter. While many of us are quick to focus on verses 11 & 12, it is my feeling that ignorance of the surrounding verses (4-14) not only distorts the above verses but may strip the verses of their ultimate power when we seek direction.
It would be a mistake to take verses 11 & 12 as an instant relief to adversity. Starting in verse 5 and continuing through 7, we see that not to be the case.
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:5-7 ESV)
In poker terms, the Lord is the Master of slow-playing His hand. In the same way the Jews expected a violent, political revolution ending in the overthrow of the Roman empire, the exiles in Babylon almost certainly were hoping for the same thing to happen to Nebuchadnezzar. What God has in mind is much different from this, but so much greater.
The Word of the Lord is subversive to cultures adverse to Him, because it calls us to love our neighbors (read: ENEMIES). And as Douglas Wilson mentions here, the Lord has two ways of destroying His enemies: by actually wiping them out a la Sodom and Gomorrah, or by loving them and welcoming them into His kingdom as repentant believers. In telling the exiles to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you,” this is His desire (emphasis mine).
If you are still following the poker reference, Nebuchadnezzar is going head-to-head with the Lord of Hosts at the final table. Ol’ Nebby thinks he has Jehovah cornered after the flop, and is feeling even more confident at the turn. Seeing as how God just told His people to pray for the welfare of Babylon to Him, it would almost appear God is about to throw in His cards with all of His chips on the table. Behind his vintage Mesopotamian shades, Nebby has to be grinning between drags of his Camels.
In verses 8 and 9 it is confirmed that this is not going to be a quick deal of the cards:
For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 29:8-9 ESV)
And oh, are they easy to listen to. We are constantly confronted by those who claim to be on the side of God, yet offer their consultation with little to no consideration of the Ultimate Truth. Jesus confirms this in Matthew. With the river card yet to come out, this is advice blatantly ignoring the fulfillment of God’s great plan.
By the time verses 10-14 are read, the river card is shown and every last chip is now sitting on the side of the table with Yahweh. When you are playing cards against the God who made the table, the chips, the chairs, the ash trays, and you it is hard to pull an ace-in-the-hole against the Sovereign.
For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. (Jeremiah 29:10-14 ESV)
In the face of adversity or a feeling of misdirection or even no-direction, it is paramount we call upon God. He will deliver us, and it will be His great victory. It is sin to try to force God’s hand (and fail we will each time), but there is glory and rest in the revealing of His great will from suffering to redemption.