by Aubrey Sampson
It’s on every coffee mug and tote bag in Christian bookstores. We write it in graduation cards and use it as a mantra when life seems to be veering out of control. One of the most oft-quoted verses in scripture—Jeremiah 29:11— is that verse, the one most of us are well acquainted with: “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 verse seems like a declarative promise that life will go our way, that our plans will come to fruition. Because surely that is God’s plan for us, right? To fulfill the plan, we think is best.
But what we don’t often stop and recognize is that when God’s people received these words from the prophet Jeremiah, they were in a season of exile and suffering. These were not words spoken as an encouragement when choosing a career path. These were the words of hope spoken to a people who were strangers in a land, taken captive by their enemies, the Babylonians—and all because they were a stubborn, disobedient bunch.
Still, in their wandering, despair, and exile, God was faithful to remind them of three truths that we can preach to ourselves in our seasons of difficulty and suffering. He gave them (and us) a road map for finding our way to a hopeful future.
In Jeremiah 29:6-7, God says to His people, “Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.” Instead of merely waiting for what God had for them next, God instructed them to make the best of their time in exile. Bloom where you are transplanted as the old adage goes.
In other words, God is telling them, don’t wait, but choose to dig in right where you are. Live your right now in such a way that you will produce a flourishing generation in the years to come.
In the same way, in our own suffering seasons, or whenever we feel like a stranger in a strange land, we can remember that we have been sent by God into our homes, workplaces, schools, and streets—for the benefit and prosperity of others.
We are in a strange cultural moment, now in 2021. We have all been through and in many ways are still going through a collective trauma. Many of us are reeling from painful losses, changes in our “normal,” and disconnection from our community. But in our heartache and pain, God doesn’t want us to simply bide our time until this season passes. God has called us to plant gardens (actual and metaphorical), to love others and be fruitful, to pour into the next generation, and to increase. Even when it feels like the world is crashing in on you, especially when, God wants you to thrive by seeking the shalom, the peace, of wherever it is he has planted you.
We live in a noisy world. Whether it is the voices of social media influencers or political pundits, there is a constant stream of noise telling us how to live and what to think. The cultural prophets of our generation can be heard on our podcasts or seen on our chosen news outlet.
It is easy in our pain and vulnerability to look to these voices to tell us how to live, how to move, what to think or believe. We can be quick to turn to the loudest yells of humans with a variety of agendas to find truth. But Jeremiah 29:8 reminds us of the dangers that can come: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them declares the Lord.”
When we start to turn to the various voices around us instead of God’s word, we are quickly led down a path of deception. Any message that leads you away from Jesus and your Christian community is not from God. So we have to ask ourselves regularly—are we listening to voices that are moving us toward Jesus or away from him? Towards a love of neighbor or fear of others? Towards a passion for the family of God, or bitterness at the church? Towards a heart for the Bible or away from God’s Word?
We have to be wise and discerning about the cultural messages around us, by allowing the Word of God to be the center point of our spiritual formation. Ultimately, what Jeremiah is saying to the Israelites, and what God is saying to us now, is that His voice must be the loudest voice in our lives.
With cultural messages like Live your best life now and You only live once, we can start to believe that we are promised an easy life this side of heaven. We can think that God is just a vending machine, ready to deliver whatever we select when it comes to how we envision our future.
But as Israel experienced, the fulfillment of His promises can be slow coming. In Jeremiah 29:10-11, we see that this promise of a hope-filled future didn’t come quickly: “When seventy years are completed...I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back home. For I know the plans I have for you...plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
It took them seventy years to see this prosperous future come to fruition. This isn’t a get rich quick scheme or a name it and claim it cruise into the promised land. No. Friends, this is a call to longsuffering. But how?
By putting our hope in Jesus.
At the end of the book of Jeremiah, we are told that a new king of Babylon came into power, then set the Israelite king free from prison, giving him a place of honor (Jeremiah 52: 31-34). This is a prophetic image of Jesus, who sets us free and gives us a place of honor under his death, resurrection, and authority.
In this way, Jesus is our ultimate future hope and prosperity.
Work for the peace and prosperity of wherever you’ve been planted.
Don’t listen to the cultural noise; listen to God’s voice.
Cling to your future hope in Christ.
And remember this truth: God knows the plans he has for you—plans to give you a hope and a future.
May God's future promises give you hope right now.
Aubrey Sampson co-planted and serves on the teaching and preaching team at Renewal Church. She is an award-nominated author of three books, including her latest Known: How Believing Who God Says You Are Changes Everything and the co-host of The Common Good Talk Show and the Nothing is Wasted Podcast. Aubrey preaches and speaks around the country at churches and ministry events. She and her husband and three sons live and minister in the Chicagoland area.