If you could make money off of a Bible verse this would be the one. It graces graduation cards, posters, and plaques that fill our churches and homes. It’s a happy verse. It makes us think nice things about God. And let’s be honest, it just makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside. When someone is having a bad day, we quote Jeremiah 29:11 to them. When our friend starts a new business, we tell him about Jeremiah 29:11 and that God is going to prosper his work. When our friends are moving to a new, but uncertain area, Jeremiah 29:11 tells us that God has good plans for them and will give them what they ask for.
But is that the best, or most accurate, interpretation of the text? Is Jeremiah 29:11 the lucky charm for getting all your prayers answered and for living a life of prosperity? Many of us would say we don’t believe God works that way. But when it comes down to it we often act like he does with the way we apply his word to people.
Let’s look at the context of Jeremiah 29:11. This verse comes in the midst of great difficulty. Jeremiah is speaking to the exiles, Israelite people forced to live in another land because of their own rejection of God. They have faced hardship, despair, and sorrow, and Jeremiah is giving them hope that this is not the end of their story. This verse, and the entire chapter really, is God’s declaration of his absolute sovereignty over his people and the outcome of their life. It is his promise that even when they reject him and disobey him, he is the one who will bring them back and restore them (Jer. 29:10). And what is the point of it all? Notice what verse 12 says:
“Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.”
God’s work in bringing them out of exile and giving them a future hope is that they would call upon him and treasure him above all else. God drove them into exile to discipline them, and he will bring them back to glorify his name. Every move he makes has a divine purpose in the life of his child.
Jeremiah 29:11 is not a trite, catchy verse to be used as a “name it and claim it” promise of God. When we use it this way we run the risk of leading people into discouraging, and often extremely damaging, understandings of God and his purposes for us.
For example, what about the godly, Christian mother whose child is born blind and deaf? Was this part of God’s plan of prosperity that her child would never hear her voice or see her face? Or the husband whose wife dies slowly of cancer? Can he trust that God is still working to give him a “future and a hope” when the love of his life is now gone and all his dreams of a bright future went with her to the grave?
When we use verses like Jeremiah 29:11 outside of their proper context we miss the point of the text and how it works within the entire Bible. In reality, Jeremiah 29:11 has a lot to say to this weary mother and grieving husband. The future and the hope that Jeremiah is talking about is one that is established by God. We who know the end of the story know that while the prosperity, welfare, ease, and comfort might not grace us here in this life, the new covenant promises of Jeremiah are true for us. We are his people. He is our God.
As believers who know the end, we know what this “hope” is all about. And we know how it must come to us. Romans 5 tells us that steadfast hope in God is born out of suffering. It is when we are stripped bare that we are able to be built back up and molded into the image of our Christ (Rom. 5:1-5).
Jeremiah was not telling the Israelites (or us) that God’s plan for us is always good cheer, happy days, and prosperity. Just look around at the Christians you know. Is that what it looks like? But he was telling us that the God who made us, bought us, and sanctifies us will give us the future glory that we all long for. One day we will see what it all means, and more importantly, we will see him.
While it’s easy to use Jeremiah 29:11 as the catch all verse for those in limbo or embarking on a new adventure, check yourself before you put it in that greeting card next time. We never want to give someone the false hope that their life this side of heaven will be everything they want it to be. It might be. But it most likely won’t. What people need is a clear view of what Scripture is teaching about our lives on this earth and what we exist for. And even more than that, they need a big view of God. Jeremiah got that. Let us be careful that we don’t miss his meaning when we decorate our homes with sweet, promising Bible verses. Yes, God is giving us a future and a hope. Yes, he is giving us good welfare and abundant goodness. But we won’t get it all until that final, promised day. When his glory is fully revealed to us and he wipes every tear from our eyes. That is prosperity beyond anything this mere earth could ever provide for us. That is what Jeremiah is hoping for. I am too.