"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." (Jeremiah 29:11 New International Version)
A Facebook friend of mine posted those words today [January 1, 2015] although she left out the quotes and she left off the reference to where they came from [and that's the Book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament]. Jeremiah 29:11 reads just a little bit differently in the King James Version of the Bible and in (my favorite) the New King James Version.
In the King James Version, it says:
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
In the New King James Version, it says:
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.
[I don't want to turn this piece into something really boring and "dry" about Bible translating, but those words were originally written in Hebrew. Translation can be a challenging pursuit. Languages are so different from one another, and so many times there are a variety of ways a passage can be correctly translated. Each of the above translations is "correct" albeit each is a little bit different. The New International Version tends to be more of an "interpretative" and less of a literal translation, and it's no wonder many of us have most often heard Jeremiah 29:11 from the N.I.V. For many of us, the N.I.V. is our favorite way to hear it. Listen, I just wrote that my favorite version of Scripture is the New King James Version and even I like Jeremiah 29:11 best from the N.I.V.!]
I paused and read my friend L.B.'s post today [I also know the plans I have for you: plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future....] and it just stared so much flowing in my mind and in my spirit! For one thing, it didn't mention the Lord, and it didn't give the reference. For me, that's really important. Do those words apply to just anybody or to any situation? I began to think about the context of those words- to whom were they spoken and for what purpose? If you do a little on-line research, you'll find out that Jeremiah lived around 600 B.C. At that time, he was called to prophesy to Israel's southern kingdom known as Judah. It's ironic that Jeremiah wrote those words because he had one of the most difficult lives of any person who ever lived! And, even as a "God person", Jeremiah's life was full of loss and pain. He was called the "Weeping Prophet". Almost no one listened to him. He was imprisoned by the king of Judah. When Judah fell to the Babylonians, Jeremiah was set free by them. He spend the final years of his life in exile in Egypt. Those words were said to the people of Judah who were being carried off to Babylon. [If you think about the plight of the Jews being herded into boxcars and shipped to the Nazi concentration camps, this was only a step or two better than that, but not much better!] It certainly must have seemed to the people of Judah that God hated them! Their Temple was desecrated. Their city [Jerusalem] was essentially destroyed. They were marched off to Babylon. Yet, God's Word to them at that time was Jeremiah 29:11!
In fact, the Jewish people were not wiped out! Many decades later, under the Persians, a huge number of Jewish people returned to the land and reestablished their homeland and their worship in the Temple. In general, Jews have been hated because as a people they tend to be much more successful than are most other people groups. As a group, they indeed had "a hope and a future"; even after Adolph Hitler!
Now, that brings us back to why we love that verse. Does it have anything to do with us? I did find an blog entry today in which the author states that Jeremiah 29:11 was strictly for the ancient people of Judah and has nothing to do with us. My opinion about that is, I disagree. Of course, in context, it was said to the ancient people of Judah as they were being carried off. The fact is, however, that God does have plans for His children as a group (and the "you" in Jeremiah 29:11 is plural) and also as individuals. I remember a question that was once asked of Dr. Anthony Palma in class at Central Bible College. A student asked about many Old Testament references (especially in Matthew's Gospel) that the New Testament applies to Jesus Christ which in their original context have absolutely nothing to do with Jesus Christ! Dr. Palma said that the Holy Spirit clearly cited these verses and applied them to the Lord Jesus Christ, so even though these verses are out of context and so forth, if the Holy Spirit applied them as an application to the earthly life of Jesus Christ, that was good enough for him. Similarly, I think a verse such as Jeremiah 29:11 can apply to us today.
Now, here's the sobering part: Remember what I wrote about Jeremiah's life above? Did he [personally] have a hope and a future? Yes. Was his life a "cake walk"? Absolutely not.
I'm a very reflective and a very emotional person- and these characteristics can be both good and bad. I've faced profound loss and disappointment in my life over the past six years or so, for instance. I will admit that this morning for about an hour, I suddenly had a very negative thought. The thought was: I just can't face another year. And, you know what, "in the natural"- in my own strength and abilities, I absolutely can't! That's a true statement. But what did I forget? I am ashamed to say that for a short period of time today I forgot that I am not called upon to face this year on my own in any way, shape, or form. I am called to walk through this year trusting in God and clinging to Him all the way! In that way, we can face this year. So, yeah, it's a good verse to remember.
I don't want this piece to become too long, but I'm definitely feeling impressed of the Lord to share something with you. About nine months ago a couple from the south who are good friends of mine sent me some CDs of Christian teacher Graham Cooke. They said they felt very strongly that they were to send them to me and that the Lord wanted me to hear them. I was not familiar with Graham Cooke. If you research Graham Cooke on-line you'll learn that he is a very controversial and somewhat polarizing figure in evangelical and charismatic Christianity. Some people love him and some people can't stand him. His ministry is definitely "outside the box". I began listening to his teaching tapes with caution and skepticism. I will say, Graham's sense of humor and Biblical soundness won me over by the end of the first CD! I listened to all of those CDs- some of them two and three times, and I got so much out of them! Those teachings truly soothed my soul.
Cooke taught that suffering is absolutely part of the life of any person who seriously wants to get close to God. He said he "went through Hell for many years" but that during that time he drew very close to God and he came to the point that in the midst of "going through Hell" he had genuine joy because of what happened in his relationship with God. The most valuable thing I learned from him is that no matter how bad or how confusing our circumstances are, we are never to ask "Why?" It's the wrong question. Cooke (citing the response of the crowd Peter preached to on the Day of Pentecost) says that when we face really horrible stuff we need to ask God, "What does this mean?" and then "What must I do?"
I will confess that I don't always remember to ask those two questions, and I want to be more faithful to do that. [Incidentally, when we do ask those questions, we can expect God to show us the answers, but we must be obedient to do what He asks, whether it's easy or difficult for us.]
In closing, I know this did get a bit lengthy, but I hope it helps you. It helped me a lot to think about it and to write it. I have my own challenges and I struggle daily with the tendency toward irritability that I inherited from my father (who wasn't always irritable!) and with the tendency toward depression that I inherited from my mother (who wasn't always depressed!). I have to remember to lay this stuff on the altar and let the Lord be the Lord of my opinions and emotions. Yes, that's how I want to live in 2015, and forever, for that matter! How about you?