God's Plan for Your Life Here and Now
Perhaps one of the most common Bible verses found on bookmarks, in memory lists, and on social media posts is Jeremiah 29:11: “‘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.’”
This verse brings a message we cling to—a message of comfort and future hope while living in places and times full of stress, suffering, sadness, confusion, and anger. We read and recite this verse to direct our hearts and minds forward to a better time in a better place—the pleasant future God has planned for us.
The Context of Jeremiah 29:11
It is important—actually critical—for us to consider the context of this message of hope in Jeremiah 29:11. A small remnant of God’s chosen nation were living in exile in a foreign land, ruled by prideful and violent leaders whose goals were to dominate others while protecting their own view of an ideal culture. It was in this environment of suffering that God told his people how to live.
Patiently settling in for the long haul, God’s people were to build houses and live in them. They were to labor and work within the culture to provide for themselves and to help one another. They were to form and keep families. And, in terms of the culture and the nation, God’s people were to seek its welfare (in the Hebrew, shalom), because their present circumstances depended to a great extent on the good they themselves brought to their communities (Jer. 29:4-7).
Even though we may not live in physical exile from our land, like the people of Israel during the time of Jeremiah, we too suffer in other ways. But just as Israel had a hope then, there is a hope and a future for us today—God’s plan for his people, which is the salvation we have in Christ Jesus through faith by God’s gracious gift. We know that in the immediate context of Jeremiah 29, God’s plan of redemption was Israel’s temporal return to the physical land from Babylonian exile. We also know by reading the context of the entirety of Scripture that God’s ultimate plan is eternal redemption in Christ Jesus.
Neglecting either of the contexts above could lead us to think that the future hope and plan of God is merely our temporal and present good, prosperity, and blessing, and surely we do sometimes experience these providential gifts of God. Yet, he also promises that we will suffer, we will be persecuted, we will know pain, and this life will be a struggle (Phil. 1:29).
Living Here and Now
So what does it mean to live here and now? Even though deliverance from this evil and suffering age has been inaugurated through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, how do we go about patiently waiting for God’s future plan of hope in its final consummation? How are we to live while on the one hand, we are citizens of a future time and place (Phil. 3:20), but on the other hand, we find ourselves in this painful place where we must strive to persevere while suffering?
We find the answer by carefully noticing the context of Israel’s Babylonian exile, and God keeps it pretty simple. Rather than telling his people to overthrow political power, he counsels them to seek the welfare (shalom) of the place where they live. Rather than telling the Israelites to take over centers of cultural influence, he tells them to form extended families. Rather than looking to others to provide for them, he tells Israel to build and produce. The apostle Paul gives similar counsel to believers who now live in the new covenant era:
And… aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. (1 These. 4:11).
Our True Hope and Eternal Future
So while we live in this present evil age (cf. Gal. 1:4) where God has temporarily placed us, he reminds us that there is a future ultimate and eternal hope—and this is his plan, not ours. Though our true hope and eternal future do not rest on temporal things, such as plans for political power or an ultimate cultural transformation, we are not to neglect this creation that God has so graciously and providentially provided to us. As he is patient, so we ought also to be patient, living in the here and now in a manner not like those who have no hope but rather in ways like those who are the redeemed people of God.
We need to be faithfully and patiently present to all of those who are near us as we settle in for the long haul. Since God has fully revealed his plan in Christ Jesus, we now live by faith in grateful and diligent anticipation of his ultimate and eternal plan while building, producing, and seeking the welfare of one another and our neighbors.
Recommended Reading: To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World by James Davison Hunter.
Shalom: Though the biblical Hebrew word shalom has a broad range of meaning, its specific meaning is dependent on its usage in a particular context. Depending on its context, it may carry a meaning such as success, prosperity, safety, welfare, peace (broadly or individually), rest, salvation, friendliness, completeness, or even as a greeting like “hello.” In Jeremiah 29:7, it is variously translated welfare (e.g. ESV, JPS, NASB), peace (e.g. KJV), and peace and prosperity (e.g. NIV).