I don’t think this one quite edges out Philippians 4:13 for most notable life verse. It may come in a close second, though. I would guess the majority of you can quote it word for word. I would also guess that 99% of the time it has been memorized in the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible. Let’s say it together:
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 a hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)
What a beautiful promise from God. It offers an assurance for the future. Whatever the circumstances today, God’s people can trust God to change their tomorrow. It declares God’s intimate relationship to God’s people. God isn’t leaving God’s people out to dry like a sheep among wolves. God is intricately involved in creating a new future. It brings a perspective of hope.
As much as I like this verse, I don’t think I like the NIV translation. Here’s why: our focus is drawn to two words. Plans. Prosper. It’s like our mind is magnetically attracted to them. And I’m afraid, a preoccupation with these two words messes with our interpretation.
Focused on the words “plans” and “prosper,” our tendency is to limit our understanding to me and my future. Quickly, the verse is about God’s specific plan for my life and my success. Taken to the extreme, we cherish this verse for the promise we think it makes about God laying out every plan for my life, such as which college I will go to, who I will marry, what career path I will follow, and how much success and wealth I will gain.
If I’m honest, I think this takes us way off the path of what the verse is really trying to say. Check out at how different it reads in the New Revised Standard Version:
For surely, I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Jeremiah 29:11 (NRSV)
Reading just a couple chapters previous, we realize these are God’s words to a people who are hopeless. They are in exile. They’ve been completely stripped away from their homeland, their temple, and their king. To make matters worse, God instructs the people to serve King Nebechadnezzar of Babylon (27:6-7). And if they don’t serve him, then God “will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, says the LORD, until I have completed its destruction by his hand” (27:8). God repeats this three times in chapter 27 alone.
Then, God warns the people to ignore the promises given by prophets, diviners, or any other religious person (27:9). God says they will try to convince the people to give up obedience to King Nebechadnezzar by telling lies. If it were me, I imagine I would gladly welcome a word that says I don’t need to obey the king who stole my life. The lie would sound better than reality, to me. But, God implores them to trust God’s words.
Then, in Jeremiah 29:7 God’s words are given: “seek the welfare of the city where I sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” What??? God’s not promising to rescue them, right now? God wants them to do what for the city that is holding them captive? Tough words.
It’s like God is saying, “Trust me, I have everything under control. I know your situation stinks, but I know what I’m doing. I have your best interest in mind.” God says, “For surely, I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”
So, maybe Jeremiah 29:11 isn’t about God’s specific day to day plan for you. Instead, it is a message of hope for God’s people, including you and me. God knows what’s best for us. God will lead us in the direction of a new future. The lies of this world, though they may sound good, will never get us there.
What are your thoughts on Jeremiah 29:11?