“This is what the Lord says: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 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. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.’” –Jeremiah 29:10-13
Jeremiah 29:11 is a favorite verse for many. I love claiming the promise that the Lord has good plans for me, plans to prosper and not harm, plans to give hope and a future. These words are comforting in times of trouble; they inspire confidence!
But we often take them out of context which means we miss part of their meaning. When we look at the surrounding verses, we discover this verse is more than a promise about what God is going to do. God reveals our part—something He was waiting for from the Israelites and, therefore, may be waiting for from us, too.
These verses are part of a letter from Jeremiah, in Jerusalem, to God’s people living in exile in Babylon. The Israelites had not been faithful to God, and so He allowed other nations to conquer and rule over them. But He set a time limit on this. He told the people their exile would end after seventy years. He told them of His good plans for them then. Finally, He told them that they would pray to Him, and He would listen to them. They would seek Him and find Him when they chose to seek Him with all their heart.
It seems to me that God may have been saying, “I know it’s going to take you seventy years to get to that point—the point where you finally put me first and seek me with all your heart. So I am now making good plans for you for then.” He doesn’t invite them to pray to Him now. He simply says the day will come when they will pray to Him. He doesn’t invite them to seek Him wholeheartedly now. He only says they’ll find Him when they do. God knew it was going to take His people some time, but He was prepared to bless them abundantly when they got around to getting their hearts right. And He knew when that would happen.
From our point of view, the lesson seems so simple. We seek God wholeheartedly; He puts His good plans for us into motion. Voila! But the Israelites didn’t learn how to seek Him wholeheartedly for seventy years. And I can’t say I’ve mastered it yet. In fact, wholehearted devotion probably takes a lifetime to develop.
Seventy (or eighty or a hundred or more) years!
So what are we to do?
We can start practicing now. We can start by identifying distractions to better make seeking God the primary aim of every day. What are some things you are tempted to seek with your whole heart in place of God? My list includes books, family, control, health, perfection. Am I wrong to enjoy these and want them in my life? No. Reading, enjoying time with loved ones, keeping order (to an extent), staying as healthy as I can, and doing my best are all good things–gifts from God’s hand to appreciate. I just have to be sure that they aren’t keeping me from seeking God, from discovering what He wants me to do each day, from worshiping, praying, serving, or loving Him over all else. He’s given us a lifetime of learning to put Him first, letting everything else fall into its proper place under Him.
Am I saying we have to earn the right to enjoy God’s good plans? Not really. It’s more of a parent/child thing. Imagine that you have a toddler who wants to drive the car. You look forward to the day when he will be ready and able to drive the car. You want him to enjoy that privilege. But you know your toddler isn’t ready for that good thing just yet. In fact, as a sixteen-year-old, he may not be ready for that good thing just yet—if he hasn’t shown responsibility for his own actions, concern for others, or respect for authority. You have good plans for your child’s future, but you must wait for him to mature or disaster will be the result.
God knows when the time will be right for all of His plans for us to go into effect. He’s watching for the moment—wanting it for us as much as we want it ourselves. He has good plans for us—plans that will glorify His name. Let’s practice seeking Him wholeheartedly while we wait.
Father, thank You for the assurance of Your good plans for us. The best of these is that we will grow in our knowledge of You! Help us to seek You more each day, trusting You to let everything else fall into its proper place. We love You, Lord, and long to please You. Please teach us how. Amen.