“I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11
I came across this verse in my devotions recently. The devotion offered this thought: “Hoping has to do with planning. How do you plan for the future?”
Two thoughts came to mind. The first has to do with the verse itself; the second has to do with that question.
First, God’s plans are “to prosper you and not to harm you.” In context, Jeremiah wrote this verse in a letter to exiles in Babylon (Jer. 29:1). He told the exiles to build homes in Babylon, get married and have families there, and make their living there. Once their time was complete, then God would return the exiles to Jerusalem. This is the hope that Jeremiah speaks of in verse 11.
This verse is not a promise of material prosperity, which is how Western Christians often interpret it. We are to bloom where we are planted. What if God called you away from your home, to move your family to a place where you don’t know anyone? (By the way, this has happened to my wife and me. Twice.)
Even more basic: Do you thank God that you live in the United States of America? I’ve seen on the news recently that the civil war in Syria is turning ugly: Both sides, the government and the opposition, are using food as a weapon. Both sides have cut off large cities from food sources, so thousands of innocent civilians are dying of starvation. Literally.
I dare you to share Jeremiah 29:11 with anyone in Syria right now.
Second, I just went through an 11-month job search, and occasionally I was asked: “Where do you see yourself in five years? Or 10 years?”
I hate that question, because I have no idea where I’ll be five years from now. Hopefully here, doing what I’m doing now, but God doesn’t promise that.
I worked as a newspaper copy editor, doing layout and design as well as editing stories, for about 30 years. My wife and I raised our three sons in Saginaw, Mich.; I worked for the daily paper there. The paper prospered and was well-respected across the community.
Internally, the publisher even gave the employees a written job pledge every January, saying that as long as the paper published seven days a week, our jobs would not be eliminated due to changing technology. The publisher reserved the right to change our job descriptions as needed, but we had jobs for life.
I made a decent salary, enough to provide for a family of five. My wife was a stay-at-home mom. We attended church each Sunday and were active members there, as well as participants in our sons’ school activities and after-school sports. We had a great middle-class American life.
In 2000, while the newspaper thrived and our sons were growing up, God spoke to me. Not verbally, but He very clearly gave me a message: Bill, you are putting your trust in that job pledge, and not in Me. I want to be first in your life.
I wrestled with that for a long time. God, what are You saying? Do You want me to give up all the good things You have blessed me with?
Trust Me, He said. Give Me first place in your heart.
Eventually, I did so. OK, God, I’m not sure what You’re getting at, but I’ll trust You with my future, and the future of my family. Everything is going great and I don’t see where anything needs to change, but I’m in Your hands.
As soon as I prayed that prayer, things began to happen. As I’m sure you know, the newspaper industry has pretty much fallen apart in recent years. God was trying to prepare me for that even in the good times, like Noah building the ark while the sun was still shining.
The living God saw the future. I did not.
In 2009, my job was eliminated. Even though God tried to prepare me for that moment, I still did not handle it well. Our youngest son was just completing his freshman year of high school, and I was out of work.
I held that job for 24 years. I was 49 years old. Now what?
Eventually, I found a job in a call center, where I worked until our son graduated from high school. Then, since I didn’t know any other profession, I decided to return to the newspaper industry. Since our hometown newspaper was off-limits now, that meant we had to move. Most likely out of state.
Which is what happened. I found a job in Rockford, Ill., west of Chicago. My wife was not happy about that move and I did not prepare her for it at all.
After less than a year in Rockford, my new employer announced the company was relocating to Austin, Texas. Since our family is in the Midwest, we decided not to move to Austin. I dusted off the resume again and found another newspaper position, this time in Elyria, Ohio, west of Cleveland.
So, we made our second out-of-state move in less than three years, after living in one place for more than two decades.
My job in Elyria lasted 13 months. I was fired. I didn’t see it coming, unlike the 2009 downsizing.
OK, God, what’s going on here? When You wanted me to trust You instead of that job pledge, is this what You had in mind? Uncertainty? Multiple moves? Pain in our marriage? Another job search? We were preparing to buy a house when my income disappeared.
Is this my future? Is this my hope?
God was forcing me to depend on Him. I came slowly. After 11 months on the unemployment line, I started a job last month in a new career field, assisting people with developmental disabilities. I look forward to going to work in the morning.
The past few years have not been “prosperous” for us. At least, not in America’s eyes.
God has a different definition of “prosperous” than we do. We have been blessed in so many ways our entire lives – including now.
Here’s another line from the devotion: “God is planning right now for your success.” It talks about “significance of life.”
My income is quite a bit less than it was in 2009, when I got downsized. But we have money in the bank and we don’t worry about where our next meal is coming from. Our tithe is less, which bothers me, but it is what it is.
When I was job-searching, I felt like a failure. I was not providing for my family. My wife works two part-time jobs, and we drew down savings a little to help meet expenses. I did some volunteer work to feel useful. Our life group at church prayed for me, and I appreciated those prayers.
If I was to plot the story of my life on a graph, for most of my adult life it would show a smooth, straight line. In recent years, however, that line has jerked up and down, mostly down.
I would not have written the story of my life this way. But God did.
Because God did, my wife and I have met many wonderful people we otherwise never would have met. We have seen God do things we didn’t know were possible.
Is this what it means to prosper, to have a future and a hope?
Where is God leading you? Do you have bumps and bruises, or worse? Or has God blessed you with many sunny days?
I’m learning to praise Him, in the sunny days and the rainy ones. And even, here in northeast Ohio, in the freezing cold days.
Where will we be in five years? I have no idea. Hopefully here, but the job pledge is long gone. I have a better pledge. It’s Jeremiah 29:11.
Because I know a God who loves me.