If you’ve been a Christian for more than a few weeks, you may have heard of Jeremiah 29:11, “ ‘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.’ ” (NIV)
This is a promise worth declaring. But have you read verse ten?
“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.’ ” Jeremiah 29:10 (NIV)
OK, hold the phone, did God just say that a group of Hebrew exiles will spend seventy years in Babylon before he fulfills His promise to bring them home?! That’s a lifetime. If you are in grade school when you leave your beloved Jerusalem and move to Babylon where Nebuchadnezzar will be your king, you’ll return to your homeland an old woman.
This is God’s “good” promise?! Hey, don’t shoot the messenger.
For four decades and fifty-two long chapters, the prophet Jeremiah has the unenviable job of urging the idolatrous people of Judah to return to the one true God. Jeremiah’s heart is broken for his people as he prophesies and witnesses the fall of Jerusalem to the forces of Babylon.
Anyone observing his life might be tempted to call him a failure. He warns the people, but they are still conquered and taken into exile. This looks like a massive fail. But God does not hold Jeremiah responsible for the result. He only asks the prophet to obey. Jeremiah is esteemed in the eyes of the Lord as an obedient and faithful servant. Despite opposition on all fronts, Jeremiah stays true to his call from God.
When I remain faithful to my calling and follow God, I imagine that He might say of me, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” But while “faithful” is a desirable commendation from the Lord, the last time I checked, faithfulness requires perseverance. And perseverance involves an element of pain.
It means obedience during days of despair.
It means patience during weeks of trial.
It means tenacity during months of affliction.
It means endurance during years of suffering.
When Jeremiah is assailed by misery, rejection, and exile, he trudges ahead in faithful obedience. This man of God knows where to turn for strength and fortitude: “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, Lord God Almighty.” Jeremiah 15: 16 (NIV)
Jeremiah’s life exemplifies genuine overcoming that originates from God, not from any self-sufficient striving of his own making. This man is nourished by a thriving relationship with Jehovah regardless of the circumstances. His vitality is sustained by feasting on God’s Word as if life depends on it because for Jeremiah it absolutely does.
The key to his survival is prayer. If a prophet cannot hear God’s voice, how can he complete his mission? His primary job description is to receive messages from the Lord and deliver them to the people. Communication with God is essential to fulfilling his calling
I wish our dependence on prayer was this clear, this critical, this urgent. Most of us get away without hearing God’s voice for days on end. We have our routines, our coping mechanisms, our pride, our vision sustained by our own self-effort. We may acknowledge God periodically, but we do not desperately need Him.
Or do we?
Let’s take another lesson from the life of Jeremiah. The prophet cannot survive without God. His own strength is insufficient to bear the weight of his calling. This great man confesses that he suffers from depression and despair. It is a heavy burden to carry a message from the Lord burning in your heart, but no one listens. Jeremiah knows that God’s people are careening toward destruction, but he can do nothing more than deliver God’s message and leave the outcome in Jehovah’s capable hands. What a deep faith and trust he exemplifies in his yielded heart and obedient life held fast to the Word of the Lord.
I believe that Jeremiah himself heeds God’s instruction in the verses that follow the famous promises of a hope and prosperity in chapter 29, verse 11. Reading on, we find that God reveals how we take hold of those prosperous plans that He has for our 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. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back from captivity.’ ” Jeremiah 29:12-14 (NIV)
To quote Eugene Peterson’s charismatic translation of verse 13, “When you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.” (The Message)
Join me in prayer: Oh, God, remind me to call to you for help, to pray in every circumstance. I am held captive, yet I do not even recognize my bondage. My heart is enticed by all manner of substitute saviors in this life. I am tempted to seek safety in what I can see and touch, but I know that you are the only Savior worthy of my trust. Help me remain obedient and faithful.
Thank you, Father, for the promise that when I seek you in prayer, you will listen to me. You will allow me to find you. You do not hide yourself. No, instead you position yourself in conspicuous places, hoping that I notice you. Heighten my awareness to your presence. I hope to catch God Sightings. See you soon!