Do I understand God's plan?

Years ago, I remember a family that I was friends with telling me that they had five separate calendars hanging up in their kitchen. They did this to keep track of the schedules of everyone in their household. At this point, I do something similar except in digital form. I have the schedules of each member of my family in my phone and I also keep track of our church calendar and other ministry obligations.

Having a schedule that I can look at helps me to plan and get things accomplished. It helps me make the best use of my time. You probably feel the same way about your schedule and calendar.

Planning isn't unique to us. In fact, Scripture reveals to us that the Lord Himself has a long-term plan that He is in the process of unfolding. But what is God's plan and do we understand what He's actually trying to accomplish? Let's take a look at some of what He reveals about His plan in Jeremiah 29.


I. The Lord looks out for His people

“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 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. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear 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 I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
— Jeremiah 29:10-14, ESV

I had an interesting experience at the store the other day. I was waiting in line to buy food and a small child walked up to me with something in her hand that she had pulled off the shelf. It was a small package of plastic cups. She then dropped them on the ground and walked over to the candy racks. She pulled a bag of candy off the shelf and started walking toward the front door. Her family didn't seem to be watching her, so I kept an eye on her to make sure she didn't walk outside until her family finally came over to her and picked her up. Her parents took their eyes off her for a little too long, but we can be grateful that our Lord looks out for His people.

It's true that the people of Judah that Jeremiah ministered to were rebellious against the Lord. They embraced idolatry and were disciplined by being taken into captivity by the nation of Babylon. Through Jeremiah, that generation of people was told to settle down in Babylon, build houses, plant gardens, and have children because it was going to be a fully seventy years before the people of Judah would be returning to their land. Yet the Lord was going to look out for them throughout this entire process.

In this Scripture, the Lord makes it clear that when the time of their captivity was over, they were going to be brought back to their homeland. He makes it clear to them that His plans for their future and for their hope would not be thwarted (v. 11). He tells them that though they had a bad habit of running from Him, there would come a day when the people of Judah would be known for seeking Him with their whole heart, and when that was the case, their fortunes would be restored.

Now I recognize that this portion of Scripture was initially given to the people of Judah, and it's making reference to something specific the Lord was going to do in their situation, but the principles that are illustrated here apply to all who trust in the Lord. The Lord actively looks after the well-being of His children. 

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
— 1 Peter 5:6-7, ESV

One of the biggest differences between those who know the Lord and those who don't, is the presence of genuine hope in our lives. We can be certain that in the midst of every season of adversity, anxiety, or exile, Jesus is present with us. He is the source of our hope. Our hope isn't anchored in "ideal earthly circumstances." Our true hope is in Jesus Christ who assures us He will never leave us. His plan is to eventually glorify us with Him. Time and time again the word of God illustrates to us that the Lord looks out for, and sincerely cares for His people. He was making that clear to the people of Judah through Jeremiah's preaching and He makes that clear to us as well.


II. Discern which voices the Lord desires you to listen to

“Because you have said, ‘The Lord has raised up prophets for us in Babylon,’ thus says the Lord concerning the king who sits on the throne of David, and concerning all the people who dwell in this city, your kinsmen who did not go out with you into exile: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, behold, I am sending on them sword, famine, and pestilence, and I will make them like vile figs that are so rotten they cannot be eaten. I will pursue them with sword, famine, and pestilence, and will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a curse, a terror, a hissing, and a reproach among all the nations where I have driven them, because they did not pay attention to my words, declares the Lord, that I persistently sent to you by my servants the prophets, but you would not listen, declares the Lord.’ 
— Jeremiah 29:15-19, ESV

As we've been looking at the book of Jeremiah, it's become clear to us that the people of Judah hated his preaching. They despised what he said. They didn't appreciate the messages from the Lord that he was delivering to them. He was treated like a nuisance or an irritant, and was therefore ignored. But Jeremiah wasn't the only person who was speaking to the people of Judah. They also had false prophets that Satan had raised up in their midst who preached a message that was much more palatable and desirable to the people.

Some of those false prophets went with the people into captivity in Babylon. And even though the Lord was making it clear through Jeremiah that the captivity was going to last seventy years, the false prophets were telling the people that they would be back in Judah in no time at all.

Meanwhile the Lord made it clear in these verses that those who didn't go into exile in Babylon, those who remained in Jerusalem, would be experiencing a fate that was worse than exile to a foreign land. They would face the sword, famine, and pestilence. The people of the world would look at them and shake their heads in horror and disgust. They would be thought of as a cursed people by the nations that were familiar with their fate. Again, while this message was absolutely true, it wasn't a pleasant thing to hear. The empty promises of the false prophets were highly preferred over the painful truths Jeremiah was revealing.

Are there false prophets among us today as well? There certainly are. In every generation, Satan raises up people who preach a false gospel. He does this in his vindictive efforts to keep the mass of humanity in perpetual spiritual blindness. How can we recognize a false prophet?

  1. They preach a message that depends on human effort and minimizes the saving work Christ has done on our behalf.
  2. They emphasize earthly ideals and encourage people to strive for temporary riches.
  3. They promise ultimate peace, comfort, and contentment in something other than Jesus.
  4. Their lack of character becomes evident when they're looked at closely.

How can we reduce their influence in our lives?

  1. Pray that the Lord gives us discernment. "Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long." -Psalm 25:4-5)
  2. Hold every philosophy up to the light of the gospel as its communicated in Scripture
  3. Seek counsel from Christians whose lifestyle you've had the opportunity to observe up close


III. Be careful not to blame God for your decisions

Hear the word of the Lord, all you exiles whom I sent away from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning Ahab the son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah, who are prophesying a lie to you in my name: Behold, I will deliver them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall strike them down before your eyes.  Because of them this curse shall be used by all the exiles from Judah in Babylon: “The Lord make you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire,” because they have done an outrageous thing in Israel, they have committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives, and they have spoken in my name lying words that I did not command them. I am the one who knows, and I am witness, declares the Lord.’”
— Jeremiah 29:20-23, ESV

Humanity excels at making excuses in all kinds of areas. If we want to do something bad enough, we'll find a way and we'll find a reason. I remember some years ago a young man came to me and asked for my marriage advice. He was engaged to be married to a woman that didn't share his faith in Christ, and she also had a frequent habit of seeking unhealthy forms of attention from other men. It was getting to the point where it was fostering a high degree of distrust in their relationship and he was considering calling off the upcoming wedding. I shared a few things with him about what Scripture teaches about marriage and I also told him that from what I had observed in working with many couples, their marriage was very unlikely to survive if he went through with it.

Not long after that, his father came to me and made certain to tell me that he didn't agree with the advice I gave his son. Even though the advice I gave was straight from Scripture, the father said he didn't believe the advice was biblical. He insisted that it was God's will that they get married. He really liked his son's fiancée and didn't want their relationship to end. Not long after that, they followed through with getting married and literally, within just a few months, they ended the marriage. In my opinion, it was an unfortunate yet very predictable outcome.

A dangerous practice that can be somewhat common for believers to engage in is to elevate our feelings and preferences over the clear and direct counsel of God's word. We justify our decisions by saying things like, "I feel like this is what God is leading me to do." Sadly, our justifications can display a great degree of similarity to the issues present in this portion of Jeremiah's book. Through Jeremiah, the Lord said, "they have spoken in my name lying words that I did not command them." This willingness to invoke the name of God to justify their desire to follow their own inclinations led them further, and further away from Him.

But God's plan for us is so much higher than the ideas or pursuits we're able to craft in our thinking.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
— Isaiah 55:8-9, ESV

Just like the people of Judah, we were once exiles living outside of the will of God. We were crafting our own will and our own plans, and those plans were taking us in a direction that was absent of His leading. So our gracious Lord interjected Himself into the mess we were busy making. The Son of God, Jesus Christ, came to give liberty to every one who was living like an exile from God's kingdom, who would trust in Him.

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
— Romans 6:22-23, ESV

Do we understand God's plan for us? His plan truly is to give us hope and a future through His Son, Jesus Christ. We find contentment through Jesus. We find peace and forgiveness through Jesus. We find security and power through Jesus. It is the plan of our Sovereign Creator to make us a new creation through Jesus. If you've been resisting the Lord's plan for your life, don't resist Him any longer. Welcome Christ's presence and divine work to be accomplished within you.

© John Stange, 2018