New King James Version (NKJV)
11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive.
A 60-year-old hotel in Kansas is being renovated into apartments. A rusty ship that is docked in Philadelphia is being restored and may become a hotel or a museum. Hangar 61, an admired piece of architecture at the old Stapleton Airport in Colorado, is being transformed into a church. Each structure had a specific use that is no longer viable. Yet someone was able to see promise and a new purpose in each one.
If structures can find new life and purpose, why not people? Think about these men in the Bible whose lives took an unexpected direction. There was Jacob, who wrestled with the angel of the Lord (Gen. 32); Moses, who talked to a burning bush (Ex. 3); Paul, who was temporarily blinded (Acts 9). Their stories were different, but all had a change of purpose when their encounter with God sent them down a new path. We too may experience circumstances that change the course of our lives. But God reminds us of this: I loved you before you loved Me. I want to give you hope and a future. Give all your worries to Me because I care about you (1 John 4:19; Jer. 29:11; 1 Peter 5:7; John 10:10). (Cindy Hess Kasper, ODB)
This purpose in the lives of the Israelites could only be fulfilled when they are acted upon His very Word. Similarly in our lives God’s purpose of a future and a hope can only be fulfilled when we are serious about God’s Words and act upon it diligently. Let us find out what God wants us to act upon so that He can give a future and a hope.
Let us turn to Jeremiah 29 in God’s Word and catch up with the future and hope that God wanted for His people …
Forty years of preaching and no one listened, he wanted to quit, but the Word of God burned in his soul, now he is in prison, which is where this message comes from. No kind of confinement can keep God from hearing his people, and keep his people from knowing his presence. This is one of the most-beloved passages in the Bible. I have often heard this passage quoted specially verse 11, and I have seen it on signs and posters and plaques. Many Christians commit these words to memory. We inscribe them on graduation cards. We share them with those who are sick, discouraged or in some sort of difficult situation. For many people, this is the only verse from Jeremiah that they know. Believe it or not, I found a website called TopVerses.com that rates every verse in the Bible by popularity. Not surprisingly, John 3:16 is number one. Jeremiah 29:11 is ranked number 29 out of all the verses in the Bible. And rightfully so because it makes a wonderful promise that believers have claimed for hundreds of years. It has been a lifeline, especially when going through hard times.
Apparently this is the most misused biblical passage specially verse 11. We use it for anything to suit our purpose. In fact it is the most relevant passages for us today. We can never understand its use and application till we know the context and intent that God had for articulating this message to His people through Jeremiah. It is more or less reading someone else’s mail through the mail man Jeremiah whom God asked to write and deliver to the Israelites.
What are God’s thoughts for us?
1. Provide us with a future and a hope (v. 11)
We will never properly understand this verse unless we know something about its background. The single most important fact is that it was written to the Jewish exiles in Babylon who had been forcibly removed from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. Having been uprooted from all they held dear, they now live hundreds of miles away from home, in the very heart of worldly pomp and pagan idol worship. All their dreams and hopes had been smashed. Deep inside they wondered, “How could God have let this happen? If we are truly his people, how did we end up here?” And they wondered if God had forgotten them. In all their confusion and despair, they made two very human mistakes.
• They thought they would never end up in Babylon. That led them to false confidence.
• They thought they would never get out of Babylon. That led them to despair.
We face the same danger when we –
• Expect what God has never promised, or
• Refuse to believe what he has promised.
(i) God is thinking about us all the time: That may be the most important statement you’ll ever hear. The God of the universe thinks about us. He considers us, he knows us, he remembers us, and He keeps us in mind. He knows who we are and where we are. Not for one second are we ever lost or forgotten for his heart is so big and his knowledge so vast that no one ever gets lost in the shuffle. Even when we do have good thoughts about each other, we tend to forget after a while. That’s why we say “out of sight, out of mind.” But God never forgets his children. Even though he has the whole world to rule, he never forgets his own.
(ii) God’s Thoughts Toward Us Are Good: We will never properly understand Jeremiah 29:11 if we think it is a kind of divine rabbit’s foot to protect us from pain or to keep us from suffering. Remember that this verse was given to the Jews while they were in Babylon to give them hope that they were not forgotten and that Babylon would not last forever. It is not a “Get Out of Babylon Free” card. It is God’s way of saying … “I still love you even though you have blown it badly, and I still have great plans for you in the future, and the future starts now, not just 70 years from now.”
(iii) God intends to give us a future filled with hope: God is not just giving a vague promise that things are going to be better sometime, somewhere, in some situation. That’s true, of course, but this verse has a very specific focus. God has an appointed end for his people, and nothing will hinder them from reaching that appointed end. Though they could not see it, held as they were under total Babylonian domination, seventy years down the road the same God who raised up a pagan king (Nebuchadnezzar) to judge them will raise up another pagan king (Cyrus) to deliver them. And neither pagan king was aware of his part in God’s plan. Each man acted according to his own free will, and God worked through those kingly decisions to bring his children home.
2. Listen to us when we call and pray to Him (v. 12)
Only when they would come and pray to Him with their whole heart, only then would He hear them. God cannot grant the blessings of the covenant to rebellious people. Obedience, loyalty and fellowship must be there.
They must genuinely call out to the Lord in prayer. Not just the prayers of people who want out of a jam right away. They must pray to restore the relationship they had broken with God. Corrie Ten Boom, once asked this question about prayer. She wrote: “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” God wants their prayers to be like a steering wheel which is used to direct your life, not a spare tire only pulled out when you need it.
In fact in 2 Chronicles 7:4 God says that “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Every promise comes with a condition and the condition for God to listen to us is that we must first call upon Him and pray to Him faithfully, and then only He will listen to us. He is not a God Who is deaf or acts like one when we pray but the issue is with our intent, diligence and faithfulness in praying. At times we grumble and have wronged our brother before going to pray … do you really think God will listen and react to our prayers.
When we don’t forgive our fellow brothers and sisters who have wronged us, how do we expect God to listen and respond to our prayers? Even James 5:16 says, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”
For God’s promise of listening to us to be activated, we must develop a life-style of praying faithfully and calling upon His name diligently. Our intents and motives play a major role in putting this to practice. We must understand that God is not a liar and He does what He says. If He doesn’t listen or respond to our prayers, then the problem is not with Him but us. We have to deeply introspect our own motives and our heart.
What has been deeply upon your heart? Have you prayed and called upon His name to intervene in the matter? Probably this matter could have been taken care of earlier if you had diligently brought it before God. Let us not forget that God will surely listen and heed to our every cry when we call upon His name and pray to him in faithfulness with the right heart.
Illustration: Hannah prayed earnestly for the Lord to give her a child whom she would raise as a Nazarene and would return him back to the Lord for His service … in fact God listened to her desperate call and prayer and she gave birth to Samuel who not only was a great prophet but the Lord’s kingmaker. What are our prayers and calls to the Lord like? Casual or Desperate! He listens to us only when we call and pray to Him with the right motives and clear conscience with utter desperation.
3. Be found when we seek and search for Him (vs. 13-14)
Throughout scripture we find repeated references to God’s people seeking after Him. Implied in this passage is a quest for God that includes a level of intensity beyond what might be termed ordinary prayer, the word “search” along with the phrase “with all your heart” suggests an earnestness that borders on desperation. It implies a close pursuit of a desired object also implying diligence in the search process. According to God’s wise plan, His people were to have hope and a future; consequently they could call upon Him in confidence. Although the exiles were in a difficult place and time, they should not despair because they had God’s presence, the privilege of prayer, and God’s grace. God can be sought and found when we seek Him whole-heartedly. Neither strange lands, sorrows, frustration, nor physical problems can break that communion.
We must, in God’s words, “Seek the Lord with all our heart.” We need to repent and turn to the Lord once again. This is a wholehearted willingness to give up self for the Lord.
Jeremiah’s letter assures them that if they seek God in this way, he will certainly answer them. God says that when they pray, He will listen to them. When they seek Him, they will find Him. And then in fact all will be restored as we see in verse 14. God will gather all the people from the various places where they had been scattered and reunite them in the Promised Land once again. They will once again live in the land that symbolizes all the hope and the future that God had promised to them so long ago. God will bless them with peace, “shalom.” “Shalom” was what they were to pray for the Babylonians. If they repent and trust the Lord, God will bless them with “shalom.”
The Word of God reiterates the same heart of God through scripture. Proverbs 8: 17 tells us, “I love those who love me, And those who seek me diligently will find me.” And Deuteronomy 4: 29 says, “But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul.”
In this text we see a condition attached to the promise. There would be freedom from captivity of the Israelites if they continued to seek God diligently. This is also pertaining to the prophecy of Israel’s return to their homeland after spending years in captivity in Babylon for their misdeeds and rejection of God and His ordinances.
How do we expect our brothers and sisters to move from their captivity to sin and shame? Their seeking and searching after God is the key to release themselves of their life-long captivity to this sinful world. Our part is to intercede for them.
Illustration: Sadhu Sundar Singh desired to know God in a personal way. He was desperate for Him so he asked Him to show up if He wanted him to believe in Him otherwise Sundar would take his life. He showed a genuine desperation to know the true God and walk with Him no matter what the cost.
Application: God did not forget His people, even though they were captive in Babylon. He planned to give them a new beginning with a new purpose – to turn them into a new people (not a modification of their behavior and actions). In times of deep trouble, it may appear as though God has forgotten you. But God may be preparing you, as He did the people of Judah, for a new beginning with Him at the center.
The truths found in this passage that remind us of God’s love for His people. God’s assurance that he can provide for and take care of them in the days to come is always present and He is always waiting for His people to depend on Him.