I am grateful for the comfort that Scripture brings – especially on those days I feel especially broken or when life seems to have gone off the rails. In those times, I can remind myself of what it true and solid. Verses like…
“When I am afraid, I will trust in You.” (Psalm 56:3)
“Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)
“The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.” (Proverbs 18:10)
And, of course, this verse is one that I frequently repeat to myself in times of confusion or when facing conflict – “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.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
All of these verses are true. All bring comfort. Each one is worthy of being committed to memory so that it will be present the next time we have “one of those days.”
Sometimes a verse from God’s Word is exactly what we need to pull us out of the ditch and put our feet back on the path, but we’d do well to consider the context in which these verses were written. In other words, the Scripture may speak to us in our moment of need, but it also spoke to a person or a group of people in the time which it was written. Knowing that context may help us understand God and His ways better.
For instance, consider Jeremiah 29:11. If we take time to read the chapter, we’ll see that those words are part of a letter that the prophet Jeremiah wrote from Jerusalem to his fellow Jews exiled in Babylon. The exile followed the conquest of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem by the world’s super-power at that time. And that super power had carted off many of Judah’s citizens to its own land. A great number of Jews were now living in enemy territory.
Jeremiah gives his exiled countrymen words of hope. God had not forgotten them. All was not lost. They would come home. But these words are nestled within a stark reality – they would be in exile for 70 years before returning. This meant that nearly every Jew then living in Babylon would die in Babylon, never seeing their home country again. It wasn’t exactly the word they were hoping God would give them.
Jeremiah goes so far as to tell them to settle in for the long haul. Build your houses. Plant your gardens. Let your children marry. Get a job or start a business. Pray for the place where you’re living and work for its betterment. You’re going to be there a while. And Jeremiah warned them not to listen to those who were saying that their stay was only temporary, that any day they’d pack their bags and go back home – that just wasn’t reality.
This is not what the people would have wanted to hear. They had been led off to foreign soil, to a different culture, among a people who spoke an unknown language. They had abandoned their home and many of their possessions, and they longed to return and get back to life as usual.
Jeremiah’s message would not have been welcomed, but in the midst of the gloom and doom, he speaks hope – “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.” Despite how it may feel, God has not forgotten you. God has a plan. You have a future.
We tend to want a quick fix – just like those Jewish men and women in exile. We become impatient with God. We want to escape the desert. We want to get out of our storm. We shout, “If God’s got a plan, then let Him get on with it. Doesn’t he see I’m struggling here? Doesn’t He care?” Yes, He does see. Yes, He does care. He has a purpose. He has a plan. It’s true that His thoughts and our thoughts don’t always mesh. His ways are sometimes so much higher than ours that there is no way we can understand what’s happening.
But in the midst of the struggles and pain and confusion, God speaks to remind us – “I am here. I do care. I have a plan to bring good from bad, the best from the worst.” And He invites us to trust Him…