4 This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” 8 Yes, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the LORD. 10 This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. 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. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”
Have you ever wondered how did I get here? Has the thought, how or what have I done to contribute to my being in the place or position I am presently occupying ever crossed your mind? I mean when we find ourselves in difficult or tough situations do we ever stop to consider what decisions did we make or actions have we taken that caused us to experience the difficulty we are going through.
Christian author Max Lucado shares a very interesting story in his book, “In the eye of the storm.” Chippie the parakeet never saw it coming. One second he was peacefully perched in his cage. The next he was sucked in, washed up, and blown over. The problems began when Chippie’s owner decided to clean Chippie’s cage with a vacuum cleaner. She removed the attachment from the end of the hose and stuck it in the cage. The phone rang, and she turned to pick it up. She’d barely said “hello” when “ssssopp!” Chippie got sucked in. The bird owner gasped, put down the phone, turned off the vacuum, and opened the bag. There was Chippie – still alive, but stunned. Since the bird was covered with dust and soot, she grabbed him and raced to the bathroom, turned on the faucet, and held Chippie under the running water. Then, realizing that Chippie was soaked and shivering, she did what any compassionate bird owner would do…she reached for the hair dryer and blasted the pet with hot air. Poor Chippie never knew what hit him. A few days after the trauma, the reporter who’d initially written about the event contacted Chippie’s owner to see how the bird was recovering. “Well,” she replied, “Chippie doesn’t sing much anymore – he just sits and stares.” It’s hard not to see why. Sucked in, washed up, and blown over… That’s enough to steal the song from the stoutest heart. No matter how tough you are tough and difficult times can steal the song right out of your heart and the joy out of your life.
Tough times often leave us feeling like we have been sucked in and taken through the wringer, and when we emerge we come out feeling washed up and blown over. In response to the question, how did we get there? According to the text the reason people experience tough times is because either God carried or planted us there. Wherever we are and whatever circumstances we find ourselves in it is by God’s doing or God’s choosing.
God uses Jeremiah to advise the people of Judah and today how we should respond to tough times. God begins by telling the people to make the best of it. In verses 4-6 the Lord says, build and settle; plant and eat; find and give; and increase and do not decrease. Interestingly enough all of these words are verbs. God through Jeremiah wanted the people to see and understand that when the times get tough, the tough get busy. From God’s perspective tough times are a call to action. God through Jeremiah instructed the people not to give in to the time or feelings of apathy, but rather continue living. Do not allow the times to relegate you to the sidelines, but get in the game of life and use the times to motivate you to achieve greater levels of success. How? According to the text be progressive and forward thinking. Rather than focus on where we are, let us work toward where we want to be. God is essentially advising the people in tough times live like a verb and not an adjective. A verb says I will work to build, plant, find, and bring about increase. An adjective simply describes what it sees. Are you a verb or an adjective? The late JFK said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.” We can substitute any word that is applicable, such as family, home, job, church, etc. for country. The principle is still the same – make the best of it by living like a verb.
Following the call to action, the Lord adds an addendum. In verses 7-9 He says, seek, pray, and do not. God adds three more verbs. Verse 7 says “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city” or place where God has carried you. When you think about it tough times really does seem like a whole together other place and reality. When you and I are experiencing difficult periods in life even the most familiar places seem foreign. God says look even though you may not be at peace within yourself or do not feel like being peaceful look for ways to keep the peace. In other words, no matter how difficult the environment makes our life go with it and do not resist. How? Allow the spirit of unity to guide. The spirit of unity’s endgame is harmony and maintaining the overall wellbeing. The text goes on to say, “Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Praying for an environment that we either do not much care for or want to be in can be a bit of a challenge. However, if we consider that the better things are in our environment the better things will be for us. Therefore, we should want to pray that things go well wherever we are, because if things go well there by extension things will also go well for you and me. As I mentioned this is not an easy thing to do, so it might be helpful if we a) remember how we got there – by the hand of God. God himself planted or replanted us there, and b) if things are not going well it is in our best interest to ask God to intercede and change the current of affairs to create a more favorable outcome for us while we are there. Just because you and I do not like or care for a place, that does not make it a bad place. Good things can happen in bad places when God steps into that place. The LORD also cautions us to be careful whom we listen to and what we listen for. Have you ever noticed that when things are bad everyone around us is either a critic or quick to offer advice? When things are not going well, I really do not need a blow by blow of how I got there, I want to know how to get out of where I am. I also do not need to consult with mediums or others who claim to be clairvoyant, if God carried me there then I need to hear from God how to get out of there. When the times get tough there is really only one voice we need to listen to and for, and that is the voice of God.
While it is important to learn how and be able to cope in tough and troubling times, it is equally as important to see the end of those times and periods. And so, God says, “When seventy years are completed…I will…bring you back.” Literally, the Lord promises two things, first, that all situations, circumstances, periods and anything else that we experience is time limited. Nothing lasts forever. Our ability to better deal with, cope, and/or handle tough times is enhanced once we realize the end is insight and it will soon come. Secondly, the same God who planted us in that tough and difficult situation will and is able to replant us in a better situation in time. God promises to not forget us and to come back and get us.
It is also helpful if you and I can see the bigger picture. In the text the Lord declares, “I know the plans I have for you.” The Lord speaking through the prophet Jeremiah encourages us not to view life as a series of isolated events, but rather in totality and as a whole. When we do this we are better able to see and understand God has a plan for us and every scene or situation is part of the larger plan. There are no random occurrences, chance meetings, aberrations, or things that defy explanation in our world or in our lives. Everything that happens to us and around us is all part of God’s plan for you and me. The question is can we accept God’s plan and what it entails?
To aid us in accepting God’s plan there are three things the Lord tells us about His plan for us:
1. Its goal is to improve and enhance our wellbeing. A plan to prosper you. God wants and works toward the betterment of his people collectively and individually. Everything that God does for us, or allows into our lives has but one main goal – to make us better, better people, better husbands, better wives, better brothers and sisters, better friends, etc. Wherever we have been planted, whomever we are with, and whatever we are engaged in, God’s plan is to make us better.
2. When we buy into and embrace God’s plan for us we will see that is fosters and promotes hope. “Plans to give you hope.” Hope is a very peculiar thing, we don’t know we need it until life calls for it, and we don’t know we have it unless we are required to use it. I personally believe that in addition to the spiritual disciplines of daily prayer and engaging God through His word, every believer needs a daily dose of hope. One of the reasons I stopped watching the news is because it became too depressing. I prefer to read my news. When life and troubles knock us off balance hope helps us to regain our equilibrium by reminding you and I that nothing in this life is as good as it seems or as bad as it appears. Hope is the thing that pokes us in the eye, wakes us up and encourages us to get out of bed in tough times. Why? Because, hope is an intangible, it acknowledges our reality but it also is constantly pointing toward God’s possibilities for us. Hope says, yeah, yesterday was bad, but today is a new day and things will be better because we have hope.
3. The foundation upon which hope rests is what will happen next. In other words, the hope that God gives helps us to focus on the future and specifically, what God is going to do for us next. The third part of the plan deals with the future. In other words, what’s God going to do next? The Bible tells us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” The Scriptures remind us that God in Christ is not only the God of the past and the present, but God is also the God of the future. The same God that heard the cries of His people when they were in bondage and delivered them into a land of promise is the same God who can and will do the same things or act in a similar manner for His people today and/or tomorrow. The good news is that because God in Christ has not changed and does not change, you and I can stop worrying and fretting about what we are going through today because God is going to do something else next. So don’t be discouraged by what is happening right now, but be encouraged because God is going to do something else for us next. Next could be within the next five minutes, hour, week, month, or year. Whenever next is, just know that it is coming.
You really have to love God, not only does God lay out His plan for us in detail, but God also promises that when we call upon Him, He will come and get us. God promises that if we look for Him, pursue Him with all of our heart we will find Him. And not only will we find Him, but wherever trouble, problems, situations, circumstances, or even other people have taken us – God will come and get us and bring us back.