I’m going to go against my normal style of writing – lead in with something related to the topic, insert cute/funny anecdote, tie it in seamlessly (with humility, of course) to my point, etc., etc. – and instead, cut straight to the chase.
The Lord may not have plans to prosper you.
What I say next would really play out better if I were standing in front of you, watching your reaction. Maybe you’re still waiting on the point orsurprise. Maybe you’re hurt by the statement. Maybe you’re shocked and now consider me blasphemous. Maybe I can’t tell what you’re thinking even if I am standing in front of you.
Here’s where I’m coming from on this one. Too many times in life, I have heard Jeremiah 29:11 plucked out and inserted into a situation.
- Graduating from high school? Jeremiah 29:11
- Just got fired/replaced/laid off at work? Jeremiah 29:11
- Pre-marital counseling? Jeremiah 29:11
- Lost a spouse/child/parent? Jeremiah 29:11
- Not sure whether to apply for a different job? Move to a different place? Have another child? Paint the front door a different color? Adopt a pet? Buy a hybrid instead of a gas-guzzler? Jeremiah 29:11, Jeremiah 29:11, Jeremiah 29:11, Jeremiah 29:11, Jeremiah 29:11, and Jeremiah 29:11.
Just for clarity, here’s what Jeremiah 29:11 says:
“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)
Seems like sage advice to the newlywed, the graduate, the grieving, or the potential new car owner, right? God has a plan for me and it is not for me to be harmed.
Bill Clinton once had difficulty explaining to America that the word “is” may have multiple meanings. (I’m not going there, by the way.) His famous quote, “It depends on what your definition of is is.”
Well, to really apply this verse, I think it depends on what you have as a definition of a couple of different words – mainly “prosper” and “future”.
Let me introduce you to Paul – you’ve no doubt heard of him. He is credited by many theologians as the author of thirteen (13) of the books in the New Testament. So, God definitely had a plan to “prosper” him in one sense of the word. He traveled all over Asia Minor preaching, shepherding, encouraging, and converting others with the gospel. But God’s definition of prosper and your definition of prosper may be quite different.
During the life that Paul led traveling for the cause of Christ, the world may not have used the word prosper to describe his life. Or any of “prosper’s” cousins either – success, wealth, protection, growing, thriving, or flourishing. In the same time that he was being an encourager, a preacher, a friend, shepherd, and writer, he also experienced
- Having his life threatened (in Damascus, Jerusalem, and Thessalonica)
- Being run out of town in Antioch
- Facing death either by stoning or beating (at Iconium, Lystra, Phillipi, and Jerusalem)
- Losing his best friend, Barnabas
- Being imprisoned in Rome (twice), and Caesarea
- Shipwreck on Malta
- Being snake bit (literally and figuratively)
Even the worst 1970s or 1980s country song wouldn’t have dumped all of this on any cowboy.
If you were Paul, would you have pulled out Jeremiah 29:11 and held it up to the sky with questions? Paul isn’t recorded as saying “this says no harm is intended God, but this feels like harm!” There’s no record of him asking God when the “prosper” part starts or where his “hope” is.
Could be that, since he penned almost half of the New Testament himself, he just left that part out. But, Paul isn’t always rave reviews about himself:
“. . I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people. . ” (Eph. 3:8, NIV)
No, I think it’s because Paul understood the real definition of the words “hope” and “future.” He may have even leaned on David the Psalmist – Now Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in You. (Psalm 39:7, HCSB)
God does have a plan to prosper those who believe in Him. So, my original statement really only applies in how you define “prosper.” If your thoughts are for that to be successful and thriving in how the world defines it, prepare for an uncertain future. God may very well prosper you in Kingdom work while providing you with earthly resources as well. But, He also may have plans for the gospel to be spread through your faithfulness through heartache, pain, failure, and trials.
It’s not evil or harmful to want to succeed in life. In fact, the Lord is glorified through a person’s pursuit of excellence in anything that they do. So, if you’re a student – reach for higher grades, higher degrees, and more education. If you have passed that stage, be the best ____________ there is (whatever goes in the blank for you). Earn more money, climb higher, and do so with energy and excellence.
Paul never stopped running, going, doing, and helping even though the world tried to trip him up over and over again.
So, be prosperous for the cause of Christ. That doesn’t have to mean proselytizing at every turn. It just means to be kind, love others, and be a reflection of the Father.
So, maybe the Lord does have a plan to prosper you, after all. If you truly are seeking to be prosperous as He defines it.
Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23-24, HCSB)