Jeremiah 29:11-14 (NIV)
“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. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to 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 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.”
If you have been in church-world for a while then you are probably familiar with Jeremiah 29:11, and indeed for me this verse has been a comfort this morning. What you may not be quite as familiar with is the context and verses after the “hope and a future” part.
I am not a historian or Biblical Scholar (as I point out quite often!) but if you read the surrounding scripture to vs. 11 you will see God is speaking to the Israelites who remain in exile in Babylon through the prophet Jeremiah. God had allowed King Nebuchadnezzar (a very evil man) to take many of the Israelites captive and into exile in Babylon due to their stubborn and willful sin. But even in the midst of exile and being banished from their promised land, God is encouraging them! He is reassuring them He still has a plan for them and it’s one of hope and prosperity! God is telling them that when they seek Him with all of their hearts they will find Him and He will bring them home.
My My My…have you ever taken a good look at your life and wondered how you got so far off track? Have you ever felt like you were living in exile? See, sometimes we live in exile so long it becomes our new home. Eventually we get used to “less” of God and His perfect plans for our life and become acclimated to Babylon. I have been there. When I was in my early 20’s I made some subtle compromises and choices that led into stubborn and willful sin, or rebellion, against God. Did He banish me at my first stumble? No, not at all. Really, I never felt like God sent me packing! I knew, especially at first when my conscience had yet to be seared, that Holy Spirit was tugging and pleading with me not to make the choices I was making. But as I let rebellion and the lies of Hell take hold of my mind, as I grew more tempted by a morally corrupt culture, the Holy Spirit of God got less and less say in my life. Eventually, I found myself in “Babylon.” My hard heart and sin had indeed banished me from the promises God had for me.
Fast-forward about 12 years to the present. Looking back I can see how my 3 years or so in “Babylon” cost me a lot of heart ache and shame. Even as I made my way back inside church walls, I was there out of desperation. My life was a mess. My soul was full of the gaping holes of neediness. My marriage was floundering. I had no peace. None. I lived under the weight of my sin and the shame that comes with it. And it was all my doing. As I humbled myself and time went by Jesus gently unraveled the knots of shame and condemnation in my heart, and I was able to breathe in some sweet relief…His presence. A smile crosses my face thinking about it. See, when you have been living in exile, apart from God, coming back into His arms and presence is like a long, cool drink of water in the desert. Now, what happened in the middle? The stretch between exile living and abundant living? Learning to seek God with wholeheartedness. Perfectly? No! Every day without interruption? No, No! But every time I search for Him with my whole heart, humbling myself, I find Him and come to know Him more. As I know Jesus more my life is transformed…day by day…step by step.
I thought for the longest time that even though I was forgiven and rescued from Babylon I had forfeited “plans to prosper you and not to harm you.” I thought that the wayward and rebellious living of my 20’s had forever canceled out the “hope and future” that I would have had. Do you feel that way? Are you living so far inside the borders of Babylon that you assume you might as well stay? Do you lie down at night and push away thoughts of what the promises of God in your life would have been like? If so, take a moment and read back over the scripture above…go ahead…
God wasn’t speaking to the “good Christian” crowd. He was speaking to the rebellious and wayward ones who had allowed themselves, through the hardness of their hearts, to be captured and banished into Babylon. See, we think that God would be telling them, “you made your bed now lie in it” because that is what we do. But God is not like us! Through Jeremiah, God is reminding these rebellious children of His that He can still be found! No matter how long they have lived in exile if they will seek Him with their whole hearts then He will bring them out of their captivity. God is reminding them that He still knows the plans He has for them…God did not pull out the spiritual eraser and edit the good, promised land plans He had for them. He has not erased the plans for your life, either. But He won’t force you to move. He may dare you, but He won’t force you. My goodness, don’t stay in exile when your Father is calling out to you…reminding you that His good plans for your life are still waiting to be fulfilled. God can still be found. Babylon is a place of lies and deceit, zip-code living for grasping at happiness and fulfillment with no lasting results.
God can turn your life around if you will hear and believe Him. No matter what choices you made that set your course to Babylon, no matter what choices you have made in Babylon that have set the course of your life, God is bigger. His goodness and the promises He gives cannot be canceled out. It will take time and a heart willing to do things God’s way, but your Creator can and will bring about the hope and future He has in mind for you. Don’t be satisfied to live a complacent and empty life in exile, no matter how “normal” it looks against the backdrop of our culture. Let God stir your heart today. Let Jesus whisper into your soul of the plans and purposes, the love and mercy, He has waiting for you. Allow yourself to crave it with all your heart…and then seek Him with all your heart.