There is a significant percentage of bloggers who started their online writing “careers” on a Google-owned platform called Blogger. I was one of them. Blogger was super simple (probably too much so) and easy to use. It was the home of my first real blog, Formula 29:11 which I had named after a popular Bible verse, Jeremiah 29:11. That particular verse goes like this: “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” This verse is a central tenant of the “prosperity gospel” championed by pastors like Joel Osteen. The basic premise is that God plans to bless you with material possessions, riches, achievements etc. I latched on to it because I, like so many other believers, was looking for things to provide me with encouragement that if I just held out through a present trial, I would be richly rewarded here on earth.
Unfortunately, I, Joel Osteen, and everyone else who things that verse is about growing our “earthly bottom lines” were/are gravely mistaken. If you take a close look at the book of Jeremiah, you’ll find that many of the Israelite people (whom the verse is speaking to) are in exile in a foreign country, Babylon. They had disobeyed God for years, He was fed up, and allowed them to lose their sovereignty by being conquered. The specific chapter in which this verse is contained is actually a letter that Jeremiah writes from his home in Jerusalem to the Hebrew’s the Babylonian king carried off into a foreign land. Jeremiah, also known as the weeping prophet, begins his letter by telling the Israelite people to settle down and get comfortable. Verse 5, for instance says, “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.” Imagine how difficult and confusing that probably was for a group of people who are probably extremely homesick. Here they are in a land they aren’t familiar with; one with a different set of values, cultural practices, and presumably a different language and they’re a long ways away the land they fully believed that God destined them to hold on to forever and ever. That can be a tough pill to swallow. I just think how difficult it would be for me to adjust to being whisked off and essentially forced to live somewhere like Morocco or South Korea. Not my idea of fun!
It starts to get really interesting in verse 7. Jeremiah, who’s speaking on behalf of God, writes “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.” This “Be The Change” -esque commandment is powerful. It’s one thing to simply exist in a place you don’t really belong, it’s a whole other thing to work to make it better. Fortunately it does inject some hope it to a seemingly dire situation. At least the Israelites now know that if Babylon wins, they win. If you don’t think that would be a good thing, just consider the alternatives!
Now jumping ahead to verse 10 it says, “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.” This means that the Israelites get to go home after just 70 years! Have you ever had to wait 70 years for something? Probably not. That’s a really, really long time; even for us reading this story 2000 years later. Think about how much in our lives changes within one year let alone 70!
If you revisit verse 11 with all that preceded it in mind, you start to see a very different picture from what the prosperity gospel tells us. You start to start to see that God really isn’t saying to us living in 2013, “You will enjoy tremendous financial blessing.” That’s a myth. Instead it’s communicating to us something way more important (And remember that ALL scripture is useful for teaching per 2 Timothy 3:16). I believe that it’s saying this: If you find yourself in a place that’s uncomfortable, unfamiliar, and far, far, away from everything you’re used to, take heart! God will turn things around at some point in the future. It might not be this week, this month, or this year, but at some point, they will turn around. Furthermore, seek God’s blessing in the midst of that environment. You might not think there’s any benefit to where you’re at currently, but there may be a tremendous well of figurative prosperity just waiting to be uncovered.
I wish I had understood that earlier. I spent too much time living like God was genie in a bottle who existed to make me rich. That’s just not the case; that’s not what Jeremiah is saying! So, let’s rethink Jeremiah 29:11 and other verses like it that we so commonly point to when looking for a “get rich quick” solution to a present problem. Let’s instead realize that God may, in fact, be working through our present circumstances in a way that will benefit us even if we don’t see it right away.