I remember the first time I ever head this famous Bible verse:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you, not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
I was 16 years old and hanging out with one of my best friends April. She had this verse on a plaque in her room and I instantly loved it. I was also surprised that I had never heard it until then, having grown up going to church every time the doors opened, how could I have missed this inspiring verse?
I met April in high school and we became quick friends. We connected on a number of levels but especially because we found that we shared the same faith and God. She was there for me during some really challenging times in my life and I always thank God for putting her in my life all those years ago and for keeping us in touch over the miles and the years. We are the kind of friends who, despite not having talked or seen each other in a while can pick up right where we left off.
I also remember how April’s face would light up when she talked about this verse and how awesome it was to know that God has a plan for our lives. No matter what I was facing she would always remind me of this verse and encourage me to keep the faith. Now, whenever I hear or read this verse I think of April.
I also think of April’s life. Her father died suddenly of a heart attack when she was in college. Her mom died shortly after from cancer. She and her new husband started their lives with a newborn and April’s three younger siblings living with them. It’s kind of hard to look at that reality and believe that God had plans to prosper and not to harm. What about losing both parents so young speaks hope and a future?
Honestly, I can’t even begin to know the answer to those questions. But here is what I do know. April and her husband are happily married. They now have three beautiful children who are healthy and thriving and a close-knit extended family that actually enjoy spending time together. They have good jobs, a nice home in a safe neighborhood and an army of great friends. Although 850 miles keep us from seeing each other often, every time I do see April and her family it’s ALL SMILES. They have more fun as a family, joking, laughing and loving on each other than any other family I know. You can’t leave them without having your cheeks and belly sore from laughing so hard.
Recently I have been having a hard time with this verse about God’s plans to prosper us and give us hope and a future. I look at the world around me, the direction this country is headed gravely concerns me, even more so now that I have my own children. The headlines are gut wrenching, the evil in this world is unfathomable. And the scariest thing about it all is that bad things, really bad things, happen to really really GOOD people.
So does that mean this promise is not for us? Certainly it is a message from God, spoken through a prophet, for a specific people at a specific time in history and that meaning is intact in the Word of God. But does that mean that God doesn’t want us to strengthen our our tired hands and feeble knees by taking heart in this promise that was once spoken for God’s people?
And what of God’s people? Have they not endured aching hardship from Abraham to today? Have there not been terrible things that have happened to those who were the original recipients of this promise? Is this a promise for “heavenly reward” or something God’s people can anticipate this side of heaven?
These are questions that have been running through my mind all year. I’ve spent the year focusing on Believing God and every time I see this verse it makes me nervous. How can I believe this verse when I know that bad things still happen to good people?
I think I see some answers in April’s life.
Despite the troubles and hardships, she has prospered. Despite significant grief and heartache she not only laughs but belly laughs in the company of her family and friends. And to know the truth in this is to know April. She continually chooses to believe, to have faith, keep her head up and keep moving forward. Perhaps its the truth of this verse that she has treasured for so long that pulled her along when the times were rough and propelled her even higher when times were good. It’s the belief, its the trust, its the faith that things will not only be okay, but better than we can ask or imagine.
When I asked April if it would be ok for me to use her story in this blog post, she happily agreed and also shared this with me:
“Here is what I share with others who are going through a hard time: GOD loves you. He is your Heavenly Father. And just like if your earthly father were there, he would want you to come to him and beat his chest in anger, hurt, sorrow, mad… all of these emotions… and yet he would wrap his arms around you and hold you… that is what God allows me to do even to this day. There are days that I miss them soooo much and God simply holds his arms out so I can go running to his arms and cry! I needed that imagery and I cling to it. For those who are hurting and grieving its ok to be mad and sad at God he is big enough to take it! But remember that his arms are stretched out wide for you to run to him and let him hold you.”
My take away is this: I cannot prevent bad things happening to me or my loved ones. But I can choose to keep my head up and keep going, taking time to grieve and process and wrestle through the doubt and confusion, but always believing that, at the end of the struggle is blessing for those who believe. I see that in April’s life and in the lives of others who have not allowed the bad things to take their eyes off THE GOOD THING and that is Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever. And like Job, who God allowed to suffer immensely, received twice as much as he had before, when we refuse to lose heart and chose to believe God, despite our unbelief due to circumstance, we can be sure that God, who makes all things new, will restore whatever has been taken from us. And in Job’s case, restoration came this side of eternity. What good news!
These are just my thoughts as I have spent the good part of 10 months pondering these things. I confess, I am no Bible scholar, and I am sure there are some who will disagree or seek to pick apart some of what I’ve said here and that is fine.These are not questions that have black and white answers, nor am I seeking to provide answers. When it comes to suffering, grief and loss, our feeble attempts to make sense of it proceed as meaningless, babbling platitudes in the face of despair. All we can do is cling to the hope that weeping may stay for the night but rejoicing comes in the morning.
And when the believer comes to die, and surveys the life lived, I am confidant that, for those who hold fast to hope, and don’t stop believing, we will see, if only in hindsight, that God did have good plans for us, God did prosper us, and that our God, and our hope for a future, did not disappoint.
1 I will exalt you, Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me.2 Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me. 3 You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead; you spared me from going down to the pit. 4 Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people; praise his holy name. 5 For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning. 6 When I felt secure, I said, “I will never be shaken.” 7 Lord, when you favored me, you made my royal mountain[c] stand firm; but when you hid your face, I was dismayed. 8 To you, Lord, I called; to the Lord I cried for mercy: 9 “What is gained if I am silenced, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your faithfulness? 10 Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me; Lord, be my help.” 11 You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, 12 that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever.