We’ve probably all seen the words of Jeremiah 29:11 on graduation cards, encouragement cards, and other merchandise. 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). The way we use this verse seems to be implying God has plans to give an individual a prosperous career, good health, or even money in the bank. It actually means nothing of the sort. Here’s what Jeremiah 29:11 actually means and how it applies to us.

Misusing Jeremiah 29:11

Jeremiah 29:11 – To whom is God speaking?

Jeremiah 29 begins by letting us know it is “the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon” (vs. 1). Through Jeremiah, God was telling the exiles several things:

  1. They were told to build permanent homes and start families in Babylon, because the time of exile was going to be 70 years (Jeremiah 29:4-10).
  2. They were told not to listen to the false prophets, who were telling people the captivity would be short and they’d soon be back in Jerusalem (Jeremiah 29:8-9).
  3. After 70 years, God would start bringing His people back to Jerusalem, where He had marvelous plans for them (Jeremiah 29:10-14).
  4. But in the meantime, Jerusalem was going to suffer horrible pain and punishment because no one was listening to the prophets God sent, but instead they were listening to false prophets (Jeremiah 29:15-23).

The passage is addressed to Jews in Babylonian captivity; not to me or to you. God was saying to the Jews, Get comfortable in Babylon. It’s going to be a long stay. Many of you will spend the rest of your lives here. I will bring some of you back someday, but not right now. Right now, there is going to be suffering because of your disobedience and sin.

Jeremiah 29:11 – What does it mean for Christians?

The sad part about people misusing this passage is that they miss the real beauty of the passage. What were the plans God had for the Jews? His plans included bringing them back and restoring the city, but most importantly, His plans included the coming Messiah. In Jeremiah 23:5-6, we read:

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

Jeremiah 29:11 means that no matter how unfaithful the Jews were, God was determined to be faithful to His promise to send the Messiah (Romans 3:3). These “plans” were in the mind of God “before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:20). Though these plans were prophesied about for centuries, they remained a “mystery” for thousands of years, until Jesus came and revealed what God had been planning all along.

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:7-10).

Jeremiah 29:11 means, even though God was punishing the Jews, He wasn’t done with them yet. And Christians should praise God for that, because otherwise there would be no Savior. As Jesus Himself said, “Salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22).

Jeremiah 29:11 – Does God have plans to prosper you?

I can already hear people asking, “Yeah, but doesn’t God still have plans for me individually? This verse may not be talking about me personally, but doesn’t God want me to have a nice life? Doesn’t God have plans for me to prosper?”

Here is what you need to understand: God’s plans to restore the Jews from captivity – so He could send His Son into the world – was His plans to prosper YOU. Those were His plans to prosper all who are in Christ Jesus. Because of their disobedience, many individual Jews were “prepared for destruction,” but God patiently endured them, “in order to make known the riches of his glory” to us who believe in Christ (Romans 9:22-24).

If you are in Christ, God has prospered you. You are the recipient of “unsearchable riches” (Ephesians 3:8). But as far as your physical health, finances, careers, and possessions are concerned, these are all “uncertain” and we are told not to set our hopes on them, but to set our hopes on God (1 Timothy 1:17).

If you know what you can have in Christ, then His grace will be sufficient for you; even in the midst of poverty and trials.

Jeremiah 29:11 – What’s the danger in misusing this passage?

Ironically, when “health and wealth preachers” use this passage to preach that God has plans to financially prosper people today, they are doing the very thing God was condemning in Jeremiah 29. God said to His people, “Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 29:8-9).

God does want you to prosper; in the sense that He wants you to have access to the riches of His grace in Christ Jesus. Forget about the health and wealth and set your minds on things above (Colossians 3:1-4).

I love you and God loves you,

Wes McAdams

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