Are you one of those many Christians who has asked what exactly is God’s plan for my life? What do you think of when you hear those words, 'God's plan for your life?' Maybe you think everyone else has got this sorted but you have missed out. Where does this idea of God having a plan for your life come from?
''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.'' (Jeremiah 29:11)
Our local Christian bookshop manager – who does understand this verse – assured me she can sell about anything in the shop if it carries this text, they just fly off the shelf. Near the bookshop is one of those generic stalls that sells New Age trinkets and junk, from a lucky cat, through fairies and angels, to Buddha in repose. Its the sort of thing people have in their home to feed their wishful thinking. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a life as serene, magical, lucky.
Life is never as serene as Buddha sitting under a Bodhi tree, angels and fairies don’t sit on your shoulder to grant wishes, and cats are – cats. Jeremiah 29:11 is to many Christians what the lucky cat is to the wishful thinkers, comforting to contemplate but of no practical use. This is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied texts in the Bible and Christians could save themselves a lot of trouble and troubled introspection if they understood it..
Jeremiah 29:1-2 tells us the context is the exile of Judah, including Daniel and his companions. The verse comes in the text of a letter sent by Jeremiah from Jerusalem to exiled Judah. The 'you' of verse 11 is plural, the promise of v.11 is very specific in those to whom it is being made, the exiles. If it is for us at all it is plural and for the church, not for the individual. Heaven preserve us from post-modern individualism - Context people.
Further, if you want Jeremiah 29:11 to be a promise to you, you must also have the previous 28 chapters, because they lead up to and contextualise the verse. They are full of warnings and exhortations, accusations, threat of drought, condemnation, and judgement. It isn't pretty. One example is 16:1-4. Look it up and ask yourself if you still want to enjoy the promises of God through Jeremiah – Context people.
Jeremiah 29:11 is not about God's perfect plan for your life but about restoration of a rebellious people after 70 years in exile. Context again.
God had miraculously brought Abraham's descendants out of the house of slavery and commanded them 'now live like this,' giving them the Law through Moses. The Law didn't bring people to God, God brought people to himself then gave them the Law - Exodus 19:3-6. The Law describes how a saved people live. I say again Context.
Leviticus 26:14-15, 31-33 describes what God will do if his people reject his Laws and violate the covenant. Terror, disease, fever, hunger and defeat at the hands of enemies, terror, ruin, waste, scattering and exile. Context teaches us.
Leviticus 26: 39-42 describes how God will, nevertheless, keep his promises and restore his people, 'Then I will remember you...For I know the plans I have for you...' Lev.26:42; Jer.29:11) God's plans are never thwarted. Context is understanding.
Even though we might take comfort from the general understanding that we are in God's hands and care - In all things God works for the good of those that love him' Ro.8:28 - we cannot reasonably apply Jeremiah 29:11 to us. It is an example of what has come to be known as narcisegesis, the unbiblical habit of making all Scripture revolve around me.
If God doesn't have a plan specific to my life what does he have? Is there a plan at all?
God’s Plan and Purpose
In his letter to the church in Ephesus Paul tells how God, through Christ, has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing (1:3); chosen us to be holy and blameless (1:4); predestined us to be adopted as sons (1:5); redeemed us through the blood of Christ (1:7); lavished on us grace, wisdom and understanding (1:8). We are not meant to be mere creatures but sons. Sons who understand and, in understanding, exercise wisdom. No surprise since we were made originally in the image and likeness of God, to have dominion (Genesis 1:26) to understand and steward the world in which we live. All this, Paul insists, is, ‘to the praise of [God’s] glorious grace’ (1:6)
Paul explains explicitly the purposes of God, revealed to all who trust in Christ:
‘And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment-to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.’ (Ephesians 1:9-10)
The thought here is that everything that fails to make sense in this world will be summed up and given perfect meaning in Christ. Its not about me, its about Christ! Everything about us, our being chosen and predestined, serves God’s purpose and plan in Christ, ‘for the praise of his glory.’ (1:11-12) Do yourself a favour and read Ephesians 1:3-14 and count the number of times ‘in Christ’ or a variant thereof appears. It is all about Jesus, and once you realise this your doctrinal understanding will be revolutionised.
God may yet have a specific purpose for particular individuals, at particular times, in church service, mission, etc. For some it is a lifetime call. But what does a purposeful Christian life look like when there isn't a specific 'plan for my life?' We will look at that next time.