Every now and again, I have the notion that I’m only skimming the surface in life–living too much in the here and now, occupied with little things. Day in and day out, there is so much trivia that after a while life loses any sense of gravitas. Whether researching a new purchase, planning vacation details, or whatever is preoccupying me this week, I can get bogged down in the details and lose focus on life centered on God.
As I wrestled with this recently, I felt the Holy Spirit leading me to Jeremiah 29. Yes, yes, I thought, but what does “I know the plans I have for you” (v. 11) really have to do with living with purpose and passion for Jesus? As it turns out, quite a lot.
I read the entire chapter. The context is that Jeremiah is writing from Jerusalem to the exiles living in Babylon. There are other “prophets” in Babylon giving a false message to the Israelites and leading them astray. Here’s what stood out to me:
- “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce” (v. 5). I too am an exile. This is not my home, I have a better home waiting for me. But while the Lord has me here, I have a job to do, one that requires detail and thought. It is okay to think on those details to a degree.
- But I must beware! There is a danger lurking in these myriad details. While there are not the same types of false prophets as in Jeremiah’s day, there is much that would deceive me. “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” (v. 8-9). I do not want to be bamboozled that my life will be meaningful simply because it is full. So then, while I have houses to build and gardens to plant, I am to be on guard against the deception that this is all there is.
- What else then, would the Lord have me do? I believe there are two answers from this text. The first is “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (v. 7). We have welfare to bring to this city. Shalom. As per Sunday’s sermon, we know that we cannot bring it in full before Jesus returns, but neither are we to sit on our laurels because we are not capable achieving ultimate peace. Seeking the spiritual, physical, social, cultural, and psychological welfare of our city is good for them. And it is good for me.
- But there is more! Our “success” in seeking welfare will be limited now. It cannot be realized completely before the kingdom comes in its fullness. But there will be a day when we will have total welfare. We will no longer be exiles. The Lord will give us his welfare, his shalom. We will be with HIM. “For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear 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 I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile” (v. 10-14).
How does this future hope inform the daily grind? What am I to do with all the lesser pursuits that clamor for attention in my spare moments? In some cases it may be possible to eliminate the worthless time wasters from my life, or at least minimize the time and mental energy I give necessary tasks. But my time in Jeremiah 29 drives me to a greater question: how might God might use this endeavor to spread his welfare in the city or bolster my hope in his forever shalom? This eternal perspective, mindful of the greatest cause, can infuse purpose into the smallest of tasks and release my heart to new joy.