What do you think of when you hear those words, ‘God’s plan for your life’?
Where does this idea for God’s having a plan for your life come from? Many Christians cling to the verse in Jeremiah:
“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)
How do you see this applying to you? What is God’s plan for your life?
These are the words of 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. (Jeremiah 29:1)
Judah is in exile, including Daniel and his companions. Verse 11 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 verse 11 is very specific in those to whom it is being made, the exiles. If it is for us at all it is global and for the church, not for the individual.
If you want verse 11 to be a promise to you, you must also have the previous 28 chapters, because they lead up to and contextualise verse 11. They are full of warnings and exhortations, accusations, threat of drought, condemnation, and judgement. It isn’t pretty. One example is Jeremiah 16:3-4
For thus says the LORD concerning the sons and daughters who are born in this place, and concerning the mothers who bore them and the fathers who fathered them in this land: They shall die of deadly diseases. They shall not be lamented, nor shall they be buried. They shall be as dung on the surface of the ground. They shall perish by the sword and by famine, and their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and for the beasts of the earth.
Jeremiah 29:11 is not about God’s perfect plan for your individual life but about restoration of the rebellious people after 70 years in exile.
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.
… Moses went up to God. The LORD called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” (Exodus 19:3-6)
The law describes how a saved people live.
Leviticus 26:31-33 describes what God will do if his people reject his laws and violate the covenant.
And I will lay your cities waste and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing aromas. And I myself will devastate the land, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled at it. And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste.
Leviticus 26:40-42 describes how God will, nevertheless, keep his promises and restore his people.
But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies–if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.
God’s plans are never thwarted.
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 (Romans 8:28) – we cannot reasonably apply this verse to us. It is an example of what has come to be known as narcissegesis, the made up word to describe someone who makes all Scripture revolve around themselves.
If God doesn’t have a plan specific to my life what does he have? Is there a plan at all?
… 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. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:9-14)
This is the plan and purpose of God. At the centre of that purpose is Christ.
How do I fit into that plan?
God may yet have a specific purpose for particular individuals in church service, mission, etc. But what does the purposeful Christian life look like when there isn’t a specific ‘plan for my life’?
See next week.
Ann Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Find out more at www.annmariethomas.me.uk