For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. -- Jeremiah 29:10-14 (NRSV)
You have probably heard verse eleven somewhere before, “Surely I know the plans I have for you … a future with hope.” Maybe you know it from a different translation, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Whatever the translation, the sentiment is the same, God has a good plan for us. There is great comfort and assurance in this truth.
Often, however, we forget to look at the larger context of the scripture. We search for those areas where God’s love and provision shines through, but we skip past and discount those areas where God takes a less loving stance. For example, we forget to read all the way into verse 14, where we see that the nation of Israel is exiled from their homeland because of God. “I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” Yes God has good plans for the people, but God also sent the people away into exile. God allowed Babylon to displace Israel from the promised land, the land God gave to them in the first place!
It’s important to see WHY God chose to allow Israel to be sent into exile. Israel is exiled from their homes, taken captive once again, because they disobeyed God. This is a theme of the Hebrew Bible. Disobedience of God leads to exile, struggle, famine. Obedience to God leads to prosperity, abundance, and self-determination. I believe the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus points to a slightly different understanding of this theology. Instead of being punished for disobedience, the “punishment” is an outcome of a broken relationship with God. Because Israel was not nurturing their relationship with God, they opened themselves up to beliefs and actions which enabled Babylon to take over.
It stems, I believe from a lack of prayer, from a lack of seeking after God. Notice the actions in verses 12 and 13, calling, praying, searching, and finding. The prophet reminds the Hebrew people that their part of the covenant with God is to call on God, pray to God, and search for God. When they uphold their end of the agreement, God is faithful and will follow through on God’s part of the arrangement as well. Jesus confirms this idea of God’s faithful response to our search for God, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” (Matthew 7:7 NRSV)
Do you feel like you are separated from God? Do you feel like you’re in exile, like God is no longer speaking to you? Jeremiah and Jesus remind us to make sure we are fulfilling our end of the relationship. They remind us to be deeply intentional in our prayer lives, in seeking after God, and in discerning God’s call on our lives. Wherever you are in exile, wherever you are struggling to sense God, that is the place to cover and surround with your prayers. As our Lenten devotional reminds us, that is where we lean in and also where we let go. Because the truth is that God is faithful and God does have amazing plans in store for us, both as a church and as individuals. However, it is up to us to put in the work. God’s promises are sure, when we call upon God, God will hear us. It is time to call on God in prayer. Will you join me?