“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.”
Jeremiah 29:11. It’s perhaps the most referenced Bible verse outside of John 3:16 and for good reason. This verse holds a beautiful promise from God that in a nutshell says that He has our back and that He is going to take care of us.
The promise contained in this Scripture is incredible. But my question is this, does it always feel like God has our back?
Not for me at times, and I would go out on a limb to say that those feelings aren’t exclusive to me. And it’s in those times that it would be easy to come back to this verse and go at God as if He wasn’t delivering on this promise. But it’s the foundation of our belief as Christians that God is perfect, and if God is truly perfect, He must keep His promises. Now what I didn’t say is that God must deliver on that promise exactly when you want Him to. God doesn’t work on your timing, God works on His timing and it will never be any other way.
Jeremiah 29:11 speaks about how the plans that God has are not going to harm us. Now, harm is a pretty strong word, the definition of harm is “physical injury, especially that which is intentionally inflicted”. I know there are circumstances in life that bring immense pain, and I am not discrediting those moments, but I want to say that there is a difference between pain and harm. And I want to challenge you when those difficult circumstances come, to evaluate whether the circumstance is painful or harmful. When you know the difference between painful circumstances and harmful circumstances, you can be confident that God’s plan is always best.
I’m thankfully about to graduate college and start a new job and I hope I never experience what it’s like to be let go from a job, but I also know I’m not immune to that. That would be immensely painful. Quite frankly, I don’t know how I would handle it but one thing I do know is that it wouldn’t be harmful. That’s hard to stomach, but it’s the truth and as believers that’s what we have to cling to - the truth.
Painful circumstances are not always harmful circumstances and if that’s true, then God hasn’t broken any promise. God doesn’t promise that there won’t be pain in our lives. In fact, He does promise that there will be trouble (John 16:33) so we shouldn’t be surprised, and we definitely shouldn’t point our finger at our God as if He lied to us.
God is often referred to as a shepherd in the Scriptures. In John 10, Jesus talks about how He is the Good Shepherd and how He will look over his flock. As I pondered what some qualities are that a shepherd may possess, love was a quality that stuck out. You can read the Parable of the Lost Sheep in Luke 15 and you’ll see the love of the shepherd in action. This shepherd had a flock of 100 sheep and one of those 100 wandered away and got lost. And this shepherd loved his sheep SO much that he was willing to leave his other ninety-nine, perfectly compliant sheep in the pasture to go and search for this one sheep, likely climbing mountains, searching valleys, and getting a couple bumps and bruises along the way. That is a special love, but ultimately, it’s only one aspect of love.
The Shepherd in the Parable of the Lost Sheep shows a compassionate love. A love that would drop everything in an instant to help. However, the other aspect of love is a love that can be hard. As I’ve grown up, I’ve had the time to ask my parents what some of their biggest pieces of advice are about parenting and how they went about parenting my brothers and me. One of the answers that they gave the most, and one of the answers I’ve heard from many other parents, is that sometimes you love your kids by not always giving them what they want. And even though that makes perfect sense and is a strategy I will carry over to my kids one day, I often feel as if that's the opposite of love when God doesn’t give me what I want.
I started to think about why God doesn’t simply just give us what we want. Obviously, it’s because he loves us with a love that we cannot even fathom but what about more than that? And as I pondered this thought, God led me back to the image of Him being a shepherd. Sheep are aimless animals, they have no sense of direction and they have no ability to lead themselves to prosperity and that’s ultimately the reason sheep need a shepherd. The responsibility of the shepherd is to tend to the flock, to take care of his sheep, and to ultimately ensure that the sheep are safe. This means that the shepherd is in control of where he leads his flock and the shepherd is going to lead his sheep where they will ultimately be the safest.
Imagine this scenario, a shepherd and his flock are in for the night. The shepherd has plans to lead his sheep out to a pasture in the north once morning comes. But, in the middle of the night the shepherd hears wolves in the pasture to the north. So being a loving shepherd, he isn’t going to lead his sheep to that pasture in the morning because they’d be in danger. Instead, the shepherd is now going to take his sheep to a different pasture in the area, and while the grass may not be as green and the journey may be a little further, ultimately the sheep are going to be safe and that is the main responsibility and the main concern of a loving shepherd. So, I want to propose that while you may have big dreams to have a platform, or climb the corporate ladder, or get married, or whatever else it may be, maybe God hasn’t taken you to that pasture yet because there’s a threat waiting there. But instead of wolves maybe it’s the threat of pride, or self-righteousness, or thinking that you did it all by yourself without ever giving credit to God.
If you’re in a situation where you feel like God isn’t coming through, I would encourage you to do two things: firstly, humble yourself. Please stop thinking that you know where you need to be more than God does. Secondly, be patient and trust that God is good. Trust that amidst discomfort and trials, God is behind the scenes orchestrating a beautiful movie. And maybe discomfort is just what you need in this season to reap the harvest that God is after.
Now, for the hard truth. God may never lead you to the specific pasture you're longing for. That stings just to write. But the underlying truth is that if God has different plans in mind for me than I have, His plans are still better. He’s the shepherd and the shepherd will always lead his flock to their best destination. And as hard as that may be to stomach, its something that we need to fight to believe.
Jeremiah 29:11 is a promise from God. It’s a promise that will be kept. God will lead us to prosperity, but he will lead us to a prosperity that brings glory to His name, not ours.
Noah Rivera // Humbled Daily Co-founder, Wyoming native and aspiring petroleum engineer at the University of Wyoming.