We love reading the verses from Jeremiah 29, about God’s “good plans” for our lives:
“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. You will search for me, and when you search for me with all your heart, you will find me.’ (Jeremiah 29:11-13)”
So no evil will befall us, right? WOOHOO!
Well, not exactly. If you read the rest of the chapter, you’ll see that these words were in a letter written to a group who had been savagely ripped from their homes. Several followers of the Lord were taken from Jerusalem to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar, including King Jeconiah of Judah and his mother, along with servants of the court, officials of Judah and Jerusalem, and many craftsmen and artisans.
When bad things happen to good people, our gut reaction, like when Peter stepped out of the boat and began to sink, is to scream, “Save me, Lord!” In Peter’s case, Jesus saved him immediately, but sometimes the answer is “Wait.” God uses trials to strengthen our resolve, and so we may be a witness to those around us. I’m sure the King, his mom and all the other captives were confused, frightened and angry about being taken from their land. They wanted to go HOME, but the prophet Jeremiah wrote a letter from Jerusalem to the elders, priests, prophets, and all the rest who had been taken to Babylon:
“This is what the Lord, Commander of heavenly armies and God of Israel, says to those He exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses—make homes for your families because you are not coming back to Judah anytime soon. Plant gardens, and eat the food you grow there. Get married and have sons and daughters. Find wives for your sons, and let your daughters be married. Do this so that they also may have sons and daughters. Have many children and grow in number in Babylon. Don’t become fewer in number. Also, do good things for the city I sent you to. Pray to the Lord for the city you are living in, because if there is peace in that city, you will have peace also.
“‘The truth is this: You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised and bring you home again.’ (Jeremiah 29:4-7, 10)”
As I’ve previously stated, I’m no theologian, but what I see in these verses is a group of people who were violently kidnapped by a wicked king. They felt abandoned by God, and were (probably literally) crying out for Him to rescue them.
“When will God save us?” they wept. “When can we go home?”
That was their idea of deliverance. Instead, the Lord said, “Settle in, chill out, be fruitful, multiply, pray for the land and work hard for its success. For in that, you will find peace.”
We cry to God for assistance, but our idea of “help” is filtered through the lens of our suffering. Thus, we are not seeing things clearly and have already decided what type of aid we need. We give God our laundry list of what we think we need, and then get upset when He doesn’t answer prayers according to our wishes.
But what we have to remember is…
“We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! (1 Corinthians 13:12)”
It all comes down to this: instead of crying to God for Him to fully delver us from our trials, maybe we should be asking Him, “What would you have me learn in the fire?”
After all, this same leader who kidnapped this group, King Nebuchadnezzar, also threw Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into the fire when they refused to worship his personal gods (“gods,” lower-case “g,” not the God). So did the Lord save them from the fire?
Well, yes and no.
“Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, still tied up, fell into the heart of the blazing fire.
“But suddenly, as he was watching, Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in amazement and exclaimed to his advisers, ‘Didn’t we throw three men into the furnace?’
“’Yes,’ they said, ‘we did indeed, Your Majesty.’
“The king said, ‘Look! I see four men walking around in the fire. They are not tied up and they are not burned. The fourth man looks like the Son of God!’
“Then Nebuchadnezzar came as close as he could to the open door of the flaming furnace and yelled: ‘Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God! Come out! Come here!’ So they stepped out of the fire.
“Then the princes, governors, captains, and counselors crowded around them and saw that the fire hadn’t touched them—not a hair of their heads was singed; their coats were unscorched, and they didn’t even smell of smoke! (Daniel 3:23-27)”
Sometimes we’re saved from the fire, and sometimes we’re not. Sometimes we’re rescued from our anguish, and other times God asks to relax and make the most of it.
But one thing is for certain: Jesus will always walk with us through the fire!