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Difficult Days & The Most Abused Bible Verse

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My freshman year of college was a very difficult time for me. I was so excited to finally be a college student and I loved meeting all of my new friends but it was almost impossible to keep up with the pace of change in my life. I moved from Dallas to a small town called Arkadelphia.
Where I had been acclimated to living in the city, I suddenly found myself in an entirely new culture. Rather than grabbing some coffee at Starbucks, most of the guys I knew would rather go hunting or mountain biking. At one point, I actually caught one of my roommates walking out of the dorm with a crossbow to hunt the squirrels on campus! It was difficult to come to terms with these changes in my life, leading me to a verse in Scripture that we all know so well.

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.” (Jer. 29:11)

So, if God wants me to prosper and has these amazing plans for a future and a hope, that must mean he wants me to leave Arkadelphia and return home, right? Based on how this passage is often taught, you would think so. We read this and other verses like it and leave with the feeling that God’s ultimate goal is to make us comfortable and happy.

But when we read this verse in context, we find that it means something entirely different. In Jeremiah 29, God is speaking to the Israelites who have just been exiled from the Promised Land. Their countrymen have been killed, the Temple has been destroyed, and the walls of Jerusalem have been left in ruins. The only life they’ve ever known has been violently ripped from their hands.

In the verses prior to this, God commands them to stop entertaining any dreams of returning home and settle into their new lives. He tells them to marry their kids off to the neighbors, plant gardens, unpack the bags, and seek the welfare of the cities where they now live. To say the least, this wasn’t the encouraging message of swift rescue they were hoping for. But the verses that follow give them a promise so much greater than an escape from difficulty.

Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to 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 will bring you back from captivity, I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” (Jer. 29:12-15)

In other words, God is saying, “I will eventually bring you home but that day isn’t today and it won’t be tomorrow. In the meantime, I am here. When you cry out to me, I will listen.” Another way of saying it is, “I’m not done with you.”

When we find ourselves in these places of exile, it’s easy to feel like God has somehow abandoned us. This idea comes from the misconception that God is ultimately about our happiness. Instead, his ultimate goal for our lives is our holiness. I love what Kevin DeYoung writes in his book, Just Do Something.

He wants you to buy a house that will make you holy. If you marry, he want you to get married so you can be holy. He wants you to have a job that will help you grow in holiness. Count on it: God’s will is always your sanctification.

The future and hope for your life is that God will sanctify you through the good times and the bad ones. You may feel stuck in a terrible job that you’re trying to escape while God is using it to prepare you for something greater in the future. Your marriage may be in a rough spot but God may be using that difficulty to give you a better understanding of Christ-like love. You may even find yourself far from home where God plans to prepare you for something amazing down the line.

In the end, I’m glad I didn’t leave. I began dating my wife within the next year and received numerous opportunities to grow and serve while on campus. If I had given up and walked out, I shudder to think where I would be today. What is Christ trying to accomplish in your life?

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