“She must be mad at me.”
“Everyone in our neighborhood is very private and uninterested in getting to know us.”
“They are always going off on these grand adventures… they must make a lot of money.”
How many of you have thought these thoughts, or at the very least, your own version of them? I recently listened to a sermon by Stephen Furtick about offense, and I felt that blow to the belly that can only mean one thing—I’m thinking too much of myself and not enough about what could be happening in their world that has nothing to do with me.
Recently I’ve had one of my favorite verses floating around in my spirit, coming up at all the appropriate times. I recall this one scripted on a wall-hanging in my home over my teenage years, never fully grasping it for my own until I was well into adulthood. ‘“For I know the plans I have for you’, says the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. To give you a hope and a future.’” (Jeremiah 29:11).
I don’t mean to brag, but I have this cliche inability to memorize Scripture. I know, I’m so basic. Try as I might, I always second guess myself and end up giving up because I get hung up on a word or two being incorrect or because I can’t remember the address.
But not this verse.
I didn’t even have to look that baby up as I typed it. It’s taken on beautiful new colors as I’ve grown to claim it for myself, and I’ve found such hope in the knowledge of His heart for me.
Then the other day, as I had picked back up in Jeremiah from my “Read the whole Bible cover to cover” plan that I started in the FALL. OF. 2017. (authenticity, people), I suddenly realized where I was. It felt a lot like when you’re driving and all of a sudden you look around and fully realize where you are, not exactly sure how you got there and moderately alarmed at just how un-alert you had been over the last who-knows-how-long.
I was reading away about God’s people and how they were in captivity in a foreign land (Babylon) under the reign of a foreign King (Nebuchadnezzar). A false prophet had come and told them that God had planned to come victoriously to avenge their freedom; Jeremiah knew differently. As I ventured onto the beginning of the next chapter (lo and behold, chapter 29), I read the words of the Lord that likely felt like lead upon their spirits. He essentially told His people that they should make themselves comfortable there. They should build houses and plant crops, and establish a life, because their liberation wasn’t coming anytime soon. I imagined it like being at a sketchy hotel in the middle of nowhere, completely resisting the thought of unpacking one single thing into that hotel dresser, only to be told to unpack it all because we are staying awhile. God’s people were being told to not only unpack their bags, but to store those bags away long-term.
I thought of those in my life who are in it for the long-haul, whether it be illness, physical limitations, financial struggle, job-loss, infertility, miscarriage/infant loss. These are not quick trips. These are long, agonizing days that feel like they will never end. Seasons that seem to go on forever. The kind of days that cause you to forget about life as it was or as it will be.
The kind of context we wish wasn’t our own.
And like a beacon of light coming out of nowhere, Jeremiah’s words in chapter 29 remind us of the context as seen from above—from the eyes of our ever-loving Father who is faithful and true.
“If you want the truth, this is what the Eternal has to say: ‘You will remain in Babylon for 70 years. When that time is over, I WILL COME TO YOU and I will KEEP MY PROMISE to bring you back home. For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Eternal, ‘plans for peace, not evil, to give you a future and hope—never forget that.’” (29:10-11)
Whether God has given you defined borders around your exile or not, the beauty of this promise still remains. He is in control in the exile, and He will come. Understanding the CONTEXT of this verse makes a world of difference.
Without seeing the whole picture, these words from the prophet Jeremiah serve as a cuddly pillow to hold when you’re feeling uncertain of your future. Don’t hear what I’m not saying. These words on their own bring comfort and peace, and in their context, they move mountains of uncertainty and fear.
Context is key. When we read the Bible and as we go about our lives. This is why I began this post as I did. There are stories taking place in the lives of every single person around me, and in those stories, I am merely an extra… not the main character. So when I take offense because of someone’s off attitude, or I assume someone doesn’t like me because of the clothes I wear, I’m forcing myself into a starring role in a story I might never have been intended to be a part of.
But if I remember context, I am freed up to see with His eyes, pray with a humble heart, and live a really full life.
The enemy would love to keep me fully aloof to context, but it’s powerful and I think it ought to be the word of the day, every day. What about you? Do you struggle to remember context when interacting with others in your life? Are there old favorite verses that have come alive anew to you because you’ve understood the background a little more?
May we always remain humble in our summation of God’s Word and God’s people. Both are valuable and not about us.