Our culture loves getting what we want, when we want it and with as minimal of a wait as possible.
I am guilty of this.
It’s the reason I am still faithful to Chipotle.
I like the food but the real sell is hardly having to wait for more than 10 minutes from the time I walk into the door to the time I have my meal.
Has this consumerist and impatient culture found its way into our Christian lives?
Have we begun to go to God in prayer for things like a cosmic vending machine, expecting that what we ask for will be given to us right away?
Jeremiah 29:11, the rallying cry of prosperity preachers everywhere, often holds much of the consumerist and impatient attitude we take into our relationship with God. “‘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.’”
This passage is amazing. Pair the promise in Jeremiah 29:11 with Psalms 37:4, “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart,” and you have a one-two punch that will convert even the hardest of hearts back to God!
Sadly, we rarely ever take time to really understand what our Bibles are saying, and thus miss out on what God is saying to us today.
Context is key.
I teach a course on biblical interpretation at a college. One of the very first things that most lecturers of biblical interpretation will teach is that “context is key.” Another well-known way of saying this is that “a text without a context is a pretext for whatever you want it to mean.”
What is the context of Jeremiah 29:11?
Well, there is a lot, but one of the major points of context is waiting and patience. The Israelites were in exile—for yet again turning away from God.
More than anything, these Israelites wanted to go home. Here is the kicker, though. We want to read Jeremiah 29:11 without reading 29:10. “This is what the Lord says: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.’”
The plans God had for the people were not going to come to pass until a whole generation had died out. Think about it. Anyone above the age of 10 would have most likely passed away before God enacted this great plan of prosperity and hope.
You know what Jeremiah was warning the Israelites about? Well simply put, he was warning them about following the false prophets that declared that they would be seeing their homeland soon, well before the 70 years Jeremiah told them. The Israelites were impatient to get what they wanted, when they wanted.
Fast forward a few hundred years, and a letter is written by a follower of Christ sitting in prison for telling people about Jesus. This is the same guy who used to throw followers of Christ into prison.
After a crazy encounter with Jesus, Paul became one of the most prolific missionaries of all time. When writing his letter to the Church at Ephesus, he reflects on learning to be content. “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”
So very often we want the promises of God, assuming that what God has promised must happen today, and we forget that this is not about us, but about God.
We all live in the tension of what theologians call the “now but not yet.” What does this mean? Christ initiated the Kingdom of Heaven when He was here on earth (now), but the Kingdom of Heaven will not be complete until His return.
The promises of God are now but not yet. We are a part of the Kingdom of Heaven, but it is not finished yet. We get to be a part of that process. We get to be active participants in that kingdom. Sometimes, like the Israelites during Jeremiah’s time, we won’t get to see the fruit of those promises.
Learning to patient does not mean being inactive. Just like the Israelites during Jeremiah’s time, we are called to action.
Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper. (Jeremiah 29:5-7)
God’s promises may not come into fruition today, tomorrow, months or years from now, but this does not make His promises any less secure.