Does God want us to prosper?
What does Jeremiah 29:11 mean? Is it a promise that Christians will prosper?
Even if you don’t know exactly where in the Bible it is, chances are you’ve heard of Jeremiah 29:11 before.
“ 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.’”
It’s the kind of verse that they print on a coffee mug, or even a tea towel, and sell it at the Christian bookshop. It’s the kind of verse that makes a good memory verse. It’s the kind of verse that we want to claim as a promise for ourselves: “God promises to prosper me!”
But can we do that? Can we claim this verse as our own personal guarantee from God? Will we always prosper? And what happens when Christian people don’t prosper, but instead they struggle and face tough times? Has Jeremiah 29:11 failed them? Has God failed them!?
Context is everything.. so take a look around
Here is a Bible reading rule worth remembering. This rule will not only help us work out Jeremiah 29:11, but it helps us understand every other part of the Bible too. Don't just read one verse, take a look around.
In other words, to understand what one verse means, it helps to understand the bits before it and after it too. If you’ve ever heard someone talk about “reading the verse in context”, this is what they mean.
Grab your Bible and let’s take a look around in Jeremiah 29:
- Verse 1 tells us that we’re reading someone else’s mail! This was a letter from a prophet (Jeremiah) to the elders of the Jewish people who were kidnapped from their home and taken to a foreign country.
- Verse 4 tells us that this letter contains God’s own words. Jeremiah wrote down what God wanted to say to the kidnapped people. God told them how to live in captivity, what he would do for them in the future, and what he would do to the kidnappers!
- Verse 10 tells us when God would do the things he promised. After the Jewish people had lived in Babylon for 70 years, God would rescue them and (verse 11) “prosper you and not…harm you”.
Jeremiah 29:11 isn’t a promise for me. And it isn’t a promise for you either. It was a promise for a specific group of Jews, living in Babylon over 2500 years ago. It was a promise to rescue them from a foreign land, to bring them home, and help them rebuild their lives in Jerusalem. I can’t rip the verse out of its surroundings and make it say something NOW that it never meant to say BACK THEN.
So…what do we do with Jeremiah 29:11?
Ok. If this verse isn’t speaking directly about me, what am I supposed to do with it? How can reading Jeremiah 29 help me as a follower of Jesus today?
Well…let’s start with God. What do we learn about God in this chapter? We see a God who makes promises. We see a God who rescues his people. We see a God who offers future hope and blessing to a people who have sinned, and who are suffering the consequences.
The good news is that same promise-keeping, people-saving God we meet in Jeremiah 29 is the God we worship today! And because we live AFTER the life, death and resurrection of his son Jesus, we know even more fully how good God is! He is still a promise-keeping, people-saving God who offers future hope and blessing to all who trust in Jesus.
So I hope Jeremiah 29:11 gives you a good reason to praise him.