Jeremiah 29 gives us a bold exhortation to plan, with redemptive imagination, for the long-haul of life in a broken world. While imprisoned for his work as a pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote to his fiancé Maria, saying, “Our marriage must be a ‘yes’ to God’s earth.” In this way, Bonhoeffer expressed his hope in God’s purposes on earth and his “confidence in the future” that required faith.
Similarly, in Jeremiah 29, Jeremiah tells the Israelites that their exile in Babylon will be long and that they should “seek the welfare” of Babylon, should multiply and not decrease, and should plant gardens and build houses. Just like 1940’s Germany, Babylon was not a friendly place: it was the capital of an oppressive and godless empire.
WhereEVER we are, God wants us to work for the shalom of that place, to hope for in Christ and work towards as His image-bearers the arrival of God’s good purposes on earth. We must cast aside our “wait-and-see” attitude towards God and all semi-pious objections to vocational, family, and financial long-term planning, and, in obedience to our calling, as faithful stewards say “yes” to God’s earth.
False prophets were telling the Israelites that they would soon return to Jerusalem. As finite beings, upon hearing such a tale, the Israelites would certainly alter their plans in Babylon. “Oh, you mean to say, I’ll be back home soon? Oh Jacob, dear, don’t worry about getting supplies to repair that wall in our backyard. Sorry to nag so much about that this morning.”
However, upon hearing the words of Jeremiah, believing that the exile would last 70 years, well that would put things in a whole different light. “Hey Jacob, never mind!!! Repair the wall! Also, what do you think about teaching Hannah, Joshua, and little Boaz some Assyrian? Oh yeah, we should also reconsider that basket business you were so eager to evade. We should hire more workers. My mother could help…”
In the same way, believing that our exile as strangers and aliens in this world could last a long time, that Christ may not come back within our lifetimes, should change how we approach our lives and plans for the future. We do not need to worry that such plans will somehow interfere with God’s sovereignty. In fact, God wants us to invest in His world. Planning for the long-haul is our human responsibility. Jesus does not want us to bury our talents, rather, He wants us to return to Him double we were given. As we seek the shalom of the cities in which we live, we too shall be blessed.
I have often been afraid to long-term plan. I think of Proverbs 16:9 which says, “The heart of a man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” With this verse in my thoughts and fear in my heart, I have found myself paralyzed with inaction. I have struggled with paralysis in terms of vocational decision making. In this arena, my internal conflict has often been centered on calling, on mission-work versus the marketplace. Will God really be equally pleased in me if I choose a “secular” job?
The great turn, the great change in this mindset, revolves around faith in God’s good purposes in this world. With faith and a broader understanding of Scripture, I can say “yes” to God’s world. Proverbs 16:3, ironically just a few verses ahead of the infamous plan-stopper, says “Commit your works to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” When we say “Yes” in Christ, God also says “Yes.” It takes faith to plan. Living is inherently risky. It takes faith to believe that God will provide in the trying circumstances that are sure to come.
In faith, as we commit our works to God, we can hope that God will use us to bring His good purposes in whatever vocation we enter. We can also plan for the long-haul. We can proceed with buying an engagement ring. We can consider a post-baccalaureate pre-med program to prepare for dental school: a potentially 6 year plan!
Our faith, of course, is not in the plan itself. If this were the case, our hearts would rise or fall based on the success of any given plan. Clearly, this would not work. Our faith is in God and His good purposes for this world. We can begin to imagine how God could use a vocation and our own work to help bring a bit of shalom.
He calls us to seek justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before Him. He promises us good things if we do. We do not have to be afraid. I became a Christian during my first year in college. For years after, perhaps even the rest of college, I struggled with the question of whether planning is a good thing. God’s providence “landed” me in this year. I did not plan on it. With new considerations in my heart, I find that I am a bit behind. I have some planning to do.
Thomas Kent interns on Capitol Hill and is a member of the 2015-2016 Falls Church Fellows Program.
Images: FreeImages.com/Vivian-j, Tim Chesney