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Have I Got a Plan for You!

by Mike Jones

“ ‘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’ ” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV).1

Plans to prosper me? Plans to give me a future? Yeah, right!

Let’s say you were four teenage kids living a cool life in Jerusalem. Then war breaks out, your side loses, and suddenly you find yourself 500 miles from your childhood home, separated from your family, and saddled with a new identity: “prisoner of war” in a foreign country!

Your life’s a nightmare. You’re surrounded by pagans. Then as you struggle to assess your new life under your enemy’s feet, one of the prophets from back home sends a message for you to relax and chill. God still has plans for you, the prophet says. You still have a future.

That was what four teens heard shortly after their arrival in the enemy’s capital city, Babylon. Even though they don’t show up in Jeremiah 29, they were there. You probably know them by name: Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

If these guys had been living today, their response to that message about having a future might well have been a sarcastic, “Sure, dude. I can hardly wait to hear more.”

Think about it. Daniel was only 16, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego about 18 when all this happened. The upside was they ended up in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace; the downside, they were about to become eunuchs. Despite Jeremiah’s message for the exiles to settle in and start families, there would be no wife and kids in their future, just castration. Ouch! (See Isaiah 39:7.)

What else would be in their future? Probably helping the Babylonians keep the captive Jewish population in line. It was a decidedly bleak future, unless they bought in to Jeremiah’s prophecy that God really would one day bail them out. But that would be 70 years down the road—if they survived that long. By then they would be old guys.

Now, of course, they were in this mess because their people had abandoned God. They themselves had been faithful, but look where it had gotten them. Do you ever feel that way when you see your friends partying while you’re staying true to God?

It seems, however, that these four were God-honoring guys and likely familiar with God’s promises such as, “The Lord your God will make you most prosperous in all the work of your hands . . . if you obey the Lord your God . . .  and turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 30:9, 10, NIV). They chose to trust God even when their situation seemed hopeless.

What do you do when everything looks hopeless, maybe even in the church where so many young adults drop out? Do you still trust God and do the right thing even when everything is going wrong in your life? Maybe your parents split, your grades aren’t good enough for that scholarship you were counting on, the love of your life wants some space, you’re unemployed, or you’re still sick and your doctor’s not sure what’s wrong.

In contrast to what we read throughout Jeremiah 29 about the faithlessness of Judah, this remnant of young Israelis chose to trust God even when faced with the fiery furnace. Later, their pal Daniel would do the same and end up in the lions’ den. But God honored their faithfulness. He’ll honor yours, too!

You’ll recall that early on these young guys caught a break when Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream for him. When Daniel was promoted to run the kingdom, they were allowed to assist him. However, Satan counterattacked. A short time later they were faced with the challenge of at least paying lip service to a counterfeit god by bowing to Nebuchadnezzar’s gold statue or being tossed into the furnace.

They chose to be faithful to the Creator God and ended up in the furnace. But Jesus joined them there, and they came out unscathed. This is a nice lesson for us when our faith is challenged. Like when your boss tells you, “Sure, you can have Saturdays off. We’ll only expect you to work Saturdays about once a month.”

In the meantime, Jeremiah tells us that the majority of Jews, even those in exile, continued to rebel and worship counterfeit gods. Tim Keller writes in his book Counterfeit Gods, “Our contemporary society is not fundamentally different from these ancient ones. Each culture is dominated by its own set of idols.”

He writes about the gods of beauty, power, money, and achievement, pointing out that “we may not physically kneel before the statue of Aphrodite, but many young women today are driven into depression and eating disorders by an obsessive concern over their body image.”

For young men today, their counterfeit gods often include the hot pursuit of a career and making money. This form of worship often calls for them to sacrifice their family life by working nights and weekends and becoming alienated from their spouses and children. He concludes, “In ancient times, the deities were bloodthirsty and hard to appease. They still are.”2
To those who persisted in their rebellion in Jeremiah’s time, God sent messages warning, “I will send the sword, famine and plague against them
. . . and will make them abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth, a curse and an object of horror, of scorn and reproach” (Jeremiah 29:17, 18, NIV). But He precedes this with the warm invitation, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (verse 13, NIV).

Often, following the Lord in paths of obedience and trust is something we plan to do soon, sometime not too far down the road. But something else bubbles up to preclude our doing this, though we will soon, we tell ourselves. Far too often, soon never comes.

I was 30 and climbing the ladder of success in the business world when I decided for Christ. When I chose to give Jesus unrestricted access to my life, I gave up an incredible job opportunity from the company that had just purchased my company. I was convicted that I wouldn’t be able to be faithful in what I knew my new environment would be. I also quit smoking and started being faithful to my marriage.

A few months later, as I waited to see what God had in mind, I received an offer to teach at the university from which I had graduated. I accepted, but discovered that, in my estimation anyway, I wasn’t a very good teacher. For the next two years I was in anguish over that, and probably my sharper students were, too.

However, after two years in exile, I began to understand what God had in mind when I received the wonderful opportunity to become the editor of this magazine, a position I enjoyed immensely until God led me to the next phase of His plan for my life.

I used to think it would be a drag if I totally sold out to Jesus. But in fact, my life has been far more thrilling in the intervening years than it ever was when I was worshipping counterfeit gods and drinking at the broken cisterns of this world.
Sure, Satan has counterattacked many times. But, hey, we’re in exile in a war zone, right? Anyway, Jesus has always come to my rescue, and I’d follow Him anywhere. I hope you feel the same way.

1 Scripture quotations credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
2 Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters (New York: Penguin Group, 2009), pp. xi-xiii.

Mike Jones was one of Insight’s first editors. He speaks and writes from Portland, Oregon.

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