The 20 Verses You Love Most

The 20 Verses You Love Most: #1 Great Expectations

The 20 Verses You Love Most | Liz Curtis Higgs

The good news? Our #1 verse is powerful, encouraging, and filled with hope. It’s been captured in stained glass, painted on canvas, carved in wood, screen-printed on tee shirts, etched in metal, embossed on greeting cards, and blazoned on posters.

The bad news? We often skip over all the verses leading up to this one. Who knew this was the worst news Jeremiah could have written to the people of God exiled in Babylon?

Oh dear.

With trembling hands and a knot in my stomach, here’s the verse we’ve all been waiting for (gulp), accompanied by photos of the heavenly skies above to remind us that with God, the news is always good. Eventually.

“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

Great Expectations

Here’s the story: After the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in 586 B.C., King Nebuchadnezzar marched God’s people off to Babylon as captives. The Lord was good with that. All part of his plan.

But a false prophet named Hananiah assured the Israelites they wouldn’t be held captive long. Prosperity was right around the corner. His modern counterparts still dish out the same nonsense. “God wants you happy! Look at all the pleasure you can enjoy, right here, right now!”

But the true prophet, Jeremiah, told the Israelites, in essence, “No way, people. Make yourselves at home in Babylon. You’ll be held in bondage there for seventy years.”

Seventy years? You can bet that wasn’t what they wanted to hear. Most of them would spend their whole lives in exile: “Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures” (Psalm 90:10). Even in 2013 our average life expectancy in the US is just seventy-eight years.

Then in Jeremiah 29:10, the Lord assured his people, “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.”

Ah. Something to look forward to, even if it was a long-long-long way off.

What came next were those marvelous plans for the future described in our favorite verse. But in the meantime, their lives would be filled with difficulties and disappointments. God didn’t pretend otherwise. Neither, beloved, should we.

John Gill reminds us, “Even their captivity was for their good.” We’re back to Romans 8:28. Back to the reminder that our present trials, challenges, and hardships are part of God’s mighty plan for us.

Those seventy years weren’t without purpose for the Israelites stuck in Babylon. Whatever situation we’re stuck in right now isn’t meaningless either. Matthew Henry wrote, “Let them not sorrow as those that have no hope, no joy; for they have both.”

Why do we have hope? joy? peace? Because our story isn’t finished yet.

Great Expectations

“For I know…” Jeremiah 29:11

A gentle but firm reminder from God: “I know what I’m doing” (MSG). When the One who created the heavens and the earth says, “I know,” he’s not kidding. “The Lord is a God who knows” (1 Samuel 2:3).

Matthew Henry wisely said, “We often do not know our own thoughts, nor know our own mind, but God is never at any uncertainty within himself.”

I’m elated when I meet someone who knows what he or she is talking about on a given subject. Their skill and knowledge are not only impressive; they’re also a great comfort. Ask, and they answer with the confidence of experience.

Now imagine a God who knows everything there is to know. In particular, God “knows all human plans” (Psalm 94:11) and he “knows those who are his” (2 Timothy 2:19). He knows us deeply. Loves us dearly. And promises us he has things well in hand.

Great Expectations

“…the plans I have for you,”… Jeremiah 29:11

Literally, it’s “the plans that I am planning” (LEB) or “the thoughts that I think” (ASV). It’s the same word—first as a noun, then as a verb.

In Hebrew it’s a delicious mouthful—machashabah—which means “thought” or “device.” Sometimes the word suggests an intention or purpose that’s bad, like a nefarious plot. Other times it’s a plan that’s good, like wise advice.

God isn’t tipping his hand, giving away what’s to come. He just wants us to know, “I have it all planned out” (MSG).

Years ago, while I was busily planning our wedding, my sweet Bill was planning our honeymoon. Whenever I asked him what he had in mind, he just smiled and said, “You’ll love it.” Which I did.

I had confidence in him because I loved him and because he’d already proven himself trustworthy. Not knowing the details of where we were going was part of the fun.

On a much grander scale, that’s what God is saying to us: “Trust me. You will love the plans I’ve planned for you.”

Great Expectations

…declares the Lord,… Jeremiah 29:11

Jeremiah wanted to be sure the people exiled in Babylon understood that this message came straight from God. “This is the Lord’s declaration” (HCSB), he told them. It’s “an affirmation of Jehovah” (YLT).

Jeremiah isn’t hiding behind God’s cloak. He isn’t afraid of them. He simply wants to honor the Lord and direct all their attention toward him.

Look up. Be watchful.

Great Expectations 

“…plans to prosper you…” Jeremiah 29:11

God is thinking “thoughts of peace” (ASV) concerning you. He has plans for your “well-being” (CJB), for your “security” (EXB). He is going to “take care of you” (MSG).

Growing up, the message I heard was, “Don’t wait around for some man to take care of you. Earn your own living, create your own security.” So I did what young women of my generation were expected to do—I climbed ladders and broke through glass ceilings. Sadly, God and his Word weren’t the rungs beneath my feet.

Only when I realized that I’d propped my ladder against the wrong building, and had cut myself numerous times on those shards of glass, was I ready to admit I needed a keeper, someone with a far better plan than mine.

The word prosper here is that lovely Hebrew word, shalom, which assures us of “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace.” It’s a word spoken often in the streets and houses of Jerusalem. It’s what God offers us. Shalom.

Great Expectations

“…and not to harm you,…” Jeremiah 29:11

The opposite of shalom, ra’ is a Hebrew word that encompasses every form of bad or evil—“adversity, affliction, calamity, displeasure, distress”—whether natural or moral.

God assures us that, however dire things may appear at the moment, he doesn’t “plan to hurt you” (ERV). “Torment” (WYC) is not on the menu, nor will he “abandon you” (MSG).

His plan is good for you and for your good. Harm is the last thing he has in mind. Hope is where he’s headed.

Great Expectations

“…plans to give you hope…” Jeremiah 29:11

That word plan is getting a real workout in this verse, isn’t it? The Lord knows how desperately we make lists and toss them out, how we fret over our calendars, how we agonize over whether or not we’ll ever be able to retire.

Again—still—God has this.

He has “welfare and peace” (AMP) earmarked for you. He promises, “I will bless you with a future filled with hope” (CEV).

And hope does not disappoint; not when our hope is in God. The Hebrew, tiqvah, literally means a “cord,” something we can hang on to.

Hope is what helps us wait. Faith is what keeps us looking in the right direction.

Great Expectations

“…and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

This life is a shadow, a whisper, no more significant than the turning of a page. God “set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) so we would gaze beyond the here and now.

When God says, “I shall give you a good ending” (WYC), he doesn’t mean you’ll die peacefully in your sleep. He means “your final outcome” (AMP) will be “the future you hope for” (GNT), “the end that you wait for” (JUB).

In a word, heaven. That’s the future he has in mind, the plan he has in place for us. “And this is what he promised us—eternal life” (1 John 2:25).

Because God is writing our stories, we can be sure they will end on just the right note:
“And they lived happily ever after.”

Great Expectations

“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

Now it’s your turn

How has Jeremiah 29:11 comforted and encouraged you in the past? And how might this verse strengthen your faith now, knowing the difficult context in which these words were written? Simply add your response under Post a Comment below.

To say that I’ve loved unpacking these verses with you over the last 20 weeks is a huge understatement. Many thanks for reading my blogs, sharing them on Facebook, forwarding them to friends, tweeting about them on Twitter, and most of all, commenting on the blog itself. What a blessing your words have been!

You can invite others to receive my Weekly Bible Study Blog by sending them this link: http://eepurl.com/D1Acr. And why not pop over there yourself and sign up for my new Monthly News Note?

Thank you, thank you…for everything.

Your sister, Liz

Your Sister in Christ, Liz Curtis Higgs

P.S. As promised, here is the complete list of The 20 Verses You Love Most in a downloadable PDF document. Each week’s study will remain archived on my website blog for you to access anytime. If you missed Verse # 2 last week, you’ll find it here.

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