Every conversation seems to eventually turn to our present situation. FaceBook posts, news stories & papers, school, work… it all seems to revolve around the COVID-19 outbreak. People keep talking about the “new normal.” Whether this current crisis will cause a major permanent shift in our society remains to be seen, but it is certainly shaping our present reality. Social gatherings have all but ceased and even family gatherings are slowed and stopped in many places. So what do we do when normal is no longer possible?
Jeremiah 29:11 is one of the most popular verses in the Bible. I went to a university (Dallas Baptist) that used it as its theme verse. It was our motto almost. It’s a great verse for today, but in order to understand the promise of Jeremiah 29:11, you need to understand the context of the verse and full promise God gives.
Jeremiah 29:1-23 is actually a letter. The chapter is similar to some of the New Testament epistles in that respect (i.e. Philippians, Titus, etc…). Jeremiah was tasked by God with communicating a message to his people. God was concerned with the welfare of his people and he used Jeremiah to communicate his will to the people in a very difficult time.
First, if you look at Jeremiah 29:1-2, you will quickly see that the people, including their leaders (both spiritual and government), have been exiled from Jerusalem and greater Judah. What exactly does this mean? When Judah (the southern kingdom of Israel) was conquered by the Babylonians, many of the people and almost all of the leaders were forcefully relocated. This was a practice common among conquerors, to move people around to make it harder for them to rebel once conquered. It helped integrate conquered peoples into the conquering society.
Second, if you look at Jeremiah 29:4-7, you will see God command the people to build a life for themselves in exile. There were false prophets claiming to the people that there was no need to settle down in exile, that it would be short lived. But God had told Jeremiah otherwise. He knew that for a generation, most of the people would have to live in exile and thus he gave very different instructions to the people. He tells them in these verses to build homes, to have families, to work… essentially, to build lives for themselves in exile.
He takes it one step further however, he tells the people to work for the good of the city in which they are living. He tells them to work for the good of their conquerors. He desires that they not only build a life, but that they become good neighbors. These people had lost…well everything mostly. They lost their homes, their cities, probably many of them family members. The wealth of their nation was taken, I’m sure most of their personal values were confiscated. Normal wasn’t really an option. They could not worship in the temple the way they had before. They couldn’t make a living in the way they had before. They lost their normal.
Finally, look at verses 11-13. Notice that yes, God promises to work for their good (our good), but he does so because he wants them and others to KNOW him. “You will seek me and you will find me” (Jer. 29:13). Seriously, how shallow is verse 11 when we don’t remember verse 13. God wants his people to prosper not for the sake of building wealth but so that they and others might know him.
Normal is probably impossible for you and your family right now. We are doing our best to work and do school and stay connected and keep food in the fridge, but normal is really difficult right now. So what do we do?
We build! Build your family. You definitely have more time together, don’t miss the opportunity to build your family. Build your community. I know its hard when social distancing to imagine ways of building your community, but it is possible. Check on neighbors, deliver food, call your friends, set up zoom groups… be creative. It’s not going to look normal, but that’s okay. Build!
We also have to remember what God’s promise in verse 11 is really saying. He wants us to know Him. He wants our communities to know him. Seek him and you will find him. Help your friends and neighbors seek him in this time as well. Let’s make great the name of God in a time when normal is not really possible.