Going back to school in a pandemic was tough in 2020; it might even be harder in 2021. Disagreements about vaccines, the threat of catching COVID, the looming possibility of cancellations and shutdowns – and the strife surrounding it all – leave us exhausted and searching for solid ground. The promises of God that we find in Scripture are that solid ground. Over the next two weeks on the Rooted blog we will offer short devotions for you to share* with your teenagers, examining promises from God that our writers find profoundly comforting. In an uncertain world, God says, “I, the Lord, do not change” (Malachi 3:6); may his faithfulness fill us with hope and joy in the months to come.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” (Jeremiah 29:11-14)
Since I was a young kid, I have been haunted by what my friend Liz calls the “what-ifs” of the world. More specifically, I’ve been haunted by the what-ifs of my own particular life. When I was a teenager: What if everyone in my family dies except me? What if I never have a boyfriend? What if I can’t get into my dream college? What if my body always looks like this? What if in 20 years, I’m the exact same version of me that I am today?
Maybe you can relate to this. Maybe the vision you have for your future is murky at best, and if it looks anything at all like your present, then you’re screwed. These are the things that keep you up at night and then striving throughout the day. And it’s exhausting. Thankfully, the prophet Jeremiah has some good news for anxious and weary people like you and me. The Lord says, “For I know the plans I have for you.”
It’s important to understand that God isn’t speaking through Jeremiah to a settled, contented, gravy train sort of folk who are just out there living the dream. Jeremiah is speaking to God’s chosen people, the Israelites, who had been exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon. They were foreigners in a foreign land; they suffered and were oppressed; they thought the Lord had abandoned them altogether. Sound familiar? So when God says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” he even means plans like immense pain, chaos, suffering, and maybe even a worst-case-scenario. Where, you might ask, is the good news for you and me?
Russell Moore says, “God tells us that since we are in Christ, we are strangers and exiles in this time between the times (Heb. 11:13; 1 Pet. 2:11). We suffer, we bleed, we die – and through all that we are tempted to think that this means God has abandoned us. We conclude we are ‘as sheep to be slaughtered’ (Rom. 8:36).”
Our hearts so often wring and worry with all the what-ifs. We feel deserted and alone. But God promises through Jeremiah a “future and a hope.” This future and hope have little to do with the desired outcomes of our most dire what-ifs, and everything to do with the hope we have in Jesus. No, God has not abandoned you – in fact, in Jesus he has come impossibly near. God tells you in these verses from Jeremiah to call upon him, to pray, to turn your worries over to him, and that he hears you and is there for the finding; because of Jesus, he is with you in the most literal, physical, in-the-flesh sense.
My friend, here is the hope you can cling to in the now-but-not-yet: the gospel of Jesus Christ allows us to draw a different conclusion from our worries and our worst-case-scenarios, for he is the maker and re-maker of all things. We can see clearly in his life, death, and resurrection that God is working even your most horrible realities toward good.
So what if you never have a boyfriend? What if you really never change? What if a supremely horrible tragedy interrupts life as you know it? You can rest. You can take a deep breath and stretch your arms wide. You can be absolutely sure that the God of the universe, the king of love, is doing something even better than you can see or imagine. He is the same God who carried the Israelites out of exile, who knew you before you were born, who has a detailed plan for your life and he calls that plan good. This God is not surprised in the least by the twists and turns of your story, and like the worship song goes, he will turn every last one of your graves into a garden. He has done it many times before.
Just look to the empty tomb.