Sometimes a Bible verse needs a little more explanation before we quote it to people. This is the case with Jeremiah 29:11, “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.” It has been used several times and on several cards that have been handed to graduates. Does this verse apply to God’s people today? Yes, but to understand its truth for today, we must understand the circumstances in which it was given.
This promise was given to God’s chosen people, and its fulfillment was not solely based on material possessions or success. The idea of welfare and care was explicitly related to God’s presence among his people. Remember, Israel was given into the hands of Babylon and were under oppressive rule. This situation was brought on by their disobedience and rebellion from God. In God’s plan, the exile had taken place to draw his people back to him and was an exercise of his grace and mercy, though it did not seem like it at the time. God used this circumstance to bring about his plan in their lives. His plan was for his people to call upon him and seek his face.
So how do we properly use this verse today? First, we must understand the hope that God has for an individual is only acquired through the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is the means by which God has chosen to graft the Gentiles into this promise. He has plans of hope for his children, but apart from Christ, we are children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3) with no hope. Second, as a child of God, this statement does not mean his children will prosper and be successful. The chief blessing in a believer’s life is being drawn near to God through confession and repentance.
This verse is not applicable to the lost, because it is only accessed through a covenant relationship with God – in Christ. Also, we must not forget that the substance of this verse is talking about God’s people following his commandments and drawing near to him. The word of hope that we have for graduates is that if they will seek God with all their heart and lean not on their own understanding, they will reap the joy of knowing their purpose and value. This intimate knowledge of God through Christ is our ultimate hope. This is the way we know true success and prosperity, delighting in God and him delighting in us.