The Pastor’s Piece
August 29, 2021
“Going In Circles”
Recently, I was reading a story about a man in his 20’s who asked one of his elder mentors, “What would you say to your 30-year-old self if you could talk to him?”
The first thing that popped into his head was: “It will all work out, just not the way you expect.” He went on to say, “Honestly, I’m not sure the younger me would pay much attention to the older me.” He then added this bit of wisdom, “The key to success in life is how well you adapt to Plan B. Actually, the real key is how well you adapt to Plan C, D, E, F, and G.”
One of the best-known verses in the Bible is Jeremiah 29:11: “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.” Most of us know this verse by heart because we have seen it on signs, posters, and T-shirts. Perhaps your grandmother cross-stitched the words on a pillow. You may have a magnet with this verse on it. We share it with those going through a hard time, or we might buy a graduation card with the words inscribed on the cover.
How popular is Jeremiah 29:11? In 2018, it was the most popular verse on Biblegateway.com, coming in #1 out of 2 billion total pageviews.
We all know Jeremiah 29:11, but we will never understand this verse unless we know something about its background. The prophet Jeremiah wrote to the Jewish exiles in Babylon who had been forcibly removed from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. Having been uprooted from all they held dear, they now live hundreds of miles away from home, in the heart of worldly pomp and pagan idol worship. All their dreams had been smashed. They wondered, “How could God have let this happen? If we are truly His people, how did we end up here?” They wondered if God had forgotten them.
Perhaps you’ve been there. Jeremiah 29:11 forces us to confront a painful reality. Sometimes we must go to Babylon to experience the “hopeful future” we desire. That’s true for all of us, which means we’ll all have to “go to Babylon” from time to time to discover God can bless us even in some tough places.
After graduating from Liberty University, Jane Marczewski (a.k.a. Nightbirde) began pursuing a career in music. Then she was diagnosed with cancer that has now spread to her spine, lungs, and liver. During a presentation on “America’s Got Talent”, she said, “You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore before you decide to be happy.” Those words carry a lot of weight because the doctors say she has a 2% chance of survival.
We all hope for good health and long life, and as much happiness as we can find. It is a great advance spiritually to come to rest on the Rock called God. When your faith is shaken, it will help to go back to what the Bible says. “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps,” (Proverbs 16:9). I have my plans. You have yours. We all have dreams for the future. But the Lord’s purpose will stand.
It’s comforting when I read Proverbs 16:33, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” Which being interpreted means, “Life is like a roll of the dice, but God is in charge of how the numbers come up.”
I knew this when I was 30, but I hadn’t lived long enough to understand it. Now it makes more sense to me. No one is in control of their own destiny. No one knows what tomorrow may bring. That thought may terrify you, but it comforts me because I’m not in control and never was.
Which brings me back to what I was talking about at the top of this story: Everything will work out, just not the way you expect. You can’t wait until life isn’t hard before you decide to be happy. It turns out that Plan B is just as good as Plan A when the Lord oversees your life.
If you’re a child of the one true King, God does indeed plan to give you a “hope and a future,” but it rarely happens the way we expect. Life isn’t a straight line. God’s plan includes a fair number of detours. The path of life zigs and zags and goes up and down, for a while you feel like you’re going in circles, and then one day the clouds lift, and you discover those endless circles were leading you to the top of the mountain.
To my younger self, I would say, “Hold your dreams lightly. Everything will work out if you follow the Lord.”
(Kevin Cernek is Lead Pastor of Martintown Community Church in Martintown, Wisconsin)