Many times in my life, I’ve come back to the promise in Jeremiah 29:11:
‘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.’
This had been my favorite verse for some time. It helped me when deciding which college to attend, what path to take, which way to turn in so many of life’s decisions. I still have a picture frame with this verse engraved on it from my high school graduation. It’s a verse many of us love, because it is a promise that God is good and wants to be good toward us.
But as my life plans were not working out as I had envisioned, I found less and less comfort in these words. Some days, this verse even seemed like a joke. It’s easy to believe that God has a good plan for your life when things are working out well, but it’s a little tougher when the path is difficult.
And my path has been difficult. Uprooting my life and moving so many times to start over, to get away from my broken past. Company layoffs and job loss. The sudden death of friends. Years of being stalked and anxiety over my safety.
I’ve gone through times when it seemed as if God’s plans were not prospering me at all; in fact, it felt like they were hurting me.
I became confused because I couldn’t see any divine “plan” for my life, much less that it was good. In fact, there were times when I thought God was taunting me. What is He trying to do? I thought. Make me tough? Make me stronger? How were His plans bringing me hope? I had yet to see this prosperity He promised. I began hating this verse, especially when it was read aloud in church or quoted at the local Christian bookstore. I really was not liking God’s “plans”!
I don’t think I’m alone in this.
But the very same God of the harvest is also the God of the desert. Could it be possible that God has sometimes thwarted my plans in order to destroy my shallow understanding of His love? Could God have allowed difficult circumstances so I could wrestle with who He really is? Maybe the messing up of our plans is exactly what we need. God will go to great lengths to squash a false gospel and repair a cracked foundation in our faith. He does this not out of anger but out of love. He knows we can miss Him completely if we misunderstand Him.
But He would not give up on me. Again and again, I kept hearing Jeremiah 29:11 echo in my heart and head.
Finally, one day, during my time away seeking healing, I begrudgingly opened my Bible to this familiar verse and asked God to give me new eyes to see what I was about to read. I couldn’t see Him clearly in the season I was in. I loved God, but it had been so long since I had sensed His presence. I had almost forgotten what He looked and sounded like. Life can be so unrecognizable in the midst of pain, and yet I decided to look up the word plans. I was surprised to learn that the original word in Hebrew is machashabah; a more literal translation is “thoughts.” God knows the thoughts He has toward me. And His thoughts toward me are good.
I had to read it several times to make sure I was getting this straight.
If it was true, this changed everything! I had always defined plans as “an easy life” and “prosperity,” here and now. I put time, effort, and finances into knowing those plans. And I pursued those plans. I wanted plans without pain, plans without suffering, plans without hardship.
The emphasis was on me. Me knowing the plans; me understanding the plans; me implementing the plans. But God’s machashabah — His thoughts — toward me are so much more than anything I could have ever imagined on my own. His thoughts toward me are the real constant, despite whatever circumstances I am walking through. Instead of being so fixated on the plans for my life, I realized I needed to be more interested in knowing God’s thoughts toward me.
My behavior does not determine my identity. Rather, anyone who calls on God is welcomed into the family and named a beloved son or daughter (John 1:12). I am not an employee of God;
I am a daughter of God.
My relationship with God isn’t dependent on my performance. Rather, all our sins are forgiven and washed away in Jesus, who canceled all our debt and nailed it to the cross (Colossians 2:13-14).
And I don’t have to try to make something happen. Rather, God is working in me to give me the desire and power to do what pleases Him (Philippians 2:13).
Part of the reason I had resisted making myself vulnerable to God was that I didn’t think His thoughts toward me were good at all. I thought He wanted to discipline me, scold me, or point out something wrong with me.
I had often heard people talk about the difference between the punishing God of the Old Testament and the loving God in the New Testament. But the truth of the matter is that God does not change (Malachi 3:6) and that God is love (1 John 4:8).
God knows everything about each one of us (Psalm 139:1), and we were each made in His image (Genesis 1:27). We don’t have to fear what God thinks about us because He always, always looks at us with love.
Even if you weren’t treasured by your earthly parents, the God of the universe treasures you, and His thoughts about you are always good. He chose you when He planned creation (Ephesians 1:11-12), and you are not a mistake (Psalm 139:15-16). He brought you forth on the day you were born (Psalm 71:6), and His thoughts toward you are countless — like the grains of sand on the shore (Psalm 139:17-18). You are really, truly, deeply loved by God.
When we learn to lament out loud, we allow God to correct our misconceptions about how He sees us and thinks of us. God was not angry with me and was not taunting me. I didn’t understand the difference between God’s pruning (John 15:2) and God’s disciplining (Hebrews 12:6). Although very different, they often feel the same, because pain is pain. So whether we are being pruned by God to bear good fruit or are being disciplined by a loving Father, conviction and correction still hurt. But this is when it becomes crucial to be confident that
God’s thoughts toward us are always good.
Over time, knowing God’s good thoughts toward me dramatically changed my understanding of God and, therefore, my perspective on what He wanted to do in my life. When I did not see God as loving, I did not believe I was worth receiving love. When I did not understand God as kind, I saw evil in my life as something He caused. Of course He would want this understanding to change! As I learned to lament, I also learned how to wrestle with Him — asking the hard questions, engaging Him with my doubt and pain, asking Him for the faith to feel — and when I wrestle with God, I get the chance to look Him in the eye, hand to hand, heart to heart. God never tries to one-up me or make me look bad. He wants to woo me into a deeper and more satisfying relationship with Him. God has taught me to not despise my struggles, because my wrestling is proof that I am in relationship with Him. He would much rather have me wrestle with Him than to be out of the game.
When our hearts are breaking, it’s natural to wonder:
- If God is so good, then why does He allow evil and suffering to exist?
- If God is so loving, then why is there only one way to heaven?
- If God cared, then why wouldn’t He stop the hard things from happening?
The key is to take these questions to God rather than use them as an excuse to disengage. What would happen if we took our grief directly to Him? What if instead of gossiping and grumbling about God, we used our questions to draw closer to Him? He can take it. In fact, He wants to hear them.
The greatest gift that has come from my suffering is a deeper understanding of the character of God and His thoughts toward me.
This is why we are blessed when we mourn. This is why we must take time to mourn. Admitting grief over loss does not mean we are ungrateful for God’s provision. Lamenting actually deepens our gratitude, giving us the capacity to be more receptive to the blessings that do come.
It was only in adulthood, after I had learned to lament the loss of my biological family, that I could give thanks for the way I experienced God’s care and provision through friends, and even strangers. I learned that family is so much deeper than blood; family is spiritual. Jesus demonstrated that for us when he left His own family to create the family of God for others who had no place to call home. Orphans are close to the Father’s heart, and He cares deeply about their pain. Abandonment is not beautiful, but being found in God is. We never have to audition for God’s family or go through a trial period. When we are in His family, we are in!
It’s not that God celebrates grief or that He brings it on; but God does promise us His presence and blessing in the midst of it. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit,” the psalmist tells us (Psalm 34:18).
A lament will not be the end of our story. My friend and pastor Louie Giglio has said, “If it is not good, then God is not done.” What wise words!
When we are insecure in God’s love for us, we will assume the worst of Him. I had been doing this for years. And it finally broke on that dark night in my hotel room as I stumbled into the language of lament. But when we are secure in how God really sees us, it brings us back to the truth of who He is and to His promises for us.
Whatever you are going through, knowing that God’s thoughts toward you are always good should help you endure. Further study into this passage showed me that Jeremiah, a weeping prophet, was address- ing captives. He was not addressing high school graduates or rising-star professionals or budding talent; he was addressing people who would be in captivity in Babylon for nearly seventy years. Knowing God’s good thoughts toward them was the only thing that got the Israelites through years of captivity. And knowing God’s goodness will not only help us to endure; it also gives us the confidence that no matter what life brings our way, His thoughts toward us are loving!
When we are secure in God’s love for us, when we know how He really feels about us, we are free to ask and tell Him anything. We can “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). And that is His hope for us exactly — to come to Him even, and especially, when life falls apart.
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Excerpted with permission from No More Faking Fine by Esther Fleece, copyright Esther Fleece.
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Are you faking fine in life, with your friends, in your marriage, with your own self, and even with God? What would happen if you reread the scriptures Esther shared and received the fullness of God’s thoughts about you, that they are always good? What would happen if you approached God with what is really going on with you and stopped faking fine? Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We would love to hear from you!
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