Our family’s future has been uncertain for well over a year now. We live as legal aliens in a Middle Eastern city. As such, our visas, apartment, schooling etc. all depend on my husband’s employment. We’ve been riding a roller coaster of yes-you-can-stay and oh-wait-no-you-can’t. And it looks like this July we’ll be moving on, but to what or where, we have no idea.
And that unknown future stirs up fear. Chilling fear that creeps in every crevice. Most of the time I can Philippians 4:6-7, Proverbs 3:5-6 & Joshua 1:9 my way through it. But fear, she comes back–again and again. Sometimes a howling blizzard, sometimes a slippery ice storm, sometimes a drizzling, freezing rain, but always cold, freezing.
And I find the uncertainty so paralyzing.
Normally we would be quick to help out a brother in need. But fear of the possibility of having no income in a few months holds us back.
Normally I crave companionship and foster my friendships. But now I don’t want to depend on people who may be ripped out of my life soon. I shy away and don’t initiate fellowship.
Why put effort into a ministry I may soon hand off? Why encourage a new discipling relationship?
And yes, God, I see that character flaw, that sin. But how could you possibly expect me to deal with that now when I’ve got so much else to deal with? Surely, that can wait?
So I’m frozen. Like that steak in the freezer: hard, immobile, inedible, useless.
So when my memory verses for this week are Jeremiah 29:11-13, I smirk. I smile because I know that our faithful God has good plans for my family’s welfare and a future full of hope. But it’s a smirk, not quite a true smile, because I also understand how God’s good and the good I would choose are different.
You see, if it were all up to me, I would choose a future in which my husband immediately lands another good paying job, and we find a great house (which we can afford) with a a backyard. We would get a dog, and my kids would all make great friends in our new neighborhood and love their new schools.
God’s good isn’t so concerned with pets and friends and financial security, though. No, Christians, we cannot leave out verses 12-14. God’s future plan for my family is that we would call out to Him and come and pray to Him with complete trust that He hears us. God plots and arranges our future so that we will seek Him, not half-heartedly or even three-quarters-heartedly, but with our whole hearts. And as the ultimate goal in this glorious future of God’s design, God declares that He will allow us to find Him. God Himself is the good future, the prize at the end of the rainbow.
I know all this. And I’m on board all the way, loving where this all leads. But I’m not there yet, am I? I’m not at the end of the rainbow where my desires have been tamed to want God and God only. No, I’m here in the midst of uncertainty and a foggy future. My heart wants so many things, and they all seem to be in jeopardy. And I feel shackled by what-ifs and maybes. Frozen by the chill of a unknown future.
But then I clicked on that dangerous “Read the entire chapter” button in my memory verse app. And I read all of Jeremiah 29.
You see, Jeremiah 29 is a letter from the prophet Jeremiah to the exiled Jews who had been forcibly yanked from their homes in Jerusalem to serve their conquerors in Babylon. Exiles who were being told by Jeremiah that their captivity would be 70 years long, but told by false prophets like Hannaniah and Shemaiah that their captivity would be short. Exiles who were told to count themselves lucky because their homeland would be undergoing the “sword, famine, and pestilence” while they were away. Exiles in fear of the future.
And these are God’s words to them in Jeremiah 29: 4-7 (ESV)
“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
Wow, look at all those verbs. God did expect His children to trust Him and wait for His timing. But God did not expect His children to wait idly. He expected them to build and plant, to multiply and pray. To invest in the spot where God had placed them.
As these words pierce my soul, they bring such comfort and joy. My God does not expect me to wait idly, paralyzed and immobile: frozen.
I don’t know if I can adequately express why this passage comforts my soul. These truths thaw the freeze in my heart and life.
1. God’s sovereignty is clear. Although Nebuchadnezzar surely felt he had a hand in it, God claims responsibility for “sending” the exiles to Babylon. While bosses, policies and government all play a role in determining our lives, God Himself is the true architect of our days. He will work all things together for the good of those who love Him.
2. The exiles’ time in Babylon was NOT a detour from God’s plan, it was part of God’s plan. Just as the cross and the tomb were part of God’s glorious plan to bring salvation to mankind. God delights in working beauty from the ugly and good from the bad.
3. God did not consider the exiles’ time of uncertainty to be wasteful or useless, but the very time to build and grow.
4. God directly tied the welfare of the exiles to the welfare of the city where He has placed them. In other words, He wanted them to leave the future completely in His hands, but work on that which He had placed before them. The work would benefit themselves and their current city.
In my situation, I must have the faith to believe that not only will God work out a good future for my family, but that today, the day He has placed in front of me, is part of God’s plan and a fruitful time to build and grow. And if I believe that, I can invest fearlessly. I may not know where I will be six months from now, but I know where I am today.
As Jesus put it in Matthew 6: 34, “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of it’s own.” (NASB)
I know that fear will sneak back– again and again to try to lock me in her icy, freezing grip. But when she does, I plan to say to her, “Go away, ’cause I don’t have time for you. I’m busy investing in the people and city God has me in today. God’s future for me is good.”
I say with the Psalmist in 94:19 “When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul.”