Nurturing/ Teaching Courses
God’s Plan Our Response
Text: Jeremiah 29:11-14
Dr Alex Tang
I remember attending a home cell meeting about two years ago. Not our BSAG meeting but a home cell belonging to another church. During the meeting, a young man shared how he has just bought a new car – and taking out a hefty loan to buy it. He then shared on God’s plan for his life. Becoming a CEO before he is 30 years old and drive a BMW. On the way home, I remember thinking, wow, God has such a wonderful plan for this young man. But why a BMW. BMW means Banyak Makan Wang. And if you own one, it also means Banyak Masuk Workshop ! To many of us, God’s plan for us should include health and wealth. What does the Bible says?
Jeremiah 29: 11-14
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. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to 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 will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”
Chapter 29 is a long prose passage consisting of letters between Jerusalem and Babylon. The setting of the correspondence is in the days following the downfall of Jerusalem in 597 BC. 2 K. 24:10-18 is the darkest period in Judah, the southern kingdom’s history. It also marks the end of the Old Testament history. In Genesis 1:1, we see God creating out of chaos and in 2 K. 24, we seen Israel degenerating into chaos.
2 K. 24:10-18
Jeremiah is also left behind in Jerusalem. Zedekiah become king of Judah. The Babylonians must have felt they could control this 21 years old puppet king. During the period when Zedekiah was king, there was a period of unrest all over the Babylonian empire and the Jews there were thinking that their period of exile is coming to an end after 2 years. They were encouraged by the prophets with them in exile who proclaims that the exile is for a short only and that Jeremiah is wrong. Jeremiah has been contending with these prophets. Jeremiah message is that the exile is for seventy years. Later Daniel will take up this prophecy. He also tells the people to settle down, raise crops and families. In other words, to grow where they are to be planted. More significant is that they are to pray for the city which they are under (29:7) . In other words, instead of rebelling against the Babylonians, they are to pray for them.
The people of the southern kingdom, Judah is in a way better off than those in the northern kingdom. Even though they were carried into exile, they are still together in a community in Babylon. In fact, the Jewish community in Babylon was so prosperous that it developed into a major centre of commerce and education. It was there the Old Testament was first composed. The northern kingdom was not so lucky with the Assyrians. The Assyrians were a crueler people. They not only carried the people into exile. They separated them and forcefully assimilate them into the other nations they have conquered. So successful where they that the ten northern tribes were regarded as lost. If you are in London, visit the British Museum. In the section on the Assyrian empire, you will see portions of an Assyrian temple. Wall carvings. The British steals everything. Even the walls. And on the of the wall carving, you can see prisoners being led to exile with fish hocks on their nose! And why do this happen to them?
“My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
And have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water. Jer 2:13-14
So you can imagine their terror and insecurity. It is to these people that Jeremiah directed today’s passage. Jer 29: 11-14.
1. God’s Plans for Our Lives (v. 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.
From this passage we learn that
i. God has a plan for us
ii. Plan is to shalom, not to harm
iii. Plan is to give us hope and a future.
The Hebrew word, shalom is deeper than the word prosper which is the translated in the NIV. It also means completeness (in numbers), soundness and safety (in body), health and prosperity, peace, contentment and peace in friendship (as in human relationship and with God, especially in covenant relationship). In other words, God plan for us is not only health, wealth but also a relationship with Him. Relationship with Him does not harm us. Relationship with Him gives us hope and a future. Without a relationship with Him, we have no hope and no future.
2. Our Response (v.12,13)
Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
There are three action verbs in these two verses
iii. seek with all your heart
These verbs are inter-related. We are to call upon the Lord, pray to Him and seek Him. All are verbs in a relationship. Calling upon the Lord. Praying to Him. Seeking Him. And what is wonderful is that each of these verbs has a corresponding promise. Call and pray is answered by the Lord saying, “I will listen to you”. Seek Him is answered by “I will be found”. The Lord is not playing games with us. He does not say, Alex is calling so let’s go and hide. The Lord is saying, call and pray to me and I will listen. Seek me and you shall find. That is the wonder of our God.
Our God is the only God that seeks us out personally. Recently I was doing a study on Genesis Chapter one and comparing it with the other Far Eastern creation record like the Gigamesh, the Sumerian records. What strikes me is that in the other creation records, man is created to be slaves to produce food for the gods or as toys. One in Genesis do we see a personal God. A God who walked and talked with Adam, His creation. A God who, when He cannot find Adam called “Adam, where are you?”. Does Kuan Yin know you personally? Does Krishna know you personally? Does Allah know you personally? Does the Kitchen god know you personally. And if it does, is it interested to be your friend or to spy on you?
If there are only three activities that is of value in this life. If we are to choose three activities that will be of use to eternity. Then it will be to call, pray and seek God. No other actions are of such importance.
Church, are we calling, praying and seeking God? Or are we talking about calling, praying and seeking God. There is a world of difference between talking and doing.
Rom 1:21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor give thanks to him, but their thinking become futile and their foolish hearts become darkened.
Theologian Hans Küng wrote On Being Christian, a 602 page theology of the Christian life, without a word about prayer. He was asked why, and he answered, in effect “I forgot”. Many times we can be so caught up in doing bible study, in church work that we forget to pray.
Ephesian 6:10-18 talks about the armor of God. The full armor of God includes the belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, sandals gospel of peace, shield of faith, helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. For the armor to be effective, we must empower it by prayer.
Eph 6:17-18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and request. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all saints.
3. Fulfilling of God’s Plan
v.14b declares the Lord, “ and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”
i. Restoration of relationship
God’s plan is to restore us to Him.
2Chr 7:14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and heal their land.
It is God plan to restore us to Him and this can be achieved by humbling ourselves, praying and seeking Him. He is calling us to a personal relationship with Him. I have always associated prayer with friendship.
The story is told that around the year 1490 there were two young struggling artists who were very close friends. Albrecht Durer and Franz Knigstein were very poor and had to work to support themselves, training as artists in their spare time. However, their manual work was too demanding to allow them proper training. In desperation, they at last decided that they should cast lots to decide which of them should carry on working to support the other in art school. Albrecht won the toss, so off he went to spend time with famous artists in training, while Franz worked extra hard to support them both. Eventually. Albrecht returned to relieve his friend. Because he had become successful as an artist, he would now be able to send Franz off to the school. But to his horror, Albercht discovered that the heavy manual work has ruined Franz’s hands forever. He had forfeited his own artistic future out of loyalty to his friend. One day, Albercht found Franz on his knees, his hands clasped in prayer, gnarled and yet offered to God in loving sacrifice. Hurriedly, Durer sketched the moment and produced a symbol for the meaning of prayer. Ever since, the intercessory prayer symbolized by that itching reminds us that prayer and friendship belong together. The person to whom we pray had his hands pierced on our behalf.
ii. A transforming friendship.
2 Cor 3:18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
It is in our close relationship with God that we began to be transformed into His likeness. And it is thru prayer that we develop a close relationship with God. And to be in God’s presence, we must learn to be live in all spheres of prayer.
4. Application: Learning to experience the presence of God through prayer
Jer 29:11-14 We have learnt that God has a plan for us. For this plan to succeed we are to call upon, pray and seek God. The plan is to restore our relationship with God. Once restored, how are we to develop our relationship with God? By continuing to be in His presence – be in the presence of God.
There are 4 ways in which we approach God’s presence:
i. Mind – mentally thinking about God. WWJD (What Will Jesus Do)
ii. Heart – loving God emotionally
iii. Aware of the Unknowable God – Awe
iv. Attentive to the Absent God – remembering Him by reading the Bible
We then expand this by listing the 4 types of prayers that we can pray:
i. Verbal prayer
ii. Meditative Prayer – meditating on the word of God eg Psalms and the truths of the Bible in order to love God more personally and to live as He wants us to.
iii. Contemplative Prayer –God’s presence is so intense that words and thoughts are not necessary.
iv. Ecstatic Prayer – to experience ecstasy in prayer means we are taken out of ourselves. This type of prayer changes our life by the transforming relationship with God. This will results in the Fruit of the Spirit.
thinking about God
Aware of the Attentive to the
Unknowable God absent God
Many people jump from verbal prayer to a charismatic experience of ecstatic prayer, thinking that it is enough. That the dynamic experience of God is all we need. We can experience the gift of tongues or the gift of prophecy and yet remains unchanged as people.
It is more realistic to expect our growth or transformation to be a gradual process, as we move from verbal to a deepening of our lives in meditation. The next stage is to experience contemplative experiences of God’s presence and love. Finally we shall see the fruit of the Spirit in ecstatic prayer. It takes time and gentleness and discipline. Prayer is not easy. But can we afford not to pray?
Soli Deo Gloria
James Houston, The Transforming Power of Prayer : Deepening your friendship with God (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1996)
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