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16. Your Place in God's Plans

Thoughts from my journey with JESUS.


Bible reading Jeremiah 29:4-23.


It has taken 10 years for us to reach this ‘No.59 Bimonthly Encouragement’.[1] During the two years before that we had 13 ‘Sudan Study Resources’, starting from July 2007. If you want to you can read all previous articles on my website.[2] They are written to encourage each one of us. So read for your own encouragement!


We have all changed over 12 years. God has not. God has not changed one little bit.


In Jeremiah 29:4-23 God used His prophet Jeremiah to write a letter to His people who may not have been expecting to live where they were living, vs1-2. God has also chosen to preserve the letter for us to learn from as we read it in our Bibles. These people were exiled from their homeland and were unsure whether this was temporary or permanent. Similar circumstances can make many choices very difficult for us. I have been challenged by losing my physical health and therefore my chosen places of living and ministering. You will have faced your own changing circumstances.


Keep five thoughts high in your mind and heart during these times


1. God placed you where you are – it is no accident vs4,7.


Compare carefully 29:1, “Nebuchadnezzar carried the people into exile”, with 29:4, “I (the Lord Almighty) carried into exile”. For His own purposes God used a man who “secular history records as a brutal, powerful, and ambitious king, Nebuchadnezzar, and the Bible, for the most part, agrees” with this awful assessment.[3]


God is so awesomely great He still uses such people today.

Who has God used in Sudan/South Sudan and surrounding countries in recent times? Who is He using right now to affect your life? Look and think to see what God is doing.


God’s people are described here as ‘pilgrims, wanderers, aliens’, pointing towards a people whose true home is with the Lord. Meditate on this comment I recently read:


“Exile is not the end of existence as God’s people, but the beginning of a new phase of relating to God. The people are not to rebel against the authority of Babylon because, in effect, it is the authority of God over them for a prescribed time”.[4]


Always keep your God at the centre of your thoughts. He is in sovereign control of all. He is effectually working even through apparent disasters. We Christians must keep our spiritual eyes looking for the hidden ‘invisible’ activities of our heavenly Father God. Focus everything you see happening through the hidden lens of Almighty Creator God.


2. God has plans for you and your family now vs5-7.


“God rejects both assimilation and tribalism for His people. He forbids both blending in with and withdrawal from” the people you now live and work among.[5] Both these ways are basically selfish. Christians are to be seen to be God’s people, not living just for ourselves as so many around us may do, but living for God first.


New circumstances are to be seen as bridgeheads for God’s people to share the Gospel of our Lord Jesus with the people God has taken us to (or, perhaps, people God has brought to us). My country, England, has people from so many other nations living here that one older missionary controversially pointed out, ‘Brits no longer need to go to the mission field since God has brought the mission field here’. Is something similar true where you are? Are you doing what God wants you to do for and among such people?


“This must come as an enormous shock. Some of the leaders of Babylon had hands stained with the blood of the Jews’ kindred. Yet God had the audacity to tell them to become deeply involved with the city, seeking its peace and prosperity, all the while not compromising on their beliefs or faithfulness to Him at all. Either withdrawal or assimilation is easier. Seeking the common good, yet without any compromise of faith and practice, is much more difficult. Yet that is God’s call to His people”.[6]


Christians are resident aliens in this world wherever we are. Our real home is in heaven:


“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings”, James 1:1.

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God’s elect, exiles, scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with His blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance”, 1 Peter 1:1-2.

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ”, Philippians 3:20”.


Yet we have an active part to play for God, wherever we are on earth, as we work, build, settle, plant, harvest, marry and start families. It is interesting to note that vs7 of our reading does not tell us to pray for prosperity for ourselves. We are to pray for prosperity for the place and people where we live, because God wants to bless with corporate conditions of success, growth, wealth and peace.


3. God purposes your positive influence for everybody around you vs7.


The Hebrew word saleah means “to succeed, prosper”, generally expressing in 65 Old Testament texts “the idea of a successful venture, as contrasted with a failure”.[7] It means so very much more than the mere monetary riches mischievously and wrongly promised by the so-called ‘prosperity gospel’ teachers.


Be God’s witness wherever you find yourself. Be a positive witness for God, not a negative one. If you say you are a Christian then you are a witness for Jesus. The key question is are you a good witness or a bad one?


This is the secret of Christian discipleship. It is easy to keep on thinking you are only a victim of events in your ‘exile’, and so always see ‘the Babylonians’ as your ‘enemies’ and you avoid contact where and whenever possible. But God does not want us to be like this. As our Lord Jesus did, we true Christians are to become living flames, “lights to the wider world” not just ‘lights in our own houses’. Compare these words Jesus spoke:


“When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, ‘I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life”, John 8:12.


“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”, Matthew 5:14-16.


And remember, “… Godliness with contentment is great gain”, The following verses encourage us all to live sincerely pursuing godliness.


“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness”, 1 Timothy 6:6-11.


To be godly is to be deeply religious, devoutly following piety of life. For us Christians it is seeking to be like our lovely Lord Jesus. Christians should chase ‘God-like-ness’ and not be caught up in everyone else’s chase for money and material possessions or position in this world. We are to be attractively different people while living among others who are not like us.

In a New Testament paragraph entitled ‘Living godly lives in a pagan society’ the NIV reads: “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us”, 1 Peter 2:11-12.


Peter encouraged his scattered Christian readers to do this four times during his second letter, see 2 Peter 1:3,6,7. Because when our Lord Jesus returns this world’s goods become meaningless:


“You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming”, 2 Peter 3:11-12.


4. God prepares you to discern His voice from all others Jeremiah 29:8,9,19,21, 23.


False prophets, like temptations, use our own wills to entice us to believe what they say and then to do what is wrong. For example:


“Then the prophet Jeremiah said to Hananiah the prophet, ‘Listen, Hananiah! The Lord has not sent you, yet you have persuaded this nation to trust in lies”, Jeremiah 28:15.


Even today God does not send every person who says they speak in His Name. Our Lord Jesus said:


“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves”, Matthew 7:15.


“… and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people”… “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect”, Matthew 24:11,24.


We carefully need to distinguish between what we need to hear from God (whether we like it or not) and what we want to hear from God (which is really to please ourselves).

Being able to do this is one true mark of Christian maturity – perhaps the greatest one? Our Saviour Jesus sacrificially prayed to God the Father, “Not My will, but Yours be done”, Luke 22:39-46. We will be maturing when we learn to consistently do the same.


At least three times in the book of his name Jeremiah is told by God not to pray for those following a false hope in God, Jeremiah 7:16; 11:14; 14:11. But here in chapter 29 the prophet is to pray positively himself, and to encourage true followers of God to pray positively too, for the ‘enemies’ among whom they now live. God wants to use His people to bring the blessings of true prosperity on the whole community, on to His people and on to others, 29:7,11-13.


Such praying shows that our real confidence is in God. I have sometimes been in local church prayer meetings where I have been unable to say a hearty ‘Amen’ at the end of someone’s prayer because God’s witness to my spirit is the opposite of what has been prayed for! I have learned to listen carefully to God the Holy Spirit. Shallow-rooted Christians do not survive the rigours of tough yet genuine Christian discipleship, but give in to the “deceitfulness of wealth”, as our Lord Jesus warned us:


“The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful”, Matthew 13:20-22, (italics mine).


For the last 12 years I have only been able to speak using an artificial voice. I am unable to speak for long. ‘Voicing’ as it is technically called makes phone calls very difficult. There is one advantage that I have found however. People do not mistake my ‘voice’ for anyone else. The sounds I make are almost unique to me. Similarly our Lord told people who wanted to follow Him as His disciples, “the sheep listen to” the Shepherd’s voice. “He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out”. “The sheep follow Him because they know His voice”. “They will never follow a stranger, … because they do not recognise a stranger’s voice”, John 10:2-5. I pray regularly for all my South Sudanese and Sudanese Christian brothers and sisters, that we will always pick our Saviour’s voice from the clamouring hubbub of voices all around us. Don’t only do it once. Keep on forever doing it.


5. God promises He is also in charge of your longer term future Jeremiah 29:10-14.


The future for us as God’s people always rests on the good and gracious promise of our Almighty God, vs10-11. His plans and purposes for us cannot be thwarted in the end. He is always ‘our eternal God with time on His side’! Our responsibility is to “seek (God) with all our heart” vs13.


Our God is the eternal God. In Moses’ final prayer and blessing on God’s people before he died he said, “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms … Blessed are you, Israel! … (God) is your shield and helper and your glorious sword”, Deuteronomy 33:1; 34:27-29. Eternal God always has enough time to do everything He wants to do.


The next two chapters in Jeremiah, 30-31, express what God’s future is for His people who follow Him wholeheartedly. Read those chapters through and note every time God says, “I will”. I found at least 32 occasions in my English NIV Bible.


We Christians can be 100% certain that God will keep to His word. He is not like politicians or national leaders who may change according to expediency for themselves. God will always do what is morally right and never be tempted to change anything for what is personally convenient.


In the new covenant promised in Jeremiah 31:31-35 God promises:


“I will be their God and they will be My people. I will put My law in their minds and write it on their hearts … they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest”.


We Christians live in this new covenant age. Make sure of your place in God’s plan’s as you reflect prayerfully on these Bible passages.


Originally written as BiMonthly Encouragement, 10th April 2019.



Discussion guide


1. What do you believe is the most important lesson to be taken from Jeremiah 29:4? “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon”. See question 2.


2. Compare vs4 with Jeremiah 29:1, especially asking the question, who carried the people into exile? Now apply this to your own life. Did the fighting, or the famine, or your family needs, or the fear (or anything else), bring you to where you are? Give reasons for your answer.

3. Please read 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’”. How do you react to God’s promise here? What does it encourage you to do? Think which harmful attitudes must you dismiss from your mind and heart? What others must you try and develop?


4. Does Jeremiah 29:7 challenge you in any ways? Share those you can. “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper”.


5.

a. “If something happens by accident, it happens completely by chance”.[8]

b. “If something happens by intention, there is a determination to do a specified thing or act in a specified manner”.[9]

Are there major or minor happenings in your life that you have thought are ‘accidental’ but, on reflection, they could possibly be ‘God’s intentional’ for you? How can you know?


6. Discernment over what is of God and what is not, is a mark of Christian maturity, see Ephesians 4:13-15.

“… until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the Head, that is, Christ”.

Our chapter ended with another of God’s promises, Jeremiah 31:31-35:

“I will be their God and they will be My people. I will put My law in their minds and write it on their hearts … they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest”.

In a practical way, share how does this help us discern God’s will and way for us?


[1] Originally sent to 109 Christians in Sudan and South Sudan on 10th April 2019. [2] www.colinsalter.net . [3] https://www.gotquestions.org/Nebuchadnezzar.html [4] J. Andrew Dearman NIV Application Commentary Jeremiah (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, Michigan) 2002, page 262. [5] Timothy Keller The Prodigal Prophet (Hodder & Stoughton: London) 2018, page 191. [6] Timothy Keller The Prodigal Prophet (Hodder & Stoughton: London) 2018, page 192. [7] W.E.Vine Expository Dictionary of OT and NT words (Thomas Nelson: Nashville, Tennessee) 1996, page 191. [8] www.collinsdisctionary.com [9] Ibid.





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