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.
This scripture has been an encouragement to me in difficult times. However, I have also heard it associated with a “prosperity gospel”, that being the Christian doctrine that financial blessing and physical health is always the will of God; and if you have faith, God will deliver his promises of security and prosperity on your life. On the surface this sounds good. After all, why wouldn’t a loving Father in Heaven want to always heal us and prosper us? I want the best for my children, how much more would the all-good and powerful Father want this for his children?
The challenge with this doctrine, and the challenge with that sort of interpretation of Jeremiah 29:11, is that it provides a cheapened interpretation of “prosper”. Is prospering always getting what you want? Is it not possible that God wants to do far more through your challenges than simply rid them? If not, how do you explain James 1? “2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Look at what faith produces in this passage; contrary to prosperity gospel, faith produces “perseverance” not “healing”. Furthermore, James says to become mature you can’t jump out of the fire, but instead “let perseverance finish its work”. Also understand the context of Jeremiah 29:11; it is written to God’s people who had just been driven from their homes in Jerusalem, and their promise from God was that they would be exiled for 70years (that is a lifetime for the vast majority of them). How is that prospering?
I don’t for a second want to suggest that we serve a powerless God who cannot heal, who cannot bring miraculous financial provision. God can do all of that and more. The important question is, can it be God’s will to allow us to be sick, to allow us to NOT prosper financially? Paul would certainly argue it can. In his letter to the Philippians he says: “12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12-13)”. So, when Paul was wanting financially and hungering, was it due to his lack of faith? Had God forsaken him? Was he living outside of God’s will? Absolutely not! God was doing an incredible work in Paul; Paul’s faith in God, no matter the outward situation, was a beacon to others. Despite not pulling Paul out of the fire, God provided Paul with the strength during these difficult times.
Unless you fully understand the above, as a Christian you may have real difficulties discerning God’s will. You may make decisions that are good, but the outcome may appear poor. For example, you could become a professional athlete, and then experience a career-ending injury losing all income and falling into poverty. Did you make a mistake in your choice? Was your faith too little to restore your fortunes? While it is possible that you did make poor choices, the important point is that you can never say it was NOT God’s will, simply because it led to negative outcomes. You may be right in the middle of God’s will, in your place of illness and poverty.
The Bible is filled with stories of God’s saints who faced peril, sickness, poverty, hunger, persecution, not because they were missing God’s will, but because they were directly in it. When God brings you to such a place, cling to the true promises of Jeremiah 29. Agree that He has “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”. That prosperity may be your sanctification. Praise God for it!