The beginning of a new year brings all kinds of emotions with it. Maybe it’s just the excitement of a new start, or the anticipation of some new venture in the year to come—a wedding, an expected birth, a special holiday. Or perhaps it’s the optimism that comes from making a set of new year resolutions. But a new year can bring with it very different feelings: anxiety, uncertainty, even fear. What lies in store for me this year? Heartache and suffering? What if some tragedy strikes? Will I be able to cope?
Christians are subject to the ups and downs of life in a fallen world as much as anyone else, but we have comfort and hope in the midst of uncertainty that no unbeliever has. We know that our Father in heaven is in control of everything that happens and is working out his purposes for us.
One of the most helpful verses to hold on to whenever we are fearful about the future is Jer 29.11: ‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.’ These are words you may know very well, but do you know the verses around them so well? Did you know they were written to the Jews at perhaps the darkest episode in their history as a nation? Jerusalem was in ruins and the people who hadn’t been slaughtered by Nebuchadnezzar’s army had been deported hundreds of miles from home to Babylon. To these frightened, bewildered and despairing exiles in Babylon Jeremiah reveals that what seems like a catastrophic mess is part of the great unfolding plan of their covenant Lord.
Jeremiah tells his readers that God’s plans for them include their sufferings. In verses 4 and 7 God says ‘_I _carried you into exile.’ This disaster hadn’t caught God unawares—it was part of his good purpose for his people. So too for us, all our trials and stresses are part of God’s plan for us. Otherwise they are meaningless at best or at worst they are triumphs of Satan over God.
Jeremiah also tells his readers that God’s plans for them are for their spiritual good. They are ‘plans for welfare and not for evil.’ That must have sounded astonishing to the exiles in Babylon! ‘How can this appalling calamity possibly be for our welfare?’ Of course God is referring to their spiritual welfare, as verses 12-14 make clear. Terrible as the exile was, this was what God had to do to bring the people to genuine repentance for their idolatry. You too can be sure that whatever God's plan for you looks like in 2018, it is for your welfare—to make you holy whatever the cost. He may bring that about through a protracted illness, or through being made redundant, or even through the death of a loved one. But his word tells us it’s part of his plan for our welfare.
And Jeremiah also tells his readers that God’s plans for them are inevitably fulfilled. Because God is God, his plans never fall through. The Jews proved this in Babylon. The exile lasted 70 years, just as God had planned. And the people came back spiritually transformed, just as God had planned. And the Lord’s plans for your life and mine can’t be thwarted. His plan is to change you more and more into the image of his Son in this world and then to bring you to heaven. No power in the universe can stop that from happening. God's plans may take time to work out, but they always work out. Whatever he does in your life in 2018 is part of his plan to prosper us and give us a future and a hope.