Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
Text: Jeremiah 29:11
Old Testament: Jeremiah 29:11-14
New Testament: Hebrews 10:1-6
What are you planning for the rest of today?
How does today’s plan fit into what you’re doing tomorrow? Next week? The rest of the month? Next month? Next year?
How does your plan fit into what you will be doing five years from now? Ten years from now? Twenty, thirty years from now?
Most of our plans are for what we need to do immediately. The long term doesn’t get our attention. Last week the IRS sent me a letter that got my attention. I dropped everything else to take care of its concern.
What does it take for God to get our attention? When do our plans fit into what we need to do for eternity?
Maybe you plan your day with eternity in mind. But that’s not what most people do. Most plans are made for the moment.
Plans are made around immediate needs and wants. Rarely do we create schedules for ourselves while thinking about their long term effects. Rarely does our schedule show consideration for a heavenly point of view.
Okay, I know each of us planned to be here this morning, in this sanctuary. Our plan for this morning shows consideration of an eternal point of view. Every Sabbath day we plan to be here reflects a heavenly consideration for eternity.
But a plan for Sunday morning isn’t the same as stringing together a series of daily decisions that are intentional about living with a heavenly point of view. There are many days when personal plans and God’s plan aren’t in sync. What we decide to do doesn’t fit together with eternal life.
Times when we realize this are filled with heavenly puzzlement. I thought my life was going the right direction. But I’m not getting any traction. I’m stuck in one place, or falling behind, puzzled, confused, frustrated.
If this can happen to us personally, imagine an entire congregation going through something similar. We thought what we were doing was leading to the kingdom of God. We thought our church life was for God’s kingdom. We thought what our church offers was valuable to our families and community.
But it seems like everything has changed around us. Our spiritual plans, our goals for who we are as a faith community is continuously challenged. We’re afraid the culture isn’t interested in what we are as Jesus Christ’s followers.
Congregation after congregation faces the challenge of reaching people in this culture. Congregations invest vast gifts and efforts to reach young people. They offer small groups, youth ministers, and Sunday school teachers. They adapt old facilities to attract people. Ministers take an interest in people and are available to support and counsel them. We’re flexible and allow new expressions of Christian faith and practice in worship that are unfamiliar to older generations.
A church’s best plans and efforts are offered to people. Yet it’s hard to see positive results. What should we to do that we’ve haven’t already tried?
Is it that God wants more from us than this? What is it that He wants?
God wants more from us than doing what we reason is the right thing. God wants more from us than planning what we think are the right efforts, and contributing to what we believe are the right causes.
God wants more from us than thinking and believing that everything we do comes from satisfying what we think ought to be done as a church. God wants more from us than applying our best thinking to solving our problems.
God wants us to shift our focus from relying on ourselves for the future.
God wants us to shift our focus away from our plans for the future.
God wants us to have faith in His plan for our future.
Jeremiah 29:11 is a favorite Bible passage that’s often read at Christian retreats and small groups. “Surely I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “Plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”
We’ve heard this special passage with relief for our personal lives. Jeremiah 29:11 has been studied by high school students wondering what major to pursue and what college to attend. College graduates have thought about this passage with regard to their vocational choice for a career.
“Surely I know the plans I have for you. Plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”
These are reassuring words any us can apply to our own lives. They comfort us despite what we face. God has a plan for your welfare to give you a future with hope. God’s plan is providing you with renewed hope for your future.
This prophecy calls the reader to look to God’s plan for your life. Don’t spend so much time developing a plan for your future that doesn’t consider God. Consider God’s plan for your future. Seek God’s plan for your future. Pursue God’s plan for your future. Follow God’s plan for your future.
When you find God’s plan for you, embrace it with all of your heart, all of your mind, all of your Spirit, all of your life. God’s plan is the way to eternal life!
But Jeremiah message of hope is far more than a personal word of reassurance. Jeremiah’s prophecy has far more application than just what any one of us should consider for our own life.
Jeremiah 29 is written to the entire people of God, as the people of God. Jeremiah 29 speaks to the entire community of faith – to God’s people.
God wants us to have faith in Him. God wants us to trust Him. God wants us to place our future in His hands. God wants us to have faith in His plan. God wants us to invest ourselves in His plan. God wants us to live out His plan.
God is working His purpose out. He is active in this world. He is moving and shaking the powers and principalities of this world to His end and purpose. Right now, today, he is working to give His community of faith renewed hope.
This is God’s time. This is God’s creation. Have faith that He’s working for the salvation of His creation. Have faith in Him! Have faith in His plan!
Every congregation that pursues God’s plan begins with developing their faith and trust in God and His plan for salvation. Such congregations don’t start from positions of strength and self-reliance. Congregations that pursue God’s plan are marked by humility and contrition. It’s God’s plan, not theirs. They know their role is to discover His plan by faith in Him.
Congregations that have faith in God’s plan give up resisting God’s plan. They invest their daily time and devotion to seeking God’s wisdom for them. They invest themselves in prayer and study of God’s Word. They seek God’s thoughts about what to do to be blessed by His plan.
You may think having faith in God’s plan is easier when there’s evidence of His plan bearing fruit. It’s a lot easier to trust in God’s plan when you see signs He’s working His purpose out for His peoples’ welfare.
Actually, God’s people are more receptive to His plan when every molecule of pride and self-reliance is stripped from them. God’s people are more willing to surrender to God’s plan when they give up their independence from Him.
I once attended a pastor’s conference at Heinz Field. Paul Sheppard was the keynote speaker. He was the pastor of the Abundant Life Christian Fellowship in California. He said that when he arrived at the church, it was just a little more than 60 members. It was founded in the early ‘60s as the Palo Alto, Church of God. Its promise had faded. He wondered why God brought him there. But he began to lay questions before God in prayer. He heard one thing from God.
Rev. Sheppard called his people to pray. His weekly message implored his congregation to seek God’s direction for their life together. He called them to give up each of their personal interests in the Church and seek God’s plan for the congregation. He called them to humility in prayer and study of His Word.
For a year they were enthused by his charisma and charm. But nothing changed for the church. People passed away or left. Rev. Sheppard continued to call them to prayer and study. “Seek God’s plan for our future!” he proclaimed.
Another year passed. Nothing happened. And another. And another. The congregation was growing smaller. But it was gaining focus on God’s plan.
As each member of the congregation began to invest herself or himself in prayer, they were growing closer together. No longer were their differences of opinion about what Christ was calling them to do. They began to unite around His mission to make disciples.
After five years, they had not seen fruit from their submission to God’s mission. They could have given up praying to God. But they didn’t. They kept their faith in God and examined every aspect of their life together by Jesus’ Great Commission. They began to focus every aspect of their life together by the plan for salvation God laid out in Jesus’ Great Commission.
Jesus said in Matthew 28 just before He ascended to heaven, “Go forth into the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching all that I have commanded you. And Lo, I am with you always unto the end of the age.”
This vision of God’s plan was drawing this tiny congregation together in a renewed sense of mission. They had were becoming concerned for the salvation of their community. It was now the sixth year into Rev. Sheppard’s pastorate. Something began to happen that hadn’t happened in a long time. A few people started coming to worship.
It was but a trickle. But it was something new. God was blessing them as they heightened their concern for the salvation of their community.
Church members were reaching out to their surrounding community as Jesus had called them to do. Church members were talking to neighbors about the transforming power of Jesus Christ. Church members welcomed visitors and began following up on those whom they had just met Sunday morning.
The congregation was blossoming with talk about what Christ meant to them. They shared His love with each other. They welcomed singles and families. They invited new strangers to join them in worship and small group Bible studies.
An intergenerational, multi-racial, loving congregation emerged that was filled with hope. Hope of new life emerged. The powerful imprint of Christ’s plan was being felt in peoples’ hearts.
The tattooed in blue jeans sat next to ladies with hats and fine clothes. Shaven and unshaven, young and old. Singles sat beside families. All were bonded by the love of Jesus Christ. The spiritual beauty of God’s kingdom was evident in the new life young and old were experiencing together in that church.
God’s plan becomes evident when men and women submit to Him.
Each congregation is being called by God to have faith in His plan. Even if the surrounding culture has no interest in it. Jeremiah wrote to a community of faith that had been destroyed by war, famine, and suffering. They were being carried into captivity. Their nation was destroyed. There was absolutely no evidence that God’s plan for their salvation was evident.
The people of Jerusalem had seen God’s Temple destroyed. Every sign that God’s blessing was with them had been stripped from them when Jeremiah proclaimed this word of hope in chapter 29, verse 11.
By all rights they had no reason to believe in God, let alone have faith that He had a plan for their welfare and hope.
If we romanticize God’s Word and say there are no challenges to seeing signs of His blessing, Jeremiah says forget it. It’s only when the faithful can’t see the signs of God’s power and might that they become receptive to having faith in His plan. “When you search for me, you will find me – if you seek me with all your heart.”
God’s plan is there for our welfare and a future friends. But we need to do something other than making our own plans for the future. We must seek God with all our hearts. We must turn to God in prayer and study. We must surrender all of our pride and come before God’s presence with humble hearts. Only when we are humble before the Lord will we be ready to have faith in His plan.
Friends, it’s when we’re challenged to find hope for the future, that God’s plan for our welfare and hope emerges. Challenges to His plan are part of God’s plan to help us surrender our pride before Him. When we surrender ourselves to God completely, we will show Him that we have faith in His plan. Amen.