A couple of weeks ago someone emailed me and asked if I would write some about singleness in the context of Jeremiah 29:11. This is of course the verse that says, “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.”
Basically, what this person was asking about is if God wants to prosper me and I desire a spouse, then why is He not providing one? They rightly pointed out that you could try your best to follow God and still seem pretty non-prosperous. Why do people point to that, especially as it relates to singles?
This is a really important thought, not just related to singleness but certainly including that.
First of all, a lot of times this stuff gets served up to singles as spiritual platitudes by often well meaning friends and churches. It fits under the “Everything Happens For A Reason” group. Things like, “This is God’s best for you”, “Just wait on God,” and “God has someone for you.” Now any one of those could be true in a particular situation but they shouldn’t be tossed out as truth for every situation.
This particular verse is one of the most misused verses in the Bible.
To begin with we can’t just pull sentences out of the Bible and apply them to the question I’m currently asking. We have to look at what it says in the context that it was written. Mainly it is important to ask who is it written to. In this case God is speaking through Jeremiah to the Israelites who at the time are in exile in Babylon. In the sentence before, God says that after 70 years he will bring them back to Israel. So in a straight up reading of that scripture, in context, God is promising something to the Israelites at that time (which by the way He delivers on).
But I think it’s fair to go beyond that a little. In other words when you look at the whole of scripture I think it’s fair to say that God does have good plans for his people. Now granted His people screw it up about 90% of the time, but God’s plans for us are good not bad – always. I think this scripture (when included in the full context) is a good picture of an example of that.
But even there the example doesn’t stop in verse 11. A huge part of our problem is we pick what prosperous means, and then we demand God give it to us. But what does prosperity really look like? If you read even just the next sentence you get a picture. “Then you will call on 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.”
In other words, God is most interested in us and Him. Seek ME! Find ME! I’m HERE.
I once heard a 20 year old single mom speak on this in front of about 3000 people. She had been abused, abandoned, and neglected. She lived in community living, was trying to work and go to school. She stood up there and read this scripture (all of it, not just verse 11) and then after sharing that God wanted us to seek Him she said, “I AM PROSPEROUS!” She said it with such authority that Jesus might as well have been standing at the mic. She got it!
We are prosperous if we have Jesus. We are not if we don’t.
This idea that I can look at my singleness and just assume that God wants to give me a spouse is not a very good approach. If I were you I sure wouldn’t hang my theology of singleness on a verse about the Israelites.
But here is what I would do. I’d trust what the whole of scripture says about God’s love for you. You see God does care. He is interested in your singleness, dating and everything else. He promising to lead you if you will seek Him. And He for sure wants to lead you to life to the full.
And here’s one last thought. What if your identity was in Christ, not singleness or in whatever you see as prosperity? What if you saw yourself as prosperous to begin with? If you really believed that, lived out of it even, how would that change how you view your singleness? How would it change how you interacted with the opposite sex? Which do you think is more attractive – someone who views themselves as prosperous or someone who doesn’t? It’s a lot easier to love someone out of prosperity than out of neediness.
So let me ask you, Are you prosperous? Do you approach your singleness out of need or prosperity?
as always…. food for thought…. thanks Justin
It’s also worth mentioning that five verses earlier God tells them to build houses, get married, and have kids while they are in exile. And yes, the point is that God delivered on His promise to be there when He said He would. In seventy years.
Haha – yeah – not too many people excited about the 70 year wait.
A couple of things. Firstly, I’m very selective with whom I let speak into my life. If someone seems to be spitting falsehoods, or I just feel terribly guilty when finished reading or listening to a sermon / reading a blog or book, I tend to turn away and not allow that advice to permeate. Where does that discernment come from? Whether or not this person is speaking from scripture, and if they are, are they putting it into the proper context of the story? The Bible is not a how-to guide, nor is it a life manual per se. In a sense it is, but I’ve never been one to lift a verse out of a story and start stamping it all over everything in my life. I guess that’s why I’ve never been one to memorize verses, even though I don’t think there is anything wrong with it. I think it can become dangerous though. For example, a Christian I used to know spewed hatred about Christmas because there is a verse in Jeremiah that mentions people decorating and worshiping trees. Within the context of the story, though, it wasn’t bashing Christmas.
I am glad that you are framing the Jeremiah passage within the story. I think it is essential for a Christian thinker to do so. In my opinion, this is really sound advice. It breaks the mold for a blog post, and I appreciate all the work you do to help guide singles. I am consistently educated and challenged.
This post transcends dating, which is HUGE because a single like me can easily wrap his or her identity up in whether or not they are loved by the opposite sex. Dreading and fighting singleness can lead us down an egocentric path, where my prosperity is based not on seeking God, but on my social standing or how good I feel at any given moment. I like that this rises out of the context of being in a relationship and paints a bigger picture, one where we admit we don’t know what is best for us–which includes being in a relationship–and sort of die to self.
So to answer some of your questions, because you asked, identifying myself in Christ changes everything, which includes not just singleness, but how I feel about the pressure of being a twenty-something in this age of pressure, consumer-culture–something of a plague that can rewire how our brains think about dating and Jesus (“buy Jesus, obtain girlfriend”)–and general one-upism that can become part of how we go about our daily lives. It also goes without saying that, if singleness is framed entirely within the context of God, our lives become more attractive to the opposite sex, and the whole thing becomes about giving love instead of just receiving affection.
Great thoughts Luke. And yes it goes way beyond singleness. I love the Christmas Tree Story. That is an outstanding example of using scripture the wrong way. Good stuff.