I am a product of the Jeremiah 29:11 generation. We grew up during the time that the modern church discovered this verse and hit on it hard. We didn’t know anything else about Jeremiah, but we gathered that according to him, we each individually had a prosperous plan for our lives full of hope and future.
While not a bad verse by any means, taken out of context, some of us (me) got pretty messed up by it. I heard it in church one Sunday and it unusually stuck out to me. Soon I was seeing it and hearing it mentioned everywhere I turned. Over the course of a few months, I had counted hearing it somewhere around 40 times.
Unaware that many churches sometimes used the same curriculum, I took this verse as a movement of the Holy Spirit in my life. How else would an obscure Old Testament passage gain so much acknowledgement all of the sudden? (And perhaps, it was a movement of God as I’ve noticed He makes some passages stick with us from time to time, but if this was so, I still took it too far and out of context.)
Being a middle school kid in hopes of rocking out with my garage band for the rest of my life, I began to fuel my dreams with this passage. I believed God was rubbing my face in Jeremiah 29:11 to get me to understand that I was made for greatness and fame—that I was to go the distance with a songwriting career.
Right now, I’m sitting at a desk in my hotel room just outside of Nashville, where countless others have sought after the same dream. My guess is the musical trio at the restaurant we ate in yesterday didn’t necessarily aspire to play background music and that the bluegrass band at the wedding I attended last night probably didn’t want to be a bunch of wedding musicians. But here’s a city full of hundreds of musicians chasing after the same thing—all of them incredibly talented.
Now take some of that talent, infuse a bit of Scripture and see what kind of confusion you can make.
I heard a message recently that could be summed up pretty well as Shia LaBeouf’s, “JUST DO IT” video. The preacher taught about figuring out what is inside of you and chasing after that. And while I agree that God constructs us in such a way that our passions will probably play big parts in our lives, I couldn’t help but feel Jeremiah 29:11 try to creep back in.
“God made you for something big. What’s inside of you that you have to do? What would leave you bored if you didn’t do it? What’s his plan, hope, and future on your extravagant life? JUST DO IT.”
You know why these kind of messages don’t carry a whole lot of weight with me anymore? Because the people who preach them are typically famous. They’re preaching out of their culture and experience, in the same way that health and wealth gospelers preach out of their own health and wealth.
But just because it’s your experience doesn’t mean it’s always God. That’s why it’s thought that John Wesley put experience at the bottom of his understanding of God (and extravagant experience was a HUGE part of his everyday life). He seemed to analyze his theology first through Scripture, then tradition, reason, and finally, experience.
These “JUST DO IT” messages would mean something to me if preached by a janitor, fast food worker, or the person running the check out line. But when famous people say to chase after your dreams, you have to remember that they’re speaking out of a context that a very few percentage of people have.
And according to most of the Bible stories I’ve read, if God actually wants you to be famous, (1) there won’t be any getting around it; (2) it will probably be an underdog story; and (3) you may not even want the fame (a good sign of a great leader).
So to all of you who find millennials to be a little extra arrogant and prideful, a little extra exegetical work on passages like Jeremiah 29:11 could have given us a less puffed-up head ;) This, of course, is not the issue, just one that played in my life.
We need to learn to be okay with smallness and humility (you know, like the Son of God?). Sure, chase those things that God put inside of you, but don’t let them run your life. Don’t expect them to make you famous. Submit them to Jesus and ask what to do with them.