“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.” Jer 29:11
This is one of my favorite verses. It’s part of a letter God had Jeremiah send to the Jews who were exiled from their homes in Southern Israel (commonly referred to as Judah, of which Jerusalem was the capital) due to their disobedience to Him.
At the beginning of the letter, God basically told them, “Hunker down – you’re gonna be there a while, so you need to get used to it. Carry on life there as you would back home, but don’t worry; in 70 years, I’ll bring you back to the land I gave you just as I promised I would.” (I’m not sure God has ever been quoted as using the word “hunker,” but that’s what He meant.)
At the time of their greatest need and distress, God sent this bit of comfort to His chosen – albeit self-willed – people. He had been blessing and taking care of them for hundreds of years and didn’t want them to despair and give up hope at this point; He wanted them to know that He still loved them and had great plans for them. I think He also wanted to remind them that they still needed Him, especially during this period of exile when they were living in an ungodly land.
As a Christian in 21st century America, I’m kind of in exile, too – a future citizen of heaven living in an ungodly land that isn’t really my true home. And just as He did to the Jews in the 6th century B.C., God spoke these words to me one morning recently as well.
Around about the time I was memorizing Jeremiah 29:11 (above), I got a letter from my mortgage company saying that they were no longer going to charge me for Private Mortgage Insurance. As a result, my mortgage payment would be reduced almost $40 a month. Woo-hoo! I did one of those little thanksgiving dances (strictly liturgical dancing, mind you) and went about humming wordless little praise tunes to God for His goodness.
It’s really easy for me to do that when things are going my way. Maybe you’re the same way.
About a week later, I got another letter from the mortgage company. I couldn’t wait to open it and see what the next round of good news was. If, like me that day, you’re thinking that the letter was about to inform me that they had been mistakenly over-charging me for the past 12 years and I was due a huge refund with interest, well – you’d be wrong.
This time, they had done their annual reevaluation of my escrow and, since they had just gotten the bill for my homeowners insurance for next year – which apparently had skyrocketed to infinity and beyond – my mortgage payment would be going up $170 a month to make up for the increased insurance. That aforementioned $40 savings no longer seemed like much of a plus. As my mother would say, my little feathers fell. My dancing turned into a toe-dragging plod and my wordless tune of praise into a mournful dirge.
Although I’ve heard people say it’s OK to get angry with God because He can take it, that’s not something I’ve ever done – and I didn’t then. I was just hurt and confused.
You see, I live in a tiny little house and drive a paid-for older car because it gets good gas mileage; I don’t have a cable bill or pay for a cellphone that’s smarter than me; I sport the latest fashions from the thrift store and live for buy-one-get-one-free sales and eat out less than once a month – all in order to live frugally because I want to be a good steward of what God has given me. I’ve always been faithful and obedient in that area, never hesitating to give whenever and whatever God asked me to – giving enough, even, to raise eyebrows at the IRS – and then this little bombshell.
So, yeah – I was hurt.
I stiff-upper-lipped it for a while, thanking God in advance for providing a way for me to pay that increased mortgage payment, praising Him for always having my best interest in mind, even if it didn’t seem like it at the time. But I’m not that good an actor and He wasn’t fooled. I finally dropped the front and let the anxiety and worry and despair have at it. (Was Satan ever reveling in that victory.)
My morning Prayer Time was especially tough. All I wanted to do was ask God how I was ever going to tighten my belt enough to manage that ridiculous change in my mortgage payment. I could look for cheaper insurance and sell my TV (that’s actually when I got rid of my cable service) but that would only help a little.
Finally, I did ask Him one morning: Why? How was this extra financial burden going to make it possible for me to give to help others when I was barely breaking even enough to help myself? He knows I have to work hard at total and unquestioning faith. What was He trying to show me?
And in the darkness of that pre-dawn morning He whispered the same words to me He had dictated to Jeremiah 2,500 years ago; a whisper so plain it was almost audible:
“For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
All the pent up emotion and money anxiety I had experienced for days surfaced and I sat there broken, relieved, ashamed, and filled with this odd sense of peace and joy, all at the same time, wondering why He continued to be patient and faithful to someone as undeserving as I am.
But He was; and is – always.
Matthew 6:31 and 33 say:
“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’… But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Although I know many times I fall short of that, my desire is to always seek God first. And regardless of that shortcoming, He continues to bless me with food on the table and gas in my car and the best tiny little house on earth to serve as shelter and refuge from the storms – both actual and figurative.
And as always, His blessings didn’t stop there…
A week or so before the first higher mortgage payment was due, I was talking to my mother on the phone and mentioned the whole situation to her. A few days later, I got a check in the mail from her and my dad. (Not that I was surprised – God has blessed my parents and enabled them to continue to be faithful in their giving and support of all kinds of ministries; which I guess means that I’m now one of their ministry projects.)
I called them back and told them I couldn’t take that money; that this was a test of my faith and that God would provide. My mother told me He did provide – He just used her and my dad to do it. (And not to argue with her, ‘cause they weren’t taking it back.)
I always mind my mother…
She and I also had a good, long conversation on faith (maybe God figured if I wouldn’t listen to Him I would listen to her). So I used that money to pay down a portion of my escrow account and reduce my mortgage payment to a more manageable amount.
“Praise God from whom all blessings flow…”
Anyway, I paid that first new mortgage payment a few days ago. I also took a step of faith and moved forward with giving toward a worthy missions project God had laid on my heart. And to prove His faithfulness and provide an humbling illustration of Matthew 6:33 in the process, I got a note a couple of days later from two precious, precious friends in the ministry – friends who are faithful, steadfast laborers for the Lord – that I try to support financially when God leads me to. In with that sweet and gently encouraging note was a check (I hadn’t said anything to them about my finances). They called it a “love gift” – I would like to think it was a love letter from the Lord.
“Praise Him all creatures here below…”
So far, I haven’t had to sell a kidney or resort to trying to ride my bicycle 42 miles to work and there is still food on my table and gas in my fuel-efficient car.
“Praise Him above ye heavenly host…”
So what was the point of giving me $40 back, then taking four times that much away, and then getting my parents involved in the rescue effort? Although, as Paul says in Romans 11:34, “Who has known the mind of the Lord?” I could venture a guess. You may remember from my post “Pinhead,” I mentioned that I was probably going to end up “learning to totally and unquestioningly trust God the hard way.” Obviously that was a prophetic statement. This whole mortgage payment kerfuffle was the perfect way for God to give me an opportunity to grow my faith.
And, just like He did for the Jews of Jeremiah’s time, he needed to remind me that His plans for me have been in place since before time began.
I still don’t have a really clear picture of what those plans are – glimpses of possibilities are starting to glimmer on the horizon (none of which include a winning lottery ticket or a new car and a new garage in which to park it), but nothing definite yet. Right now, I’m just “being still” and waiting patiently, asking God daily for His strength and grace, trying to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.”
However, just knowing that those glimmers are part of the hope and future God is planning just for me is better than all the Powerball winnings and McMansions in the world.
“Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost…”
Heavenly Father, help me not to worry about the plans you have for me. Regardless of what this life holds, I know that one day you will bring me out of exile, out of this land that’s not my home, and into the place you promised.