I laugh every time I read Jeremiah 29.11 – “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.” This promise was originally given to God’s Old Testament people as they were being hauled off to exile in Babylon, assuring them that after 70 years God would bring them back to the promised land. However over the years, I have found them to be speaking clearly to me in many ways – especially when coupled with some words from the major prophet right before Jeremiah: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” (Isaiah 55.8)
When I was growing up – basically from when I was in fifth grade through getting my Masters in School Administration – when many people were telling me I should be a pastor, my stock response was always the same. “No, I am going to be a teacher in a Lutheran school, and maybe a principal someday.” Then, as Monica and I planned our wedding for immediately after college, we asked to be placed in a school in a small town in the Midwest. We were even open to teaching in different schools for different congregations. The Lord’s reply was a very simple (to him), “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord, for I know the plans I HAVE for you.”
On placement day Monica was given a teaching position in Sterling Heights while I was left empty handed. Finally, less than two months prior to our wedding, the word came to me. “There are no teacher openings in the metro Detroit area, however a church in the city of Detroit without a school is looking for someone to help the pastor in ministering to children and youth. Please meet with him and see if this will work for the two of you.” Two weeks after our wedding I was installed as Director of Christian Education at Charity Lutheran, Detroit. So much for being a teacher in a small town in the Midwest!
We said we would give it a try for two years, and then look for the opportunity to fulfill our original plan. However, in those two years we so fell in love with Detroit and our ministry in the city that we bought a home in Detroit, and, when I received a couple calls to a different location in the Midwest, our response was to decline the offer and tell them our work in the city was not yet complete. Then, in the fifth year, God brought me back to what people had told me so many years prior … and off we moved to the seminary in St. Louis.
There is much more to this story, but I will have to give you those details on another day. Let me merely say that here we are, 44 years later, just as content about where we live and just as passionate about the ministry in Detroit as ever. And, if the day ever comes when I retire from full-time ministry, the plan is for us to still live here and for me to be in some form of part-time pastoral ministry. Our prayer is only, “Lord, please do not laugh at these plans!”
Yet, all of us, at all times and in all places, must be prepared to laugh with Jesus. In spite of the plans we make, he may well be saying, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord, for I know the plans I HAVE for you, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”Those plans of his, no matter how we may view or receive them, are always “for welfare and not for evil.” In other words, I think it is always better to laugh with Jesus than to laugh at him!
So, be confident my friends, today Jesus is saying to you, “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.” And, if it turns out that in the same sentence he is also saying, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord” instead of laughing at him, I recommend you laugh with Jesus and say, “Lord, take my hand and lead me … in the way YOU have planned.” (By the way, I am not sure we knew what we were doing when one of our wedding hymns was “Jesus, Lead Thou On,” but it sure has worked out well!)