“For 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. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” Jeremiah 29.11-14 (NRSV)
On a spring day in 1993 during my seminary years, all of my planning and all of my efforts for the future fizzled into nothingness, leaving me in a dark abyss with no way out and no place to go if got out. The next morning the phone rang in my office, and the voice of my friend spoke to me, “I have a passage I want to read to you,” and he began to read the above words from Jeremiah. “For 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.” As he read to me, the indomitable seed of hope began to break through the darkness of my heart and soul. ‘God is going to give me a future with hope.’ It would take many years, however, before I noticed four crucial little words in the passage: the plans I have.
So often we make our plans and build our lives without any serious consideration of the plans of God. We take our lives and pursue the American dream, education, spouse, home, children and the like. This is a good life! Sometimes… Many of us also know what it feels like when the dream is shattered – the career lost, the marriage ended, or the children rebelling. We look at God and wonder what happened. After all, we are busy being Christian; we are doing everything right; why have things gone wrong? That was exactly my response on the day in 1993: ‘Excuse me, I’m entering ministry for You; why aren’t You doing Your part?’
“The plans I have” refers not to our plans but to God’s plans. You would think this would be self-evidently obvious, but it did not jump off the page at me when I read the passage myself. All I could see was this future with hope, but the future with hope comes with the caveat of God’s plans. God has plans for each of our lives, but most of us never really consider that. We go about making our plans and choosing our pathway, and when we lose our fortunes and end up in exile, we wonder why God isn’t doing His job.
Mother Maria Skobtsova is heroine of mine. An Orthodox nun in exile from Russia, Mother Maria was martyred at Ravensbruck for her ministry to Jews, immigrants, the outcast and the poor. She lived her life from this belief: “Each person is the very icon of God incarnate in the world.” An icon is an image of God, yes, but more; it is a doorway, a portal through which God is seen. She met each person with the intent of meeting God in him.
The plan God has for us is that we become a living icon to Him, a portal through which He is visibly seen in the world. We are the incarnate image of God today, the flesh through which Christ is revealed. These are the plans God has for us. To be sure, we are to love others as icons of God, but to do so, we must first understand that is who we are.
In His infinite wisdom and goodness, God created each one of us so that, in truly becoming ourselves, He would be seen. When we make plans for ourselves, the plans do not include how we intend to become the person God created, the icon revealing Him to the world, because we cannot even imagine the beauty and nobility of that person. Only the living Spirit of God can show us these things.
Sometimes, we must lose our fortunes and go into exile before we will seek God with all of our hearts and allow Him to unfold our lives for us. Actually, most of the time we must reach a place of misery before we allow Christ to rebuild our lives according to His plans. We have to learn our own plans weren’t all that great to begin with. When we submit to God’s plans, we are returned from exile and our fortunes are restored. We become ourselves as we never knew possible before, and we become a living icon, a person through whom Christ Himself is seen.
Ask God what His plans are for you. Better yet, ask Him whom you are and for what you have been created. There is the future with hope for your welfare and not for harm.
In Christ –
Ó Servants’ Feast Ministry, 2007