“I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)
This is one of the most loved and frequently quoted verses of the Old Testament. And well it should be! It contains one of the greatest messages of all time – one worth shouting from the rooftops. It’s a message the world desperately needs to hear in our day. And the Church is the only legitimate, exclusive, and authorised ‘dealer’ of this priceless commodity – I’m speaking of HOPE.
A little context serves to magnify the beauty and power of Jeremiah’s words. Israel was facing a Holocaust-like moment, one on which its very survival was hanging in the balance. Whole towns had been emptied of their citizens – bereft, pillaged, and arsoned by marauding Babylonian hordes.
Overnight, countless thousands in Judah lost everything – homes, land, livelihoods, security, and freedom. Exiled on the riverbanks in Babylon, the psalmist poignantly pens these unforgettable verses that unmask their despair:
“There we sat down, yea, we wept
When we remembered Zion.
We hung our harps
Upon the willows in the midst of it.
For there those who carried us away
Captive asked of us a song
And those who plundered
Us requested mirth,
Saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’”
Languished and confused, the captives huddled hand to mouth under the moping willows until one day, a letter arrives from Jeremiah, the man of God. Perhaps expecting more gloom or decrees of judgement, a swell of exhilaration must have swept through the camp as despondency gave way to anticipation.
The letter exhorts us to build houses, plant gardens, to marry and have sons and daughters. God has not forgotten us! Here in this foreign land, yes, even here, the Prophet says God is executing an extraordinary plan to restore and redeem, yes, even to prosper us! He’s been holding us in His heart the whole time!
Since the pandemic, counselling services in Singapore have been inundated with nearly double the number of clients. Divorce and suicide rates have risen sharply. Mental illness has crept out of the shadows in our world, unexpectedly taking the podium at the Tokyo Olympics, but also affecting our colleagues and neighbours. Senior Consultant Psychiatrist at NUH Dr. John Wong says the increase in stressors and alienation resulting from the pandemic has “created a sense of hopelessness”.*
Without a doubt, the world is shaking, reeling to and fro like a drunkard (Isaiah 24:19-20) as Isaiah prophesied. But we hold the key to prosperity and peace. Our feet are planted on the Rock. Unlike those without Christ, our circumstances do not define us. The proliferation of confusion and uncertainty will never take us captive. God’s Letter has come to instruct us to keep a positive outlook. Build! Plant! Multiply! God’s got plans for you – good plans!
We all go through times when we’re tempted to hang our harps upon the willows. But, at the end of the day, we know who we are. We’re Cornerstone! If someone tries to carry us away and mockingly asks us to sing a song of Zion, we’ll turn with a wink and say, “Which one?!”