“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)

ONE OF THE BIBLE’S MOST CHERISHED VERSES is often used to bring comfort and hope. We may find it surprising that this verse is contained in a letter from Jeremiah. He wrote it from the ruins of Jerusalem and to the people who were exiled to Babylon. Imagine having life as you know it completely destroyed, being forcefully removed from your home to a foreign land, then receiving this letter announcing God’s plans. We might not feel comforted or hopeful.

Jeremiah said that this horrible situation was somehow tied to the future God planned for His people. That’s an audacious assertion and a potentially unpleasant surprise.

When we are unpleasantly surprised, we can’t wait for the awful moment to be over. We are adept at avoiding or suppressing bad news and are skillful at highlighting and prolonging good news. What this part of God’s story seems to say is that bad news and good news cannot come without the other. Only after an exile can there be hope. Only after death can there be life. That sounds familiar when it comes to the ways of God, doesn’t it?

The word prosper in Jeremiah 29:11 is a Hebrew word meaning “peace,” shalom. The One who holds our future intends for all the bad and good surprises to ultimately bring us peace.

Use an unpleasant surprise as an opportunity to see God’s peace.

Brian Niece is a former pastor who is now pursuing a PhD, writing, spending time with his wife and three kids, and watching way too much football.

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