Does Jeremiah 29:11 Mean That God Won't Let Bad Things Happen to Me?
“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.” - Jeremiah 29:11
Perhaps one of the most popular and well-loved verses in Scripture is Jeremiah 29:11. We love to know good things are ahead of us. We need hope that good things are available for us, especially when life seems full of bad things. It’s reassuring to know there is a good plan, especially if it means something better than we know now. To be prosperous, we may believe, is to have an abundance of what feels good or seems good to us. Perhaps plenty of money and vibrant relationships. Typically, we interpret the idea of prosperity to mean a life free of bad and full of good.
It’s in our God-given design to seek out good. Unfortunately, our desire for good gets wonky and mixed up. What God put in us was meant to find good in him. Since man’s disconnect with God in the Garden of Eden, we seek good for ourselves, believing we can discern all that’s good and evil without God’s help. Our desire for good is meant to draw us toward God, who is good and gives good things to his children (Matthew 7:11). Yet, we continually seek our version of good over God. This is critical to keep in mind when we consider Jeremiah 29:11. If we rely on our definition of good, absent God’s larger view, we set ourselves up for disappointment and miss seeing God’s good play out.
What Did God Mean When He Said, “For I Know the Plans I have for You…?”
Ironically, this popular verse came from a prophet who was very unpopular. Most of Jeremiah’s words spoke of judgment. The people of Israel were deeply ingrained in idol worship, and God called them to repentance. Through Jeremiah, God also speaks to the Israelites exiled from Jerusalem, saying, “I know the plans I have for you.” At this point, they experienced a lot of hardship due to their idolatry and King Nebuchadnezzar’s rule. God allowed these consequences without losing one ounce of love. Was this good? I bet they didn’t think so. It didn’t feel good.
The Hebrew word translated as “plan” also means thoughts, intention, and purpose. When God says, “I know the plans I have for you,” he says he knows what we do not know. God knows the big picture for all humanity, from the beginning of time until the end. He knows how to cultivate good things and new growth, even after decades of destruction and defiance. God knows the thoughts and intention of his heart for us, which is always for restoration. It is his intention to bring us closer to him and closer to his original design, for our sake, and for his kingdom.
Although God’s people were repeatedly unfaithful, God remained faithful. Consequences occurred as a result of broken and wayward living. And God’s love shines through in the restoration he promises to his people. He tells them to build homes, plant food, and settle down (Jeremiah 29:5-6). The thoughts, intentions, and purposes of God are to help us experience his good no matter how much bad gets mixed in. Sometimes it includes our view of prosperity, and sometimes it doesn’t.
What 'For I Know the Plans I Have for You' Doesn't Mean
God wants good for us. All the time. Peace. Joy. Freedom. Love. Kindness. There is so much available for those who love God and receive from Him. Throughout the days of Creation, God called his work good, and he has never stopped declaring his desire for good to be seen through his workmanship, which we are. However, the enemy knows our design to seek good and our desire to choose our version of good. He uses things that seem good to keep us from experiencing good in the plans God has for us. In Jeremiah 23:16-17, we read God’s command to not listen to prophets with vain hopes and promises of an easy life for people who follow after their own hearts.
“This is what the Lord Almighty says:
'Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you;
they fill you with false hopes.
They speak visions from their own minds,
not from the mouth of the Lord.
They keep saying to those who despise me,
‘The Lord says: You will have peace.’
And to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts
they say, ‘No harm will come to you.’"
God’s people were again warned (v. 8-9) not to listen to diviners that deceive because he did not send them. The good they promised was not in line with the plans of God. In the end, chasing after our plan keeps us from experiencing the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), which God wants us to experience. We grow these fruits through trust and active steps with God through the harm and hurts that are part of reality.
We Need God’s Whole Picture View
In chapter 29, we read God saying, “I know the plans I have for you,” and those plans include prosperity. We hear something we want to hear. It’s tempting to cling to this verse alone and believe this is a whole picture of God. As I mentioned earlier, it is critical we remember our view of God does not include the whole of God’s intent or his thoughts toward us and purposes for us. Unlike the false prophets, the good God speaks of in one verse isn’t the fullness of how he operates, which we see through a larger view of Scripture. His goodness isn’t based on false promises that line up with our version of good. They are based on his loving and whole-picture view of bringing about good plans.
The process of growth sometimes feels downright yucky. It may seem like it takes forever. Even so, we are in process, and God sees outcomes we can’t comprehend. We see in part, he sees in whole (1 Corinthians 13:9; Job 28:24).
For I Know the Plans I Have for You Doesn't Always Feel Good
We might read the verses of God’s judgment and see only bad. Likewise, we might read Jeremiah 29:11 and only see what seems or feels good. God’s truth gleaned throughout the totality of Scripture shows us the reality of bad things we will experience on this earth, some as a consequence of our choices, some as a consequence of other people’s choices, and some because of the brokenness still in process in this world. And God’s truth in whole reveals redemption and healing made possible because of him.
Jeremiah 29:11 speaks about the plan God has for people who seek him with their whole heart, who turn away from their false versions of goodness and lean into God’s plan of good. When we seek him first and allow his thoughts to shape our thoughts, we need to admit where we’ve been prideful and how our plans have messed things up. Our need meets his provision. Ever turned away from something you wanted or let go of something that seemed good because it was necessary for something better? At the time, I bet it felt challenging and frustrating. The process of growth is messy and painful. In the end, it produces a changed life with better experiences, even when things aren’t the way we wish they were.
What Does Jeremiah 29:11 Really Mean?
God is always working towards our good (Romans 8:28). He also works within the parameters of reality in a world full of people disconnected from his heart, seeking their way. The reality is, bad happens. It’s because God’s plan includes not only what is best for us but what we truly need to experience God’s best in us that God calls for obedience to his ways. He called the Israelites to love and obey him, and only him, not to seek other gods. Turning our hearts away from God’s plan keeps us from receiving God’s best. He can’t give us something we aren’t willing to accept.
Jeremiah’s story shows us that bad things still happen even when we follow God. Jeremiah received ridicule. He was lonely. More than once, his life was in danger (Jeremiah 11:21; 26:11). He was a prophet and priest in the thick of political tension who challenged the prophets and said the Israelites’ enemy would experience victory. You may have experienced ridicule, loneliness, persecution of some form, people who misunderstood you, and fear of doing the things God calls you to do. God doesn’t guarantee there will be no harm or hurt, but he does remind us that his goodness is available in and through it.
God Provides Good in the Bad
Throughout Scripture, and in glimpses of Jeremiah’s life, God draws near to us, and we draw near to him (James 4:8; Jeremiah 29:12-14). He calls us from wayward ways that keep us on a path of destruction instead of a path of good (Provers 3:5-6). He desires hearts that turn towards him no matter how bad things have been. Before Jeremiah sets out to speak to God’s people, God reminds Jeremiah that he knew him before he was formed. God knew the plan he had for Jeremiah, and it included challenging work in the face of opposition. God reassured Jeremiah of his presence with him and that he didn’t have to be afraid. Deliverance would come.
God sees you in the challenges you face too. Bad happens, but it never changes who God is or his love for you. He remains faithful to provide well for you in every circumstance.
4 Ways to Live Your Life According to 'For I Know the Plans I Have for You'
1. Acknowledge Our Desire to Choose Good for Ourselves
Everything changed between man and God when Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We all want to decide for ourselves what is good rather than listen and respond to the one who gives good. Acknowledge this impacts you too.
2. Acknowledge Good and Bad as Part of Life.
God is not surprised by bad things. He is not overwhelmed by the bad we do or the bad we feel in life. He knows we are incapable of living perfectly good lives and that we need his goodness. Also, God provides the good we need to experience more of him and more of God’s goodness in our lives. Both are part of reality in this world. When we acknowledge and accept these two truths together, we are better able to join God in the plans he has for us without trying to take over with our plans instead.
3. Seek God’s Voice in Your Life
In order to know God’s plans for us, we need to know God. Our knowledge of God can’t be limited to head knowledge, which even the enemy knows (Genesis 3:1; Matthew 4:1-11). God’s Word penetrates and gets into our hearts where our plans are made (Hebrews 4:12). He speaks through scripture, through creation, and to our hearts. Explore God’s voice and get to know his heart more intimately. Consider using Unleash: Heart & Soul Care Sheets to engage with God’s voice.
4. Take Steps and Respond to Your Best Understanding of God’s Plan for You
One of the enemy’s sneaky ways of getting us off track and relying on our understanding of good and evil is to fear that anything we think is a good plan could be wrong. Ask God to give guidance and respond based on your best understanding of who God is, how he operates, and what you believe he’s asking you to do.
We won’t get it all right. Good and bad may happen as we move forward. When our hearts move forward in confidence and humility, we can follow God’s leadership with readiness to change direction when needed.
May we remember how much we need you, Lord. Give us the courage to listen and respond.
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Jolene Underwood is a trauma and abuse-informed therapist and growth coach. Jolene helps individuals cultivate the courage, character, and connection for the LIFE they’re designed for. Her personal journey towards emotional health and training in Christian counseling inform the practical support she provides for spiritual growth and emotional healing. Her tool, Unleash: Heart and Soul Care Sheets, has helped hundreds experience greater freedom. For further support, teaching, and tools in developing the life God designed for you, she offers a growth community called Cultivate Together. Connect with her online via YouTube/Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest at @theJoleneU or stay up to date on new content via Jolene Underwood's Newsletter.
Note: Counseling services are available via telehealth for adult residents of Texas only. No advice given here should be a substitute for mental health services.