As many churches prepare to gather for the first time after months of being sequestered, we are faced with the challenge of what to preach. Let me suggest the message of hope is the nugget of truth that everyone longs to hear.
The most epic verses in all the Bible on the topic of hope are found in the book of Jeremiah — an unlikely source of hope, since he is known as the “weeping prophet of Anathoth.” In chapter 29, however, he turns from lament to forecast a better day that is on the horizon.
In three brief verses, Jeremiah declares that, when our faith is focused on the providential goodness of God, hope comes even in the midst of uncertainty. We see three commands relative to this hope.
I. Be patient, this is God’s plan
God’s people were living in Babylonian captivity. They were weary and worn out. They longed to return home to Judah. Yet God’s command was for them to settle in, build homes, plant gardens, and raise families, for they were going to be there longer than they preferred. The people had rejoiced in the “We are soon going home” message being propagated by the false prophet, Hananiah (chapter 28). But Jeremiah said, “No, that’s not what God says. You will need to be patient.”
So it is with us. While we want things to quickly return to the way we once enjoyed and preferred, it may be that we simply have to wait (Isa. 40:31).
II. Be productive, this is God’s purpose.
Jeremiah declares two options: Either you can bemoan the fact of being stuck in Babylon or you can choose what God is calling you to do — and that is settle in, engage, and be productive. How? (29:5-7)
With this pandemic many have felt unproductive, indifferent, and spiritually disconnected, but here is what God has in mind for us in every context: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16 NIV). Did this happen with these captives? Indeed, it did. When the Magi came from the East (Babylon) to worship the Christ child, they came because these captives had heard and followed Jeremiah’s message. They had sought peace, influenced their neighbors, and left a witness. They had spoken up about the promised Jewish Messiah, the behavior of these captives had validated the message they had proclaimed, and their witness led them to Jesus.
God still has a purpose: He still calls us to engage, to serve, to love and to fulfill our calling (Eph. 2:10).
III. Be prayerful, this is your privilege
Jeremiah calls for beseeching God in prayer and calling upon Him in faith and He promises He will answer (Jer. 33:3).
He says they were to:
a) Pray with persistence
Their prayers are to be continual, habitual, and unremitting (Matt. 7:7-8). E.M. Bounds wrote, “All of God’s promises are like giant corpses without life until we appropriate them in believing prayer.”
b) Pursue God with all passion
We only find God when we search for Him with all our hearts. The hope that’s been promised had a contingency: wholehearted commitment. Does God have your whole heart? (Ps. 86:41).
When you are patiently following God’s plan, productively engaged in God’s purpose for your lives, and in prayer seeking Him with your whole heart, you will be at peace — whether in captivity or dealing with a coronavirus. (Isa. 26:3),