A quick Google image search for the Bible verse Jeremiah 29:11 will show you hundreds of word art images featuring the familiar words: pictures on walls, wallpapers, kitschy knick-knacks, cards, tattoos, you name it . . . it’s one of the most thrown around verses of our time.

Thomas Turner, a writer for Relevant magazine argues that Jeremiah 19:11 is one of the “most misunderstood verses in the Bible.” Writers Tsh Oxenreider and Jerusalem Greer (also a minister) make a case that for many, this verse has become a “platitude…often seen on bathroom plaques.”

I did some reading this morning before and after Jeremiah 29:11 because it’s been a few years since I had, and what I discovered does not match with our culture’s current obsession with this verse.

We are missing the purpose of Jeremiah 29:11.

The verse is part of a letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent to the Israelites, who were exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon. The letter seems to be a sort of guide for the exiles for how to live and thrive in their new land. The letter starts in Jeremiah 29:4; I encourage you to read it for yourself, but I’ll break the text down to bullet points of advice that Jeremiah (speaking on behalf of God) gave these exiles:

1. Build houses and live in them (vs. 5)
2. Plant gardens and eat their produce (vs. 5)
3. Have kids and let your kids have kids (vs. 6)
4. Grow in the community where you are planted—help it be better and you will be better; pray for your new community (vs. 7)
5. Don’t be fooled by false prophets (vs. 8-9)

First, I have to say I’m sad these four verses are overlooked. Jeremiah 29:11 is often the advice given to people in times of transition—moving, graduation, taking a new job, getting married, etc. The instruction embedded in verses 5-9 is a beautifully simple and practical set of guidelines often missed because they don’t pack the feel-good punch of verse 11.

Now let’s take a gander at verse 10 alongside verse 11 (remember, this is still a letter from Jeremiah, inspired by God, to the exiles): “‘For thus says the Lord: When SEVENTY YEARS are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.'” 

What we miss with the context of this letter when we focus only on verse 11 is that God says this plan to give the exiles a future and a hope will take SEVENTY YEARS. SEVENTY. YEARS. God always brings redemption, but it’s on His timetable—and this timetable often feels too long for us, so we lob off verse 10 because it doesn’t make us feel good, and we focus only on verse 11—the feel-good stuff. Then we become disillusioned when the good stuff God promised us doesn’t come to us after we’ve been praying for a week or even a month or (gasp) a year. I think this is especially true for new believers.

Jeremiah 29:11, when taken out of context,  can cause people to have unrealistic and unbiblical expectations of God, which may jeopardize their faith.

The letter doesn’t stop at verse 11. It marches on for 12 more verses. I won’t carry on and on, but I do want to point out that the three verses after 29:11 seem to be the most encouraging of this whole letter. They say, “‘Then [remember…this is after the 70 years the Israelites will be in exile] you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.'”

God promises a return back home . . . but we must remember He also promised it will take SEVENTY YEARS. This will require a season of waiting that will allow the Israelites to pursue God—a beautiful thought when you dwell on it long enough.

In short, let’s quit taking this verse (and others like it) out of context. The Bible is certainly a spring of excellent advice, but we must be careful not to pick and choose.

So God Made a Mother book by Leslie Means

If you liked this, you'll love our new book, SO GOD MADE A MOTHER available now!

Order Now

Danielle Helzer

A former high school English teacher, Danielle now splits her time as a stay at home mom and a Writing Coach at a local community college. She is a wife and a new mother of two hilarious and resilient first-graders who she and her husband adopted from foster care. Danielle has a passion for writing and living purposefully. She enjoys listening to NPR, running, reading, music, sipping on coffee, making lists, and diversifying her collection of cat tchotchkes. You can find more of her writing about parenting, faith, teaching, and living at http://daniellehelzer.blogspot.com/. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter (@DMHelzer).

God Has You

In: Faith, Motherhood
Woman hugging herself while looking to the side

Holding tight to the cold, sterile rail of the narrow, rollaway ER bed, I hovered helplessly over my oldest daughter. My anxious eyes bounced from her now steadying breaths to the varying lines and tones of the monitor overhead. Audible reminders of her life that may have just been spared. For 14 years, we’d been told anaphylaxis was possible if she ingested peanuts. But it wasn’t until this recent late autumn evening we would experience the fear and frenzy of our apparent new reality. My frantic heart hadn’t stopped racing from the very moment she struggled to catch a breath....

Keep Reading

My Husband Having a Stroke at 30 Wasn’t in Our Plans

In: Faith, Living
Husband and wife, selfie, color photo

“‘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, NIV) This verse in the book of Jeremiah has long been a favorite of mine. In fact, it’s felt relevant across many life events. Its simple, yet powerful reminder has been a place of solace, perhaps even a way to maintain equilibrium when I’ve felt my world spinning a bit out of control. In this season of starting fresh and new year intentions, I find great comfort in knowing...

Keep Reading

She Left Him on Valentine’s Day

In: Faith, Marriage
Husband kissing wife on cheek, color photo

“Can you believe that?” Those were the dreaded knife-cutting whispers I heard from across the table. I sunk deeper into my chair. My hopes fell as everyone would forever remember that I had left my fiancée on Valentine’s Day. Maybe one day it would just dissipate like the dream wedding I had planned or the canceled plane tickets for the Hawaiian honeymoon. Some bridesmaids and guests had already booked plane tickets. It was my own nightmare that kept replaying in my head over and over again. I had messed up. Big time. To be honest, if it made any difference,...

Keep Reading

God was In the Room for Our Daughter’s Open Heart Surgery

In: Faith, Motherhood
Child's hand with IV

I’ve had a strong faith for as long as I can remember, but I always felt bad that I never had a “testimony.” I had never gone through something that made me sit back and say, “Wow, God is real, He is here.” I have always felt it to my core, but no moment had ever stopped me dead in my tracks to where there was no denying that it was God. And then, that moment happened to me on December 5. After five months of fervently praying for a miracle for our daughter, the day came for her heart...

Keep Reading

A Benediction for the Worn Out Mother

In: Faith, Motherhood
Woman leaning against kitchen counter, black-and-white photo

Blessed are you, Father, for bestowing upon me the honor of motherhood. For allowing me to experience the deep joy of bringing forth life—a joy I often take for granted and instead choose to begrudge. My children’s cries and demands have worn me down. I do not recognize myself. I selfishly long for the old me. My thoughts are an intangible mess of never-ending tasks, self-criticism, and comparison to those around me. RELATED: God Sees You, Weary Mama But Your word says you are near to the broken-hearted and downtrodden. You do not forget the cause of the tired and the...

Keep Reading

God Doesn’t Forget You When You’re Lost and Unsure

In: Faith, Living
Woman looking into camera, color photo

I’ve been wandering around feeling lost for over a year. Wondering where I’m going, what I’m supposed to be doing. Nothing seems to make sense. I felt purposeless. I felt stuck. I questioned everything: my faith, my marriage, my career—if it could be questioned, I doubted it. And I was completely clueless how to fix the funk. For over a year, I’ve been in the wilderness. I’ve wanted to find my way, but every path seemed like another dead end. The wilderness. I’ve been residing there. Not feeling fed. Not feeling heard. Not feeling seen. Struggling to find a purpose....

Keep Reading

And Then, the Darkness Lifts

In: Faith, Motherhood
Mother with baby smiling

Today when I woke, it had lifted, like sunshine peeking after rain. And as my toddler clicked on the lamp beside my bed to see her mama, I saw me too. I got out of bed and I walked down the hall. And the coffee pot sat there waiting for me, as always, like my husband at the kitchen table with his books. He smiled at me, and I think he could tell as I took my medicine, took down a mug, and poured my coffee. I opened the secretary desk and pulled out the chair and my Bible, like...

Keep Reading

Joy in This Stillness

In: Faith, Motherhood
Mother holding sleeping toddler, color photo

I woke up suddenly in a sweat while it was still dark. Except for the humming of the oxygen machine, the house was silent. For a moment, I thought I might have time to enjoy a cup of coffee before my son woke up. However, a glance at my daughter’s crib told me that feeding my caffeine addiction would have to wait. My daughter has a terminal brain disorder called Lissencephaly, a side effect of which is uncontrolled epilepsy. Many mornings, a subconscious recognition that she is having episodes of repeated seizures rouses me from my sleep. Throwing on a...

Keep Reading

Sometimes All We Can Do Is Say How Hard Motherhood Is

In: Faith, Motherhood
Tired mom with baby in foreground

I have been sitting in the peace and quiet of the office to do some long overdue Bible study for all of five minutes when the baby wakes up. With a heavy sigh that is becoming all too common, I go to the bedroom to pick up my fussy, probably getting sick, 8-month-old daughter who has been asleep for approximately 15 minutes. I bring her to the office and put her on the floor with some new books and toys. Sitting back down in front of my own new book of Bible maps and charts, I begin reading once again....

Keep Reading

Sometimes I Want to Skip This Part

In: Faith, Living
Husband and wife sitting on swing, color photo

Kelly Clarkson’s new album Chemistry is about the arch of her relationship with her husband and their divorce. The first song on the album is called “skip this part.” It begins with her asking if she can skip the heartbreak. She begs to jump over the deep pain that came with her divorce. The song is haunting and beautiful and says things like, “my heart can’t forget the ache before the mend.” She is honest and vulnerable, admitting she is not sure if she has the strength to get through the pain. She just wants it all to be over, for...

Keep Reading