Jeremiah 29:11. Any youth pastor worth his salt has this verse tattooed in at least three places on his body. “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans of peace and not of evil, to give you a hope and a future.”
From this, we can deduce that God has some grand plan for your life way off in the future, and you are singlehandedly responsible for figuring out what that is and making sure it comes to pass.
Except… that’s not what it means.
To figure out what Jeremiah meant and what that means for you and God’s great plan for your life, we first need to look at the context of Jeremiah 29:11. This was written in 597 BC, right after Babylon had invaded the southern kingdom of Judah for the second time and taken thousands of Judeans back to Babylon in chains. While in captivity, these Jews believed that God would very soon deliver them from bondage. They were God’s people, after all, so in spite of the fact that the nation had all but turned its back on God, they were confident that God would rescue them.
Enter Jeremiah. He writes a letter from Jerusalem to the captives in Babylon and says, “Yes, God will bring you home… in seventy years.” In the meantime, he tells them, you should build houses in Babylon and plant gardens there. You should get married, have a whole bunch of kids, raise those kids, and let them get married, because you’re gonna be in Babylon for a long time. He tells them to seek the peace of the city and pray for it, “for in its peace you shall have peace.”
In other words, he tells them to become godly citizens in the middle of the ungodly world they have found themselves in. This, God says, is the plan of peace I have for you, the plan that will give you a future and a hope.
Now with all that context in mind, let’s see what else the Bible has to say about God’s will for your life. Luckily for us, Peter and Paul tell us exactly what God’s will is.
Writing to the Thessalonians, Paul says, “This is the will of God: your sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3). Then he adds, “that you should abstain from sexual immorality,” and all the teenagers in Thessalonica groaned. You were hoping God’s will was for you to get a new car, and instead it’s no premarital sex or looking at porn.
That’s a part of it, and yet it’s so much more. God calls us to live a sanctified—or holy—life. This is the same word used to describe the holiness of God, the same word used when God says, “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16, Leviticus 20:7). In other words, our lives are supposed to reflect the holiness of Jesus.
Paul then tells us to increase the Church by our love (1 Thess. 4:9-10), that we may “lead a quiet life” (1 Thess. 4:11) and “walk properly towards those who are outside” (1 Thess. 4:12). A chapter later, Paul adds that we should “always pursue what is good,” not only for ourselves, but “for all,” and that we should constantly be rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks, “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:12-18).
In other words, the exact same thing Jeremiah told the Babylonian captives. Be a godly citizen in the middle of an ungodly world, praying for your city and seeking the good.
Peter addresses his first epistle to the Christian exiles living in an ungodly world (1 Peter 1:1, 2:11), and—just as Paul did—tells them to abstain from fleshly lusts. Apparently, sexual immorality was a big issue in the first century. Thank God we’re not still struggling with this, right?
He then tells these Christians to have “your conduct honorable among the nations,” that they may “glorify God” (1 Peter 2:12). He tells them to honor all people, to walk in love, to fear God, and to submit to the king—or the government. Why? “For this is the will of God” (1 Peter 2:15).
Again, this is exactly what Jeremiah and Paul said. Live a sanctified and honorable life among the nations, for God’s will is that you would be a godly citizen in the middle of an ungodly world. They are all saying the same thing.
But… why? Why is this God’s will? Why does He want us to live sanctified and godly lives? Well, there’s a reference we mentioned before that you may have picked up on. Paul told the Thessalonians that when they walked in love toward others, they’d be able to “lead a quiet life” (1 Thess. 4:11). That’s the same phrase Paul wrote to Timothy, where he also addressed the subject of God’s will.
He told Timothy to pray and give thanks for all men—just like he wrote to the Thessalonians—and specifically to pray for kings and the governing officials—just like Jeremiah and Peter said—that we may lead quiet, peaceful, and godly lives. And then he tells us why: because God wills that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).
Everything we’ve talked about is ultimately about one thing: bringing people into God’s family and teaching them the truth of God’s Word. That’s God’s will. That’s God’s plan for your life. To increase His Kingdom and His glory. Peter said our godly lives would cause the nations to glorify God. Paul said our love would cause the Church to abound more and more. Jeremiah said God’s plan was for His people to be increased.
And that Hebrew word for “increase” is the same word that God used in His commands all the way back in Genesis, the same word He used when talking to Jacob, to Isaac, to Abraham, to Noah, and to Adam and Eve: “Be fruitful, and MULTIPLY.”
God’s will has always been the same, from the very first words He ever spoke to mankind: multiply God’s Kingdom. Increase God’s Church. Expand God’s family. That is God’s plan for your life.
When you live honorably in the midst of an immoral society, you’re fulfilling God’s plan for your life. When you don’t look at porn or have sex outside of marriage, you’re fulfilling God’s plan for your life. When you pray for your president and for your governor and for your mayor and for your neighbors, you’re fulfilling God’s plan for your life. Because when God’s people live godly lives in the middle of an ungodly world, it will ultimately draw people into God’s family.
Now I can hear you asking, “But does God have a specific plan for my life, like to be an astronaut or a dentist?” Yes He does, but honestly, if you’re not living a sanctified life, it doesn’t really matter if you go to dental school or walk on the moon, because God isn’t getting the glory. No matter how successful you become, it won’t be God’s will because God’s kingdom won’t be increased.
So instead of focusing your attention on what God may want you to do in twenty years, focus on what God wants you to do today. Because really, God doesn’t have one plan for your life; He has hundreds of plans for your every day. Focus on what God wants you to do right now. Live a sanctified life right now. Obey God’s Word right now. Be led by the Spirit right now. And keep doing that all day long.
Do the same thing tomorrow, and the day after that. Keep following God. Keep living right. Every day, every week, every month, every year. And if you walk in God’s plans every day, in twenty years you’ll be in dental school, or on the moon. You’ll be exactly where you’re supposed to be. You’ll be expanding His kingdom and increasing His glory. You’ll be living out God’s plan for your life.
Have a great week, and remember, you’re greater than you realize.