Three weeks before I graduated from high school, the graduation gifts began pouring in. I got a wad of cash, which elated me, and also a pile of presents I wasn’t sure what to do with. What exactly is an 18-year-old college freshman supposed to do with a Mont Blanc pen? Your guess is as good as mine.
One gift I’ll never forget, though, is a framed print of a famous verse that is a favorite among graduation-gift-givers:
“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 a hope and a future.”
– Jeremiah 29:11, NIV
At the time, it seemed too good to be true, but I “claimed it” because I wanted it to be so. After college, however, I began to travel to developing nations and witness Christians stuck in dire situations. My preconceptions eroded. Does God have plans to “prosper” and “not to harm” that Sudanese refugee boy with the dazzling brown eyes or the Indian woman who was always within earshot of her “owner”? Maybe only wealthy white Westerners got a slice of God’s good plans?
My preconceptions broke down further when I began to think about the scope. Sure, God had a plan for which career I needed to pursue, but did God have a preference if I spent my summer acquiring extra course credit at a community college back home as opposed to going on a month-long mission trip to South America? And what of the minutia? Did God care whether I ate steamed broccoli or Ramen noodles while cramming for that test? The ministers I asked usually offered a vague affirmation of God’s sovereignty and then changed the subject. So I let it go.
In recent years, though, my mind has returned to that framed print that is probably tucked away in my parent’s basement, and I’ve seen it in a new light.