Reclaiming the Truth

By Alex Ryan

An Unexpected Morning at Wal-Mart

It was a bright, sunny day in September as I pulled up to the Ada Wal-Mart. It had been a cheery morning so far—made even more cheery by the fact that I had time to go to Wal-Mart in the morning, rather than waiting for the evening rush. I walked through the parking lot with a bounce in my step, worthy of the blue skies I walked beneath, not knowing the horror that awaited me.

Okay, maybe that’s dramatic. Still—as I walked through the parking lot, I couldn’t help but stop and laugh out loud. A Ram 2500 was parked in the middle of four parking spots, one for each tire.

Culture of Parking in Ada

Now, I had lived in Ada for about a year at this point, and I thought I was getting accustomed to the culture. But I had yet to fully understand that in Ada, much like the Pirate’s Code, parking spaces are more “like guidelines.” More accurately, they seem to be perceived as a first come, first serve, winner-take-all kind of situation. Like a jack-o-lantern full of candy left without supervision to fend for itself on Halloween night.

As I examined a parking job that was teetering the fence between lazy and aggressive, I was reminded of a quote from one of my favorite comedies, *The Princess Bride*—“I do not think it means what you think it means.” This person most certainly would’ve seen the parking lines. They would’ve been taught how to park in their Driver’s Ed course (presumably—I got my license in Colorado. Do they teach parking in Ada?). But life experience, the context of the moment, and a sneaky little tinge of selfishness had told this person that taking up four parking spots near the front of the parking lot wasn’t a big deal. (I know they drove a 2500. I have enough grace in my sinful body to allow for one extra spot. Not three).

Ada’s Parking Dilemma

Of course, for all of you Ada folks you know that this wasn’t an isolated incident. Finding a parking spot in Ada is like trying to buy milk or toilet paper back in 2020—someone else already took it, and they probably took more than they need. I still haven’t been able to pinpoint the root cause, because it’s not even limited to drivers of giant vehicles. Maybe it’s something in the water. Maybe it’s the same mindset we see in a lot of fraternities when it comes to hazing—“I had to deal with it, now so do you.”

Whatever the reason, it’s clear the culture has decided those lines painted on the ground in front of stores mean something different than they were originally intended to (I smell a segue, do you?).

Scripture Misinterpretation Parallel

I’ve noticed the same thing happens with Scripture (there it is). The amount of times I hear a Bible verse quoted either out-of-context, completely drained of its original meaning, or even misattributed as a quote by some random historical figure is nearly as consistent as finding bad parking spots in Ada (I said nearly, folks).

A Journey to Reclaim Scriptural Truth

It’s with that in mind that we start this journey together to reclaim the Truth. Over the coming months, we’ll be posting about different Bible verses or Biblical truths that the culture has ripped out of context and co-opted for their own purposes. The goal here is not to hate on the culture, nor to make anyone feel unintelligent or less than. There’s enough hate going around on the internet as it is (I even heard that some guy wrote a whole blog post complaining about bad parking in Ada).

Instead, the goal is to reignite a passion for particular texts in the Scripture that have become cliched based on misuse, as we turn our eyes back to their Author and marvel at His love for us.

Exploring Jeremiah 29:11

With that in mind, let’s dig into our first passage. If you had to guess—what would it be? None other than the Instagram Christian’s go-to verse—Jeremiah 29:11.

“‘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.” (NIV)

There’s no doubt that this is a beautiful verse, and I completely understand the desire to apply it blindly and universally to your own life. After all, we’re exhorted in James 1:1 to “consider it all joy when we encounter trials of various kinds…” (emphasis mine). In other words, “You are going to encounter trials of various kinds.” That’s a much more palatable truth if behind all the hardship and pain is an overflowing cup of prosperity—specifically in the form of things you want on this Earth.

Misuse and Misinterpretation of Promises

Interestingly, another thing I’ve noticed is the reaction by some Christians to the cultural misuse of this verse. As is the pattern in our reactionary culture, the pendulum has swung for them from misusing the verse—to completely ignoring it as inapplicable.

“Oh yeah? The LORD has plans to prosper you? Are you currently an exile in Babylon?! I didn’t think so!” *self-righteous chortle*

If I may, I’d submit to you that both of these understandings are misguided.

Certainly, it’s true that Jeremiah 29:11 does not promise prosperity for all, or even those who follow Christ, as far as the Earth defines that word. Further, it is dangerous and sinful to look to worldly possessions or even worldly comfort as something God owes us, or truly even something to deeply desire.

Whether to His disciples in Matthew 16:24, or to the young rich man in Matthew 19:21, Jesus’ message is clear—the “stuff” is not the point. Moreover, those earthly things in which we put our hope will let us down. His admonition to “pick up our cross” is not a call to self-flagellation, but rather a call into true joy and freedom. The consistent refrain of the Gospel is “I have more for you.” But of course, the crux of the matter is how you define “more.” And the crux of Jeremiah 29:11 for yourself then becomes—how you define “prosper.”

Understanding the True Prosperity in Christ

This is exactly why it is also misguided to regard Jeremiah 29:11 as purely a historical retelling of a promise made to the people of Israel. While it certainly is exactly that, it is also a list of eternal truths about the character of God in which we can put our trust.

He knows. He plans. He prospers. He is our hope.

The specific application of Jeremiah 29:11 in context requires us to understand that the Lord is reminding the nation of Israel that He is good—even while they are exiled in Babylon. That He is true in the midst of what is false. And we cannot apply His “plans to prosper” willy-nilly.

In the same way that we cannot take the admonition in Jeremiah 29:5 to mean that every Christian in every city should “build houses and settle down,” (which would, for some, fly in the face of their specific call into the Great Commission), we similarly can’t apply 29:11 to every difficult situation this side of Heaven.

Sicknesses will remain, relationships will break, financial strain will continue, political unrest will grow. It is a lie straight from hell that God must cause our earthly comfort and prosperity to come to fruition, lest He be a liar. He owes you nothing. You owe Him everything—what else do you seek?

The Eternal Perspective on Prosperity

But then—what is true about this verse?

He knows. He plans. He prospers. He is our hope.

Yet how can these be true in the face of such darkness?

We have to view “prosperity” through the lens of Kingdom economics, rather than earthly economics. A few verses come to mind:

Ephesians 2:6-7—“…(and God) raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.”

Revelation 21:4—“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

In other words, for those in Christ, God’s plan to “prosper” us is realized in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:11) in that, from now until forever, we may marvel at the “immeasurable riches of his grace.” Our eternal life in Christ (importantly) has its starting line here on this earth, and has no finish line.

It’s easy to see “eternity with Christ” as a thing that we will one day experience. But that has been won for us to experience now. Of course, Revelation 21:8 paints the picture of what the rest of that eternity will be like on the other side of Glory. But to think that we cannot experience, commune with, and enjoy Jesus now is woefully inaccurate, and will lead to a truly empty, depressing existence while on earth.

The prosperity He has for us—now and for all eternity—is something far greater than the earth could ever provide. It is to experience in ever increasing measure, and with ever increasing (and, wonderfully—never complete) understanding, who the Triune God is from the day that we surrender to His call and forevermore.

That does not promise an easy, invulnerably healthy, “charmed” life. Because although we would do away with those trials for ourselves if we were given authority, it is precisely within those trials that the glory of God and “immeasurable riches of His grace” are fully seen.

So, to our favorite coffee-and-a-bible-verse Instagram poster—yes, it is His plan to prosper you.

But that doesn’t guarantee you’ll finally hit 1 million followers (or whatever other trappings of this earth’s economy you’ve given yourself to desiring). While it is true that, as John Piper’s version of the Westminster Shorter Catechism states, “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever,” that joy doesn’t always look like what we think it will.


Anticipating the Next Conversation

Tune in next time, and we’ll unpack that idea a bit more and reclaim the truth in how we “consider it all joy,” with James 1:1!

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