I recently read through the book of Jeremiah in my morning devotions, and God gave me a load of encouragement from Jeremiah 29. I took tons of notes and am excited to share those notes with you in the hopes they can encourage you too.
A Message for the Needy
First of all, let’s set the context. The prophets can be some of the Bible’s most difficult books to understand, so as I’ve started each one I’ve taken extra time to pull from an Old Testament survey book and my study Bible to review when these books were written, who wrote them, to whom they were written, and why they were written.
(This information is vital, not optional, to understanding a historical document. I’ve gotten so much more out of my Bible reading with this information in the back of my mind!)
Jeremiah prophesied in speech and in writing from about 626 to about 586 BC–before, during, and after Jerusalem was besieged and destroyed (in 586 BC) and most of the Jews were taken captive to Babylon. He delivered God’s messages first to the Jews in Judah, before Jerusalem’s fall, then to the captive Jews in Babylon and the remaining Jews who fled to Egypt.
Now let’s get the specific context of Jeremiah 29, from the passage itself:
Now these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the remainder of the elders who were carried away captive–to the priests, the prophets, and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon.Jeremiah 29:1
This chapter, then, is a copy of the letter (of God’s words) that Jeremiah wrote to his displaced brethren in Babylon.
(Can we take a moment to appreciate that God communicated to His people? He didn’t wave goodbye and say, “Have a nice captivity, see you in 70 years!” He reached out to them and made sure they had words of reassurance and promise, reminding them that He not only saw their captivity but was with them in it.
In the same way, God reaches out to us in our chronic illness, in our trial, reminding us that He is with us and communicating His love to us.)
What was in that letter to the Jews?
Stop Panicking and Pick Up Your Hammer
The letter begins,
Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all who were carried away captive, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon:
Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters—that you may be increased there, and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the LORD for it; for in its peace you will have peace.
Say what? Of all the messages the Jews were hoping to receive from God in their captivity, I’m sure this was the least expected.
God was essentially telling them, “Make yourselves at home. Don’t fight against this captivity. Don’t wait to live until this is over, live now. Embrace the captivity because it’s the plan I have for you.”
If you’re thinking this sounds a lot like the theme of our study in Lamentations 3 early this year, you’re right. (We also posted a series on embracing chronic illness two years ago.) We need to submit ourselves to what God is doing because it’s for our good, and the pain won’t last forever.
submit = embrace = make yourself at home = live
I can imagine the panic and anguish of those who were taken captive: “Oh no, we’re captives, our houses are destroyed, what are we going to do? Let’s wait until we have the opportunity, and then we’ll fight and we’ll escape. We hate the Babylonians and this place, it wasn’t part of our plan, what do we do?”
It wasn’t part of their plan, but it was part of God’s plan.
We also feel panic and anguish in our chronic illness. “Oh no, I’m sick, what do I do? This is an obstacle in my plans and I need to do such and such and I can’t do such and such and it’s a disaster, and I’m looking for solutions and I’m praying but nothing helps and God don’t you hear me?”
And He tells us, “Calm down, this is part of my plan for you. Settle down and come walk with me in the beautiful way I’ve prepared for you.”
Our panic, our anguish, our frustration, and our anger come from the surprise of what happens, because it wasn’t part of our plan. This illness ruins our plans and we don’t have control (did we ever?).
This is a natural response, and we can’t deny the emotions of disappointment, sadness, and grief we feel. But our chronic illness (just like the Jews’ captivity) wasn’t a surprise to God. He designed it, for many reasons.
It’s as if we’re knocking on the door of his office yelling, “God, I’m sick, don’t you see? What happened? What’s going to happen? We have to fix it immediately. Didn’t you know?” while He’s sitting at the controls of the universe and our lives. Of course He sees what’s going on–He made it.
And if we don’t stop yelling He’ll come to the door to tell us that He sees and He knows because it’s part of His plan and we need to trust in Him and keep moving forward with the changes. And someday, when everything is over, maybe He’ll invite us in and sit us beside Him as he gives us the “director’s commentary” on our lives.
In the meantime, we can take what we know about God, His sovereignty, His goodness, and believe the same words He gave to His captive children in Babylon: “Stop panicking, pick up your hammer, and start building your house. Plant your flowers. Hang your pictures. Buy those throw pillows. Make it beautiful, make it cozy. Make yourself at home, because this is what I’m doing, and it’s okay.”
In fact, it’s better than okay. It’s good.
Do you trust that God is using even your chronic illness–your trial–for good? Are you fighting where He’s placed you for this time, or have you surrendered to His perfect will and His perfect timing? How can you make yourself at home in this season of life?
4 replies on “Making Yourself at Home in Chronic Illness, Part 1”
Thanks so much for sharing this encouragement. As someone who has struggled with chronic illness for years and is yet again in a seemingly downward spiral, this was a great reminder!
I’m so glad this could encourage you, Kristen! Sorry to hear about your new downward spiral. 😦 Praying for you!
Such a blessing, Melissa! Thank you for not only understanding this issue but also living under it! Love you, Sue Stephens Phil 3.10; Ps 51.17
Thank you, Mrs. Stephens! Only by God’s grace. 🙂