This is a very well known verse in the midst of a passage that is not so well known. It's comforting and encouraging when we don't understand what's going on in our lives. It has often been directed my way in difficult times. But when these words were originally spoken through the prophet, he actually told them precisely what was going on.
An Uncomfortable Word
Jeremiah had told the exiles from Jerusalem, taken away by Nebuchadnezzar, that they were to spend 70 years in Babylon. This was not what the people wanted to hear. They wanted to believe the words of the false prophets telling them everything would be alright.
I expect most people were just plain confused. They would have had a hard time deciding who to listen to and how they should respond. They we're simply ordinary people apparently caught up in the plans of the political powers of the day - just pawns on the chessboard. Their lives had been turned upside down, they had lost loved ones, been dragged away from their ancestral homes to an unfamiliar land with unfamiliar laws and practices. They didn't feel like people with a hope and a destiny (which is what the Hebrew word translated "future" actually means).
Advice For Confused People
Jeremiah brought these poor disillusioned people two great words from the Lord. The first was, get on with life. He tells them to settle down and live their lives. Build homes, he says, plant gardens, have children, give them in marriage, and seek the prosperity of the city where you live. In other words, don't behave any differently to the way you would in your homeland. That's a sobering word for anyone waiting expectantly for the Lord to change their circumstances in some way. Don't put your life on hold while you wait for God's intervention. Carry on with the daily routine, work, bring up your family and trust that He will bring about any necessary change in His own good time.
That's the first part of the programme. The second part is what Prayer College is all about. In v12-13 we have a call to prayer with the promise that, "you will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." Whilst the people go on living as normal they are not to neglect God. Rather, they are to give themselves over to seeking God with everything they've got.
There are a number of important points to be drawn from this. The first is that they are not told to pray for deliverance or change, but simply to seek God. He wants their hearts set on Him and not on their own hopes and desires. How easy it is for us to focus on circumstances we're not comfortable with and to concentrate our prayers on that and not on worshiping the Lord and seeking His face.
The second point is that they are to seek Him with all their heart. It is an undivided focus on God and it is not an intellectual seeking to understand His will or His ways. They are to seek an encounter with the Lord and to keep seeking until they find Him. Thirdly, they cannot find Him simply by striving. In v14 the Lord says, "I will be found by you." The mental image I have is of a father playing hide and seek with a young child. The child cannot find the father if he hides himself well but, in the spirit of the game and because he loves his child, he will make himself easy to find. Our heavenly Father wants to be found by us and so allows Himself to be found when we've done our part by searching Him out.
My youngest son is constantly searching me out to give me a hug. I will be lying down for a rest, working in the office on the computer or preparing a meal in the kitchen and he will track me down simply for the pleasure of a hug and to say he loves me. This is the picture we are given in these verses, this is the kind of prayer the Lord wants from us, seeking Him out to say we love Him, not to complain about our circumstances or to ask for change.
Then The Change Comes
Having told the people to live out their ordinary lives, as they would have done at home, and to seek Him wholeheartedly in prayer, the Lord says, "I will bring you back ... I will gather you."
There is a very profound teaching here. If we don't like our circumstances, it is not our responsibility to try to change things. Our role is to carry on with normal daily life, seek the face of God in prayer, and trust Him to bring His will to pass. That is not as passive as it may sound. There is nothing passive about getting on with life or spending serious amounts of time in prayer. Passivity is saying, I'm doing nothing until I get some clear guidance. This is not God's way.
Isaiah, the other great prophet, brought this word from God, "whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, This is the way, walk in it," Is 30:21. It is as we walk through ordinary life that the Lord directs us. You can't steer a stationary car, nor can you get guidance while you're sitting around waiting for something to happen. Neither will you hear that still, small voice of direction as you walk, unless you have learned to recognise it in the time spent seeking God with all your heart.
Prayer College Assignment
So this is what you do when you don't know what to do. Number one, keep on living your normal, ordinary daily life; number two, seek God with all your heart, not for answers, but simply to know Him, to love Him and to learn the sound of His voice.