‘“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. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me and I will listen to you.’ (Jeremiah 29v11-12)
I write this blog knowing it is something my heart needs at this moment. The promise found in Jeremiah can be received in many ways. I want to highlight two. For some it may cause apprehension as they wonder what the Lord has planned for their life. For others, they may be skeptical of this promise can be trusted; especially when they have seen a life filled with uncertainty and problems. For this blog, I want to look at this promise in regard to our identity. Who are we choosing to belong to? For sure, there are many options in which we can choose to put our trust. However, if we are choosing to believe in this promise from Jeremiah; can we then be people who firmly place our identity in the Lord? Through thick or thin, can we trust that we will always know to whom we belong?
Through the Old Testament I would like us to look at people whose identity in the Lord was greatly challenged. Even through adversary they remained true to who they had been called to be. As we go through the New Testament. I want us to focus on the identity that Jesus gave people. I hope it will be an encouragement to us all to know our identity in the Lord and allow that to become deeply rooted in us. In all the people we will encounter through this blog, we will see the plans to prosper and not to harm, to give hope and a future.
The life of Daniel shows a life that was laid down before the Lord. Daniel was attacked for who he was and who he belonged to, but he would not let that shake his faith. Daniel was a well-established figure within the King’s council. The King trusted him fully, he even planned to have Daniel as administrator over the whole kingdom. This led to great jealousy among the other officials, they tried to find a case against Daniel. However, due to his trustworthy character, there was no corrupt way in him. Instead they attacked at the heart of Daniel’s identity by making a decree to stop him worshipping his God.
‘Finally the men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.” (Daniel 6v5)
Undeterred by the consequence of this decree, Daniel continued to glorify and worship God. Daniel knew where his trust lay and would not abandon a God who had been continuously faithful to him. Daniel was not ashamed of his faith and would not let the hand of man break it. His faith led him into the lions’ den, in which the officials must have believed that his fate was sealed. This is what Daniel was able to proclaim the following morning.
‘Daniel answered, “May the King live forever! My God sent his angel; and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.” (6v21-22)
His faith led him to be saved. Daniel knew his identity was firmly placed in the Lord; fear could not shake that which had deep roots.
Let us go back to the promise from Jeremiah. Can it be seen within this aspect of Daniel’s life? Yes. When Daniel was lifted out, not a wound was found on him because of his trust in God. The King was so amazed, that this was the new decree which was sent out.
‘I issue you a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. “For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of lions.” (Daniel 6v26-27)
May we learn from Daniel that when our faith is attacked, to come before the Lord and find our strength there. That even in the greatest trials of life God can and will use them for his glory. May fear not allow us to waver in our trust but draw us closer to God. Life may not always look or even be pleasant, but we are reassured through the scripture of the mighty God who fights for us.
This is seen powerfully in the account of Elisha and his servant when they were surrounded by the enemy. Elisha was a prophet who knew the faithfulness and might of his God. He could see the enemy in front of him. However, his eyes were more focused on the army of God which was surrounding the whole event. As the well-known song states, ‘It may look like I’m surrounded but I’m surrounded by you.’ (Surrounded, Fight my battles). When fear was blinding Elisha’s servant, Elisha asked the Lord to open the servant’s eyes to the victory of their situation.
“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes. Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. ( 2 Kings 6v16-17)
Many of us are like the servant, we can allow our identity to be shaken due to the fear blinding us. We can only see the problem and we forget the God who is fighting for us; that nothing is impossible for God. We need to surround ourselves with people, who have a similar character to that of Elisha. Who will enable us to have our eyes opened to the truth of who God is and always will be in our battles of life. May we not be discouraged but rise up into what we have been called to do.
Our final stop within the Old Testament is with Esther. I want to highlight key aspects of her story by looking at the promise of Jeremiah. The plan, Esther was placed into the palace to replacing the old queen. Her uncle had forbidden her from telling anyone her nationality and family history. After a decree was established through Haman with the king’s consent, a decree which called to kill all Jews. Esther was placed in a tough spot.
‘For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”’ (Esther 4v14)
Although Esther was queen, the King had full command of her. She was not allowed into his presence unless the king allowed her to; to simply go before the King could lead to death. Though her fear was evident she chooses to make the sacrifice to save her people. Esther is ultimately met with favour by the king, she ends up holding two banquets. This results in the Jews being saved and gaining the upper hand over those who would want to harm them. There is a nasty end for Haman, who ends up being impaled on a large pole due to his wickedness and deceit. Where harm was intended – it led to the Jewish people prospering and having a hope and a future.
Like Esther, we all need to realise our identity in the Lord is purposeful. That where we have been placed, regardless of the position that there can and will be a purpose in it. We need to learn to trust that in all areas of life, that God is moving. We need to know that our identity is not simply in the things that we do but actually in who God is. May we be open and willing for how God wants to use us for his kingdom.
’God is at work in our work. Our work matters to God, and everything that matters to God carries his favour. We can experience His presence in us, with us, and on us as we work.’ (Scattered servants, Alan Scott). Nothing is wasted, when offered to the Lord. God truly can work all things for his good.
Entering into the New Testament, I want us to look at the encounters Jesus had with people and the newfound identity placed on them. Those who were outcasts and downtrodden were given a future and a hope. For we see through these encounters, that identities are completely changed by the presence of Jesus. We see in each of the accounts that will follow, that our identity in the Lord; has the power to bring life, hope, and purpose to the surrounding community.
The first encounter I want us to look at is the woman caught in adultery, which is found in John 8. It was an encounter, that led to her identity being restored. Where condemnation would have led to death; the conversation led to life. Jesus asked those who were willing to condemn the woman, to be the first to throw a stone if they were without sin. This is how it ended:
‘Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman where are they? No one has condemned you?” “No one, sir” she replied. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8v10-11)
This encounter was meant to result in condemnation and death. Resulted in renewed purpose; she was given new hope and a future.
Secondly, I want to highlight the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. It was a conversation that brought salvation to a community. Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at a well, you can find the whole conversation in John 4. She was a woman who was an outcast and had great instability in her life. However, even with all that was going on in her life she knew that there was to be hope placed in the Messiah.
‘The woman said, “I know the Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
That hope that had been placed in the Messiah, who would give understanding was standing right in front of her. ‘Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you – I am he.”’. With that news, the Samaritan woman went and gave the good news to her community, which resulted in hope. That hope led to the restoration of identity and purpose.
They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world.” (John 4v42).
What we can learn from this encounter with the Samaritan woman is we never know how instrumental we have been called to be. That the hope restored in us can be used to restore hope in others. The encounter with the Samaritan woman, led to the whole community benefitting. Where there could have been condemnation, there was redemption for so many people. Even if some of us may feel like, we relate to the Samaritan woman. Jesus is not beyond meeting us there. Our identities are made complete in him and there is so much life to live. Amen, God is so good!
Lastly, let us journey into Mark’s gospel and see the new identity given to a man who was demon-possessed. A man who was rejected, alone, and who greatly harmed himself. Jesus crossed the lake to get to him and restore life to him. Despair was rejected and peace and hope were welcomed in. In his joy, the man wanted to join Jesus. Instead, Jesus gave him a different way to serve.
‘Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.’ (Mark 5v19-20)
Jesus meets us in our mess. When we feel like we have lost ourselves and that our identity is diminished. May we trust the Lord, that he does have plans to prosper us and not to harm us. To give us hope and a future. The demon-possessed man received freedom from that which held him captive. With a renewed spirit he was able to have a renewed purpose.
For some of us, maybe our identities have been placed in things that have only sucked the life from us. Where we feel like we have lost our identity. Our passions and dreams have died. We feel like the future will simply be grey. I know that it is hard, to put our trust fully in the promises of the Lord. We are people who know the disappointment of having promises broken and people not showing up. I was reminded through a sermon, ‘Never project the nature of man onto the character of God!’ (Robert Madu). God makes promises with us because he loves us and wants the best for us. God wants us to see how purposefully we have been made and in knowing that, to go out and serve those around us. To bring more people to know the hope and joy we have. We can only find that through surrender. I am learning to surrender, takes a lot of support. May we be people who encourage one another, who help one another to see how mighty our God is in every situation. May we always be people who support the plans that the Lord has placed in our brothers and sisters, to give them hope and a future. We are all one body together; may we not struggle on our own but hold one another through it all.
As I finish this blog, I know I have learned a lot. Trusting fully in the plans of the Lord is still something I am learning to do. It takes time and it is a daily surrender. It will be a promise that the Lord will never break, even when my life hits the tough moments.
I am going to finish the series of trusting in God’s promises here. I know that we have only looked at a few and there are so many more. Let us take time to meditate and to pray over these promises from the last few weeks. I hope will all be encouraged and determined to step out in these promises. If it takes a while, that is okay. God does not rush the process. I know the past few months have been hard, but the Lord has shown up in each day. There will be better days to come. For now, maybe like David, it is time just to sit in the Lord’s presence. For he will meet us there.
With love and care. God bless, Victoria.