What came to mind was a Babylon Bee-style article which I include below.
"I ain't gonna lie, it's been a rough go of things lately," admitted Tample. "I recently failed a test, like bad, and I was feelin' really hopeless. Then I read this passage in Jeremiah 29:11 and, it was like, 'Dang!'"
The passage Tample referred to was Jeremiah 29:1-14.
Almost spilling his coffee,Tample remarked excitedly that he began to see his failed test in a new light.
"That passage just lept off the page at me, like an M60 splitting a plastic mailbox in a burst of light and thunder! God's gonna use that test for my good and to give me a future and a hope! I mean, who knew that smack dab in the middle of some random story about the Israelites and the Babylonians, God was gonna give me this nugget of truth to make sense of my bad grade?!"
Other coffee shop goers remarked seeing Tample changing his tire in the parking lot, and sweating profusely, just after leaving. They reported hearing Tample muttering to himself, "oh man, I'm gonna be late for class! I can do all things..."
“Now these are the words of the letter which Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the rest of the elders of the exile, the priests, the prophets and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. (This was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother, the court officials, the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen and the smiths had departed from Jerusalem.) The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan, and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, saying, "Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, 'Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.' For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, 'Do not let your prophets who are in your midst and your diviners deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams which they dream. For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them,' declares the LORD. "For thus says the LORD, 'When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,' declares the LORD, 'and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,' declares the LORD, 'and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.'”
—Jeremiah 29:1-14 NASB (emphasis mine)
Why would all this matter?
"Why are you making such a big deal about this? Jeez, don't be such a Pharisee! What makes you think you're right on this and others are wrong? Why are you so intent on taking these meaningful passages away from people?"
Well, I want to address these each individually, because they're good questions and have huge implications.
1. Making a big deal of it is one thing; addressing it because it's important is another. I'm doing the latter, and it's common for us to get offended when someone comes along with a knife while we're walking our sacred cow through the marketplace.
2. Asserting something true doesn't automatically make one a Pharisee. The truth is that we are free to have different opinions on many things, but those opinions are not necessarily true simply because we hold them. We can sincerely believe we understand a text of scripture, and yet be sincerely wrong.
3. Helping anyone to understand the context, and therefore the instruction, of any passage of scripture is not the same as taking a passage away from someone. In fact, if we believe something false, we actually do not have the passage in the first place. We're simply abusing the text in accordance with our feelings/thoughts.
What I'm talking about is our human tendency to circumvent wise and biblical exegesis in favor of an immediately pursued encouragement. Yes, we are expending great effort to understand our Bibles and rightly divide the word of truth, not only to quickly lift a person's face and give them hope but to help them (and ourselves) better understand that truth. Truth that does not come by air-lifting a verse here or there. If we place a situational truth into the middle of a person's general context, are we truly helping them or setting them up to misuse the Word of God as we just did?
This is just lazy. We could be emboldening a person in their sin or wrong beliefs by speaking a passage over them that doesn't apply to their context.
In fact, that's exactly what the false prophets (addressed in the passage above) would do. They spoke in the name of the Lord, saying the Babylonian exile would not last long and Israel would soon be delivered. But Jeremiah CALLED them false and corrected their error, saying that the Israelites had better get comfortable in Babylon, because this exile was a judgment from God.
Don't miss this. False prophets were saying things that God hadn't said, and they were doing it in the name of God, for His glory! They were pronouncing not just blessings, but the kinds of blessings we would give to others if it were up to us. In a way, the exile was a blessing, because it was intended to turn the hearts of the Israelites back to God—that is the meaning of genuine blessing! But these prophets were more concerned with conveying a blessing of a return to comfort.
And when we use words God has said at one time and apply them to a different situation, we're doing the same thing. We're saying things God hasn't said, in His name, and presumably for His glory.
Giving people the benefit of a doubt, I would assume intentions are good. We want to see God glorified or even another person trusting in Him. But maybe there's something stronger behind our motives. Maybe we're similar to Job's friends in believing the system of this world as it relates to God: Do good and get good; do bad and get bad. A subtle infusion of karmic paganism within our otherwise Christian worldview.
Such a view toward God, we may believe, rescues Him from any supposed wrongdoing. So we encourage those who suffer to return to the Lord, or grow in faith, or trust Him more. If we did these things, God would — no, God will, and He must! —bless us. It's what He does.
And it always looks a certain way, doesn't it?
Maybe to us, but not in scripture. 1 Peter 3:14-15 gives us the same promise Jesus did.
If we're trusting in God (or teaching others to) because we want to prosper, have hope, and have a future, are we setting people up for a fall? Jesus promises us tribulation and suffering; Jesus calls us to die to ourselves and submit to Him in all things; Jesus tells us to lose our very lives for His sake, and the sake of the gospel.
If our lives are built around a Jeremiah 29:11 theology, we're going to read these statements by Jesus and either gloss over them or interpret His words with a foundational, but possibly in-the-background "yeah, but" that will change the way our faith looks.
That's why this matters. That's why we have to talk about the way we read our Bibles. That's why we need to stop adopting passages like Jeremiah 29:11 as a life verse and sharing it recklessly and haphazardly with others...
Unless, of course, we want people to take heart that their suffering in this life will bear fruit for righteousness toward God in the generation that comes after them.