It was the last step in establishing myself as a New York resident – getting my car registered. I had gone through the DMV website with a fine-toothed comb. I had waited weeks to receive all the paperwork I needed to complete the registration process. I wanted to be sure I had every document printed, every “t” crossed, every “i” dotted.
I had been to the DMV a few weeks earlier to get my license. I knew the procedure. Once getting through security I’d have to give my paperwork to the woman sitting at the table in the hallway. I had nicknamed her, “The Gatekeeper.” She knew DMV procedures backwards and forwards, knew every form needed for every transaction, and apparently, she knew that most people were woefully unprepared for their visits. It was clear from watching her that she took her job seriously. No one made it past her and into the DMV office without every minute detail in place.
In the weeks preceding this appointment I had moments of anxiety. The paperwork I had requested from my car loan company had not only been delayed by several weeks but had also gotten lost in the mail. I was calling them regularly to check on the status. I placed calls to my insurance company as well, since I was also receiving reminders from them about my car’s lack of registration. In the mean time there was just a general sense of uneasiness about driving a car on the streets of New York that was not properly registered. Although a relatively minor detail in the scheme of life it was making me anxious. I wanted to check it off my list, get it taken care of, but my hands were tied until the paperwork arrived.
When that anxiety would arise I would think back to the reason I moved to New York in the first place. It was God. He was the One who brought me here. I was confident of that. In those anxious moments I would silently declare, “If You brought me here, Lord, then You’re going to make sure my car is registered.” I wish I could say I only had to do that once. The truth is I had to do it a number of times during those weeks of waiting.
Now, as I waited my turn in line for the Gatekeeper, I hoped and prayed I had read the website carefully enough and had all that I needed. I stepped up to the table and nervously handed her my stack of papers. She asked me what I was hoping to accomplish (not her exact words, but clearly her sentiment).
“I just recently moved here from out of state. I need to get my car registered.”
She flipped through the stack of papers, stapled a few together front to back.
“Do you own the vehicle?”
“Oh well, then,” she said dismissively, “you’re going to need a letter from the bank that holds the loan and a copy of the title.”
Pointing to the stack of papers I said, “The letter should be there along with a copy…”
“This isn’t a certified copy-” she interrupted, while continuing to thumb through the papers. “Oh, I see the letter.” She then began to read the letter from the bank.
I reviewed in my head everything I had done to prepare for this transaction. Had I missed something? Then I remembered again, God brought me here, He would get my car registered.
“That’s fine and the copy of the title is okay. I see you have form 803. You need an 802. Are you a resident? You need to pay taxes on this vehicle.”
“Yes, I am. But, I didn’t buy the vehicle here.”
“Doesn’t matter. If you were a resident you need to pay tax on it,” she said sharply.
At this point, I didn’t care what form I had to fill out or even if I had to pay tax on my car. I just really wanted to get past the Gatekeeper and get my car registered.
“I wasn’t a resident when I bought the car,” I offered hopefully.
“Oh, well that’s what I asked! Okay, you’re fine. Go inside. Wait for the next cashier.” And with that she thrust the papers back at me.
I was a bit stunned. I stopped fiddling for the pen I was going to need to fill out the 802 and said to her, a little shell-shocked, “That’s it? I’ve got everything I need?”
“Yeah. NEXT!” she shouted past me.
That was it! I made it inside the DMV office. After months of waiting and several anxious moments, I was finally going to have my car registered. I made it past the Gatekeeper! I was finally taking the last step in being a resident of the State of New York.
I recently read that very familiar verse in the book of Jeremiah, 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.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV) I think many of us are used to seeing this verse on bookmarks and journals, plaques and even pieces of Christian jewelry. But I wanted to understand the verse in its context and not just gloss over it because of its familiarity.
I mentioned in my last post that Jeremiah was a prophet sent by God to speak to the people of Judah about their coming captivity. God was bringing to bear the consequences for their rebellion against Him. He had brought King Nebuchadnezzar to lay siege against Judah and Jerusalem and take the people captive to Babylon. Verse 11 is a part of a letter that Jeremiah wrote to the exiles. Here is what the letter said before and just after verse 11:
“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’ Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,’ declares the Lord.
“This is what the Lord says: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 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. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.'” (Jeremiah 29:4-14)
Before reminding His people of His promise to them, God makes His position and their responsibility perfectly clear. First, He was the One who carried them into captivity. It was no accident they were there. Jeremiah wasn’t there to tell them that God was feverishly working behind the scenes to get them out of their predicament. They were in captivity on purpose. Make no mistake about it, God wanted them in Babylon.
Then He gives them several instructions. They were to settle in that foreign land. They were to build homes and get married, produce children and marry those children off as well. God wasn’t trying to destroy His people or wipe them out. They were being punished, but the purpose wasn’t to end their existence. He wanted them to continue to increase. All of His instructions for them pointed to a future. There was a greater purpose for His people. They were in captivity but that wasn’t the end of their story. It was just a part of their story.
He also tells them to seek the peace and prosperity of the place that He has put them. That meant they were to pray for peace in this foreign land and be good citizens while they were there. It would be good for them if they did so.
One of the reasons that Jeremiah wrote this letter was because there were prophets among the people of Judah who were giving them false information. They were saying that they would only be in captivity for a couple of years. They were telling the people exactly what the people wanted to hear, but it wasn’t the truth. It wasn’t from God. God warned them through this letter not to listen to the prophets among them. He called them out as liars. And God told them exactly how long they were going to be there – not 2, but 70 years.
It’s then that we read those familiar words, “I know the plans I have for you…” When we look at the context of them aren’t they even more powerful? In the midst of these dark circumstances – being ripped from their homeland and taken captive to a foreign land, God was reminding them that His plans and purpose for them are good. He was not plotting evil against them. He had a future and a hope for them. He goes on to say that He would listen to their prayers, and if they seek Him they will find Him. Commentators note that God’s direction for them to seek Him and call to Him were a part of that future and hope. Their relationship with God had the hope of flourishing during this time and that too was a part of His good plan for them. God was in this. He would be with them every step of the way. He carried them into captivity and He would continue to be with them while they were there. His desire had always been for them to grow closer to Him, and He calls them to that closeness wherever they find themselves, even in captivity. And when their time in captivity is over, He would carry them to the next place He had planned for them.
We are so limited in our capacity to see the big picture. We so easily get distracted by our circumstances and forget that God is not only on our side but is with us constantly. As I made my way past the Gatekeeper at the DMV and got my car registered with little effort, I felt God nudge me. There was this sense that He was joyfully celebrating alongside me as I crossed the finish line of becoming a New York resident, but with it there was also a hint of conviction. I suddenly realized how often I view Him as the Gatekeeper. I fall into the trap of believing that He isn’t for me but rather He is the one standing between me and whatever the goal is – that I am being seen by Him as just another moron without the right paperwork. But the truth is He is with me every step of the way. When I am walking in His will, He prepares the way for me, carries me through the waiting, boosts me up over the obstacles, and celebrates with me when we reach that purpose which He always intended for me. When I do stray from His path, He’s with me then too. If my actions lead me to a place that feels like captivity, He’s there, wanting me, inviting me to draw closer to Him and seek Him for direction.
With the election coming closer and with our country so divided, many on both sides believe that should the opposing side win the presidency, they will be in “captivity,” living in a country that is foreign to them and where they feel like outsiders. Whatever happens, we should remember God’s instruction to the Judeans: settle in, continue to increase, pray for peace and prosperity for the place that He has brought us, and don’t believe the false prophets (media of all types) that tell you what you want to hear. Instead, believe in the future and hope that God has promised you. Draw even closer to Him, and seek Him when you are looking for answers. He’s still here! He is still with us. Our circumstances don’t define Him nor can they ever negate His promises to us.
I love those first 8 words of verse 11, “I know the plans I have for you.” I have come to read them with a slightly different emphasis as I’ve grown closer to the Lord and I wonder if this is how He intended us to read it. When I need to be reminded that His plans for me are ALWAYS good and that even in negative circumstances He has my future and my hope in His hands, I say this verse to myself with the emphasis on that first word, “I.” As though He’s asking me, “Do YOU know the plans I have for you? Because I sure do!”
Be encouraged, my fellow believer! Wherever you are, in whatever circumstance you may find yourself. God is for you and He is with you. His purpose and plan for you are always good. He will carry you through. Believe that. Trust Him. Draw closer to Him and seek His will. You will always find Him.
Lord, thank you for being a God who sees all and knows all. You know your plans for us and they are always good. Forgive us for the times that we get caught up in our circumstances and forget that what you have for us is good. Forgive us for the times when we see you as some sort of obstacle, a gatekeeper, opposing us, not wanting what is good for us. Help us to see the truth of who you are and that you are with us always no matter what our circumstances. Lord, may we always be in a state of drawing closer and closer to you. In those times when we feel as though we’re in captivity, may we draw even nearer to you. Thank you for always holding our future and our hope in your hands. Shape our hearts and our wills so that we walk in the paths you have set for us and we don’t stray from them. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.