In my new role as a district superintendent, I (Joleen) recently wrote this in an email to pastors in the Altoona District:
Hear the words of the Lord from 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. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 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.”
“I know the plans I have for you.” Sometimes we have no idea where we are headed or what God is up to, but the good news is, God knows.
We certainly have been in a place of not knowing. At the beginning of COVID our days were consumed with listening, gathering information, and seeking God and investing in new ways of worship. We continue to have that listening ear. We continue to have to remain flexible. We not only listen to the news for guidance, but you listen to God, and additionally you listen to your parishioners with sensitivity, doing your best to maneuver through these times. You are creative with your worship. Even in the midst of not singing, you lead in reflective, Spirit-inviting worship experiences. You lead, even as some congregants are frustrated by having to be led through this time.
There is peace and an assurance that comes in hearing God’s words, “I know the plans I have for you.” Friend, God has a plan. God alone knows the future. And God will continue to lead us through this time. I included the entire pericope of vv 11-14, because I want you to hear the concluding promise …
(I) will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile. I’m not saying that we have been exiled, but listen to the words, I will bring you back to the place …
We desire to be brought back (those words actually appear two times in this passage); we desire to be … brought back into our buildings; brought back to the way things were—this isn’t a promise that things will be the way they always were; but it is a promise that God will restore. It is a promise that God is with us. It is a promise that God will lead us through this time. And as we pray, God listens; as we seek with all our hearts, we find God. Find God in the midst of these circumstances.
Lead your people to find God in the midst of trying times. Lead your people to bring the gift of hope to others who are disoriented and do not have the hope that we have. Continue to share Christ!