Jeremiah 29:11 has to be in the top five of any list of commonly known scriptures. "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 a future and a hope." (NIV) Far too often though we take this verse out of it's proper context and twist it to fit our own perception on God's relationship with His children.
Most often when people quote this verse to one another it goes something like this: Person A is troubled by problems in their life. Person B, in an effort to cheer up Person A, tells them something like "Don't worry about it. God has everything under control. God is going to bring good things into your life here soon! Jeremiah 29:11! He has a great plan for you!" So the verse is generally seen as proof that God brings good things into our life, and that that is the plan He has for us. So when faced with hard times, we simply remember that ahead there must be some good things ahead?
Aside from the egregious misuse of context (which we'll get to in a minute) there is a philosophical problem with this line of thought that the astute Person A may immediately counter with: "If God has a plan strictly for good for my life, how did I get into this struggle in the first place?" To which Person B, chances are, does not have a satisfactory answer. That's the main problem with this line of thought. It doesn't take into account the fact that God never promises that our lives will be all good all the time. In fact, if some Bible scholar can in fact find anywhere in the Bible that it DOES say that (in proper context) it would give me personally a real reason to doubt. I say that because my personal life is not always good. I face things every day that are hard. There are times when I have to think about the past to think of things I'm thankful for because nothing at the time seems worth being thankful for.
This begins to get at what this passage really means. When we look at where this passage is in the Bible, we begin by knowing the author. Jeremiah was known as the "Weeping Prophet". Not the most encouraging name in the Bible. He was known as this because he saw his nation destroyed and taken into exile. Jeremiah 29 in fact is a chapter that starts with God telling His people (through Jeremiah) to build homes, because they won't be leaving exile anytime soon. God had sent His people into exile for disobeying Him, and He had no plan to bring them home soon. He did however want to bring them home eventually. So He is not promising them a smooth ride to a great future. He is promising that even while going through something as horrible as being uprooted and taken to a foreign nation that His ultimate plan is to give them a future of hope.
All to often we stop right there though. The passage keeps going, and the next few verses make it clear that there are some conditions to this promise. God specifies in verses 12-14 that He will indeed bring them home and that He will be found by them, but only when they "call on me and come and pray to me" and "seek me with all your heart". God isn't just giving a free pass for disobedient children. He is promising that if His people would seek Him with all their hearts and obey Him, that He does have a plan for their future full of hope.
So we understand that God does indeed have a wonderful plan for your life. That doesn't mean that it will always be easy. Our own disobedience will still have it's consequences, and we will find ourselves in difficult circumstances. If we are faithful to repent and seek Him though, we will find that God does have a future for us full of hope because our future is Him: the ultimate hope.