By the time I graduated from Moody Bible Institute, I was well aware that I didn't know what it meant to have a personal relationship with Jesus. I had asked Jesus to be my Savior at a young age, and I was full of Bible knowledge, but Jesus didn't seem real to me. I was, however, beginning to understand that having a personal relationship with God's Son was a real thing. It wasn't just something Christians talked about. I thought about it off and on for the next few years but didn't know what to do about it. I occasionally would pray and tell God I wanted to know Him.
Jump ahead a few years. We had one son and another on the way. I began to withdraw and sleep a lot. I was depressed and had no idea what was happening to me. After my second son was born, it only got worse. One day I was reading my Bible. I hardly ever read the Bible on my own, but this time I read some verses I had never heard before. It was Jeremiah 29:11-14, "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 upon 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 I will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile."
At the time, it didn't occur to me that this might be a promise for me. I was deep in depression, and I couldn't imagine God had any good plans for me. Soon I became intrigued with v.29 because I kept hearing it over and over. A verse I had never heard and now heard all the time seemed crazy! Over the next fifteen years, this verse would come to my mind at times. I wondered about the part that said, "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 seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you," It didn't seem like God heard any of my prayers. They all "hit the ceiling". What did it mean to seek Him with all my heart? I went to church, I served, I was part of Bible studies, we had family devotions with the children...what else was there for me to do? A thought would come that I should make reading the Bible a priority, but I always brushed it off. I still didn't know the Bible offered more than head knowledge.
My road to freedom was long and bumpy. I believe today I could have cut the time in half if I had understood that God was speaking to me, that the Bible is the living Word of God, and that Jeremiah 29:11-14 was indeed a promise for me. But I don't look back. God is redeeming the years that were stolen from me. I would not be who I am today if I had not gone through the long years of depression. In His wisdom and sovereignty, He knew He was going to use the depression to bring Him glory. He knew I would one day be able to take hold of the promise He had given me 20 years earlier. Today, I know this was a promise He gave me at the onset of my depression to bring me hope. And even though most of the time I wasn't aware or couldn't fully grasp this promise, it always managed to keep a tiny spark of hope in my life.
The last part of the verse talks about being brought back from captivity. More recently I have realized that this too was part of the promise. It's like I was carried me off into exile. But God had a plan to bring me back. I am so grateful for all of it. I am especially thankful for the promise that is still being played out to this day.
This promise is not just a promise for me. It is a promise for anyone who belongs to God. If you don't see how this can be true, don't give up. Pay attention to the thoughts that come to your mind and sound like something God would say. For me, it was making the Bible a priority. But it may be different for you. God does have plans for you that are good. He has plans to prosper you; plans to give you hope. Sometimes the answer isn't apparent and sometimes He is waiting for you to seek Him with all your heart.