I often wrestle with promises. This comes with being a person who likes to keep their word. Now, you can think me holy or righteous, but part of this “keeping my word and coming through” actually stems from a desire to please others and make others happy (which, while it isn’t an inherently evil thing, can take the form of people-pleasing to the point of sin in my own life – but, that’s a different blog for a different day). My point – and I think I have one (or at least, I will by the time I finish typing and processing through these jumbled thoughts) is that promises are intrinsically and inherently valuable to me.
I think they’re probably important to everyone, to be honest. No one wants to be let down. No one wants to have a promise broken by someone they love. And I’ve lived a lot of life with family members who have broken promises – to love, and to cherish, and to honor, and to care, and to protect. I wonder if these seeds of sorrow are sown deep into my own soul, so that I want to come through with what I say I’ll do – because I know what it is like to be the child sitting on the front porch, waiting for a father who didn’t always show up. I am especially sensitive to promises broken, because parts of my childhood were products of broken promises.
Promises are even at the heart of the faith. The Old Testament reflected a covenant of grace, shown to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, to Moses, and to the Israelites – God’s chosen people, delivered from slavery, to be a people for his own possession. What a tremendous promise. A covenant not based on their works, but based on God’s character and his record of redemption. And Christ comes, in the New Testament, in perfect fulfillment of this covenant. Promising redemption and forgiveness – that we are made right with him through the shedding of his perfect blood. That, when God looks upon us, he sees the blameless righteousness of Christ instead of our measly record and broken promises. In fact, the New Testament is a fulfillment of a promise – a promise that God would again provide for his broken people. And Revelation is a picture of the promise kept. That we will be with him forever – in a place where there is no more sickness, or pain, or death. That he will defeat evil forever. And he will wipe away every tear of our eyes. He keeps his covenant not because we are good, but because he is good. He is the perfect promise maker. And he is a perfect promise keeper.
The problem, for me, comes when I forget what God has and has not promised. I don’t want to believe in the prosperity gospel. I rail against it, pointing out the passages in the epistles where the apostles are called to suffer on behalf of their savior. I want those false preachers to see Paul, in all his glory – which is the glory of a martyr, in chains, for the sake of the gospel.
But – I don’t want the chains, either. So, while I might theologically protest, the practical way I live my life shows that, from time to time, I tell myself that God has promised things to me that he simply hasn’t.
There is a fine line between trusting in his promises and his provision, between desiring and allowing those desires to bring me to the throne – and allowing them to destroy me when they aren’t met. Because the truth is that there are a host of comforts in life that I want – that I long for – that are simply not promised.
Some of these are tangible things. Nice homes and comfortable jobs with the ability to afford a mortgage. Cars and clothes and frivolity. And these desires, I might wrestle with from time to time – but because of my impoverished upbringing, they usually pass. I rent a house, but it’s a much nicer home than the one I grew up in. I don’t have a ton of clothes that fit – but I’m thankful for the ones I have, and wear them until they no longer fit or until they are threadbare. i am the wearer of one ring, two necklaces, and one watch, three of which were gifts given to me. I recently started buying the “expensive” shampoo – it’s hard to pay $5.79 for a bottle of Organix, but it really does work better.
No, my struggle is not usually against the physical. It might be easier if it were.
I want comfort. I want to know what is ahead. I want for God to promise he will provide – in the manner in which I see best. And that in doing so, I will not suffer. That I will know what is ahead – and that it will be easy. That I will not have to say goodbyes I do not wish to say. That i will not ever face conflict (because I really do hate it). And – if I’m being honest enough – I also want him to promise that I will not be single forever. It’s almost like a bargaining chip – I think to myself, “Well, since my family life was so unstable, surely he will provide a stable family – a husband, and maybe kids – and in a nice cottage with a porch swing and a pretty view for sunsets.”
I wrestle with the intangibles. With the things that I wish were promises – but that have not been promised. I wrestle with the tension of my desires and what has been promised – and which desires come from the Lord, and which come from my sinful flesh – and even which desires might from him, but have been tainted by my own fallenness. I struggle to desire his will and not my own. I struggle to find contentment in singleness. I struggle to long for him alone – and to allow my unfulfilled desires to push me back to him, instead of pulling me deeper into despair.
I am sure everyone has something that they want in life – something that may or may not happen for them. That hasn’t been promised or guaranteed by God. That seems like (but isn’t) the “be-all, end-all” to life. And, if you’re like me, when you realize that these things may never happen – you can start to doubt. At least, I start to doubt.
But it’s in these same promises that I find slivers of hope. God has shown himself perfectly trustworthy. He has kept his covenant. He sent his son and made a way for us when we deserved condemnation. He took our punishment on our behalf. He promises to never leave us or abandon us – and he will never break his promises.
And so when there are things I wish for, and long for, and hope for – moments when I wish my family could one day all be together and functional, or moments when I wish for a family of my own, or moments when I just wish for things to be easier – I pray that he will keep turning my gaze back to the cross and to that promise of forgiveness, restoration, and reconciliation. That we will be made like him, and that we will be with him. Forever.
One time, Mary said to me, “God’s plan is greater. I can’t see it, but I see his provision.” And I believe it.
Even thinking through this past weekend – the blessing of friendships across state lines, that span colleges and seminary and real life, that you can pick back up right where you left off. Those were never promised to me. What a provision.
A place like Beeson, to learn theological education and to make friends who have become family. Again, never promised.
Community like I have right now – people who are mentors, and friends, and spiritual siblings. Never promised. But, what a provision.
His purposes are good and right. He is trustworthy. He keeps his promises. And for the promises we think we should get, that he withholds? For those, perhaps he gives us himself. What he offers is far greater than anything I could ever desire, and is the ultimate longing of my soul.
He keeps the promises he makes. And they are far greater than the ones I sometimes wish he’d make. And for that, I am simply thankful.