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Promises Are Tricky Business

May 29, 2014

Most of us hold closely what we believe to be promises from God. We carry them as though they are a part of us. Maybe they came through a big encounter, a whisper in the chaos, or upon the pages of a worn Bible. Probably, maybe, from all three.

Some days we become bitter to those promises, as though they are reminders of everything we don’t have. We look at the word, or remind ourselves of the moment, as though it tells us what will not be and how certainly we should forget it. We throw our promises across the room, ensuring they hit the wall with force before falling to the ground. We decide to neglect and starve them of attention in hopes they feel the pain we ourselves feel by the reminder of what is not.

And yet, a few moments, days, or months later, we return to that spot and pick them up again. We brush them off and decide to hope in the promises we cannot see. Our method of neglecting, starving, and ignoring didn’t bring much life, so we decide to try a new way – a friendlier way.

Promises are tricky business. It’s difficult to steward something with grace and confidence when you have no control over when, if, or how it will happen. Maybe you believe in the “if,” or can guess on the “how,” but the “when”… that dang when… you can never be certain of the when.


I remember a year ago waking up one Tuesday morning to plan the latest Bible Study. The week before was so busy that I hadn’t prepared anything until hours before people were arriving. Given how much time the other teachings took, I wasn’t sure there would be a lesson that night.

To add to the pressure, I cracked open my Bible to the next segment in Mark, specifically the passage on Jesus discussing the end times. My first thought was definitely, “what the heck am I going to say about this?”

I tried to calm my mind and let myself sink into the words on the page. And something hit me. Jesus was promising his return and explaining what was to come. Yet no matter how many times his friends asked the question we all ask – a giant WHEN?! – he remained silent.

His friends could be certain and secure by the words of God-with-them right there in flesh and blood. I mean, they have the promise. But for the life of them, they could not get the when.

Ever been in that place where you literally cry out asking God to give you the time stamp on the promise so the waiting won’t be the death of you?

Me too.

There’s always a waiting component to the promises of God. Though the waiting ground should be reassurance that we’re in the right place, it rarely feels that way. Probably because it is the waiting which preserves the mystery of the promises.

Oftentimes, so it seems, God withholds answers to our questions, especially those demanding timestamps, to keep our faith active and the mystery alive. When Jesus was with his friends, entertaining their questions, he didn’t give them clear answers; he kept the mystery.

We can be certain the promises of God always will require faith. And the when of the promise is the ground of trusting, hoping, and waiting in the most active of stances possible.

We cannot escape the mystery to the promises. No matter the power of our prayers, maturity of our words, or hours of our fasting – the mystery remains.

I wonder if the internal battle that cause us to throw those promises with force against that wall isn’t about the promises themselves, but the mystery attached to them. Because mystery is uncomfortable and stretching. It keeps us dependent, not knowing the right answers or being in control. And it keeps us transparent, raw and open as we wait one more day, wavering on despair.

To hope in God’s promises to manifest upon our lives is to choose to live and rest amidst the mystery. And more often than not, that land lacks answers and timetables, requiring faith and dependence.


More thoughts next week…

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