Standing On the Promises
Faithful people do lose hope. They meet with hard times, seemingly hopeless times, or just boring times. One of the most consistent disciplines of faithful Christians over the years is that when they lose hope, they look to God's promises in the Bible. In faith, they trust that God will honor those promises, and they find hope in that.
Promises are not a simple thing to hold to. You don't simply flop open the Bible, look at whatever page it flops to, and claim as your own the first one you come to. You don't put each promise on a slip of paper, toss them into a hat, stick your hand into it, pull one out and say, 'that's mine!'. Not all promises apply to everyone or to every situation. It takes prayerful discernment to find out which ones were meant for us to take to heart for right now.
For example : Abraham was promised that his offspring would be a great nation through whom the whole world would be blessed. Every Jew, Christian and Muslim is in some way a part of or a result of that promise. But it is not a promise to you and your offspring in quite the same way it was a promise to Abraham.
The prophet Isaiah gives us a promise about what God says (Isaiah 40:8):
"The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God stands forever."
The Scriptural promises are words from God, sent to give comfort to those who seek to live as God leads them to live. They weren't given an expiration date, nor are they just for the pious few.
Here are some of God says in the Bible are for those who put their trust in God :
- Christ accepts us : Revelation 3:20; John 6:37
- God gives eternal life : John 5:24; John 10:28
- God forgives us : 1 John 1:7-9; Isaiah 1:18
- God is faithful to us : Joshua 1:9; Isaiah 41:10
- God comforts us : Psalm 23
- Christ is always with us : Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5,6
- God protects us from harm : Psalm 91; Psalm 121
- God gives us courage : Hebrews 13:5,6; Ephesians 6:10-18
- God gives us wisdom : James 1:5
- God gives us the strength to refuse temptation : 1 Corinthians 10:6-13; James 1:12-16
- God answers prayer : John 15:7
- God gives peace of mind : Philippians 4:6,7
- God guides us : Psalm 32:8,9 --- --- (thanx to Carol Semmelman)
- God relieves us from suffering : 2 Corinthians 12:8-10
- God gives us rest : Matthew 11:28,29
There are many more promises in Scripture. Do you have a favorite, or one that has been very special to you? Please send it to me, and I may post it here, with acknowledgement.
Are Promises Private or Public?
From a reader's letter :
> Then this morning we were saying Matins together and found
> ourselves reciting Psalm 126. Verse 6 struck us: "Those who sow in tears
> shall reap with songs of joy." We both felt that here was a word of
> comfort and encouragement to pass on to our friend.
> But I am wondering how far this use of Scripture can be justified. The
> context of Psalm 126 seems to be corporate, relating to the
> whole people of God in a particular situation rather than to an
> individual's personal and private anguish. Is it right to take such a
> verse and apply it to an individual, who, though she is a member
> of the household of faith, is going through a time of intense emotional
> pain which is not related to her membership of the Church?<
(A) almost nothing in the Psalms is strictly personal or strictly household or strictly corporate. For the Judaism of the Psalmist's times, and especially for the Psalmists, there is a continuity between what we see as categories. One flows, sometimes even bleeds, into another. This is especially true of the promises of God. In Scripture, the personal sometimes prefigures or expresses the corporate (the community), especially with suffering, and most especially in the case of Jesus. God's promises are not just for all, but for each. Especially the words of comfort.
(B) There is a humungous load of 2000 years of testimony of Christians as to the workings of those promises and words of comfort on a personal level, especially regarding their families. Only a fool can casually dismiss their witness.
All that said, though, you have raised a telling point. We are too quick with comforting words, from Scripture or elsewhere, which may well not apply to the situation at all, and may well prove untrue. Glib assurances do not measure up the way hard-won wisdom does. It's time to discern. You comfort someone now, knowing you might meet her next year and see that there has been no joy for her.
It's a question that has no secure answer. But, I hope we know what our job is. The Christian community is to suffer alongside her, not just for one moment but continually, drawing on the strength of God to lead us, her, and/or her family into actions which may help to produce some of that joy. Sometimes it's social services, sometimes it's worship services. Prayer and presence, or advocacy and tough love, or aiming high but being graceful amidst the low. When the comforts and promises are spoken in that context -- a context which is a strange and glorious amalgam of personal and communal -- then we learn what the comfort really means.