God’s very great and precious promises
Anne Le Tissier begins a new series exploring the promises of God and what they reveal to us about the nature of God, his purposes and his guarantee for the future
Many years ago, my daughter made me a special gift for my birthday. She typed up a sizeable selection of scriptures, printed them out on varying shades of coloured card, and then carefully cut each one to size and slotted them into a pretty little box she had bought just for the occasion. I’ve since seen similar items in shops called “God’s Promise Box”, though I shall always treasure the unique one she made for me. It sits on my chest of drawers and each morning I am reminded of some facet of God’s unchanging character, purpose or provision.
It’s not wrong to call these truths ‘promises’, but depending on the English translation, few if any will actually use the word ‘promise’, as it had no special term in the original Bible text. The Hebrew, for example, simply states that someone spoke “a word”. That ‘word’ might mark a specific happening between two parties in the future, it might assure a continuing or future action, it may solemnise an agreement or announce a future event.
To collate a selection of ‘God’s promises’, therefore, be that in the format of a little box, a book, or a Bible-study, cannot and should not be limited to verses that contain the English word ‘promise/promised’. Rather, it should focus on the assurances we have of who God is, of what he undertakes to do, and of what he guarantees will happen in the future. And this is to be our theme for ensuing Bible studies. But unless we believe and accept that God is capable of fulfilling such ‘words’, the promises will be mere words to ponder, rather than truths to engage with and act upon.
So to begin this series, let’s reflect on the inestimable value of God’s promises, as we consider the nature of the one who gives them, and the nature of these ‘words’ themselves.
The one who promises
If I promised to give £100 to every reader who bought this issue of Woman Alive, my promise would hold no value whatsoever because I would be unable to fulfil such an undertaking. Sorry! If I promised my husband I would wash the car every week, my promise would soon prove faulty, as I am not willing to carry it out. And if I promised to live until I am 90, my promise could not be trusted because I do not have the power to ensure it will happen; nor do I have the knowledge or foresight to give such an assurance.
This doesn’t mean that we are incapable of making promises, and I am sure we can all think of at least one assurance we’ve made which we have kept. But sadly, we aren’t immune from breaking our promises or from being hurt by the broken promises of others.
We live in a world of uncertainty. Broken marriage vows, government U-turns, neglect, inability, or the simple consequence of unforeseen circumstances undermining previous plans are just a few ways in which promises may be broken. Over time, such let-downs may foster a reluctance to accept any promise at face value - even the promises of God.
But our inadequacies, imperfections, ineptness, vacillations, deceptions and prevarications stand in stark contrast to God’s unchanging nature, his perfect faithfulness, integrity, power and sovereign control. “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfil?” (Numbers 23:19).
God is totally reliable and trustworthy - this is what assures the value of his promises; words that reveal the God who he is and the purposes he fulfils.
The nature of the promises
The Bible is full of God’s promises, but they vary in how they are worked out and to whom they are given.
Those concerning God’s unchanging nature - his unconditional love, faithfulness and sovereign power, for example - are relevant to all who call to him and seek to receive the comfort, strength and guidance that his immense being assures.
Some promises, however, are specific to individuals. For example: God’s promise for offspring who would become a great nation and through whom the whole world would be blessed, was given specifically to Abraham. We are a part of the result, but it is not a promise given to us personally regarding our own children.
Consequently, we cannot simply dip into the Bible and pick out the first promise we come across as being pertinent to our own lives. Furthermore, some promises are conditional upon obedience on the part of the believer. And we shall consider the varying implications of God’s many promises throughout the coming months.
The fulfilment of the promises
Through faith in Christ, we have been given “very great and precious promises, so that through them [we] may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption of the world . . .” (2 Peter 1:3-4).
Jesus not only fulfils the outworking of God’s promises in nature, power and divine eternal purpose - Jesus also realises the promises given to the ancients. Indeed, Jesus’ ministry is founded on better promises and he guarantees their fulfilment (Hebrews 7:22;8:6-13;11:39-40).
Through faith in Christ, we may receive the promise of eternal life in heaven; a guaranteed hope for the future. But in Christ, we may also engage with God’s promises today; allowing them to transform our perspective, lifestyles, attitudes and behaviour, and depending on them to equip us for life’s journey.
All we need do is to choose how we will respond. Will we reject God’s promises as out of date, corrupt or inadequate? Or, will we prove them to be true in practice as we put our faith into action like so many who have gone before us and have not been let down?
Take it further
What’s your past experience?
Have you been let down by someone else breaking a promise? In what ways have you broken your own promises? If your experience has affected your interpretation and response to God’s promises, please reconsider and reflect on his unchanging nature, competence, and purpose.
“Your promises have been thoroughly tested, and your servant loves them . . . Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep . . . How priceless is your unfailing love!” (Psalm 119:140;36:5-7)
What’s shaping your life at the moment?
Whose words, assurances, undertakings or promises are shaping your life’s journey? In whom or what do you trust for equipping, direction, provision and assurance? If your life is not based and built primarily on God’s Word to your heart, you may be setting yourself up for future disappointments and discouragement. Rather, let us root ourselves in God’s Word which will never fail, for “God has power to do what he has promised” (Romans 4:21). Remember that, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field . . . The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God stands for ever” (Isaiah 40:6-8).
Do you need to take action?
Hebrews 11 recounts marvellous acts of faith that we may feel unable to replicate in our own lives. But the people mentioned were no more ‘spiritual’ than you or I - they simply took God at his Word and put their faith into action. The question is not, “will God fulfil his promise to me?”; rather, “will I act on the basis of that promise?” Which question are you asking and responding to today?
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for . . . faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (Hebrews 11:1-2;James 2:17).
Do you need to change your thinking?
To appreciate the true worth of God’s promises over and above anything that the world or other people can offer, we may need to realign our thoughts, opinions and perspectives to those of the one who makes the promises. Jesus once reprimanded Peter with words which he has also used to convict my heart from time to time, saying: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Mark 8:33). Whose perspective and purpose for life do you focus on? “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways’, declares the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8).
Are you struggling with disappointment?
God has promised himself to be faithful to us - first through the symbol of a rainbow, then in the life of Christ. Perhaps, however, there are many ‘clouds’ in your life, diverting your attention from the one who is with you and has promised never to leave you; ‘clouds’ in the guise of shattered dreams, disillusionment, physical or emotional pain. I cannot mend your life, but for a few moments, let us sit together - let’s be still, and let us ‘know’ the God who is most certainly with us; and let us pray . . .
Heavenly Father, I believe that you are all-sufficient and that you alone can truly satisfy. I believe your Word is spoken in truth, power, and for a purpose. Please recapture and refresh my mind and heart with the implications of your very great and precious promises. And in so doing, may these treasures continue to comfort, guide, renew and transform my life. Amen.