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The Power of Promises

This article is courtesy of Image Magazine
and appeared first in September, 1993.

    “But YOU P R O M I S E D !!!!”

    These words conjure up memories that are not always pleasant. Like the night I hurriedly put our then four year old son to bed only to have him return with his favorite book under his arm. I tried to explain to him that we would be loading our belongings on a big truck the next day to move, that Mommy still had packing to do, and that it was already past his bedtime. He listened and then said matter-of-factly, “But you pwomised.” (We read several stories that night.)

    Or I’m reminded of an elevator ride on vacation when our whole family stumbled on board to go to our room. It had been a long day in which everyone had eaten too much, visited too long, and played too hard. I thought the children would readily drop into bed when one of our daughters said, “We want to go swimming!" Before I could even open my mouth she added, “Mom, you promised!” (The pool was very relaxing.)

    As a teacher and mother I hear these words often and they always get my attention. My first reaction is usually, “Did I really promise that?” It is followed by, ”How could I have been so stupid?” But if I have indeed made a promise, I am compelled to keep it. Because keeping promises is important. I have seen too many people (grown and not so grown) who remember unfulfilled promises.

All relationships are based on promises.    I don’t want anyone in my life to feel disappointed, betrayed, or abandoned by me because of an unkept promise. But besides the need to preserve relationships through promise keeping, I also recognize that all relationships are based on promises. The relationships between husband/wife, parent/child, brother/sister, teacher/student, employee/employer, co-worker/co-worker, friend/friend, God/us, all have a promise that serves as their foundation.

    Keeping promises for the sake of relationships is important, but there is an even more significant reason why promises should be kept. Lewis Smedes says: “We as people are most like God when we forgive and when we keep a promise.” In such acts towards others, we experience the being of God.

    God himself is a Promise-maker and a Promise-keeper. His name denotes this dimension of his nature. Moses at the burning bush in Exodus asks God, “Who should I say is sending me?” The reply is simple, “Say ‘I Am’ sent you.” As a child I thought that name for God was strange, but I have grown to appreciate it. It may best be translated, “I Am He Who Will Be With You.” When Jesus came he was the fulfillment of all that God has promised: Immanuel, “God with us.”

    We are therefore not only participants in the promising nature of God, but recipients of it! To comprehend fully what this means for our lives we should look at God’s people in the act of claiming a great promise to them.

    The story is found in Joshua 3:1-7. The children of Israel are standing on the brink of the promised land. As they wait to make the journey, Joshua gives them his final instructions.

    First he says they must be watchful and ready. When the people see the ark of the covenant, they are to follow at a specified pace. Joshua tells them they must be focused for they have never traveled this path before.

    As God’s people we too must focus on where he is leading, follow his instructions carefully, and trust him completely. Like Israel we have never traveled this way before. It is a great and exciting journey, but it demands our watchful readiness.

    Second they are to sanctify themselves in preparation for what is about to happen. Joshua reminds them that tomorrow God will do wondrous things in their midst. They must be purified and whole to witness the mighty acts of God.

    The God that led Israel leads us today. Unholy people cannot be in the presence of a holy God. In keeping his promise to always be with us, God has made every provision for our cleansing and salvation. He continues to work powerfully on behalf of his people and to perform “great wonders.” We must rid ourselves of all impurity if we are to participate in his work in our world.

    Third at the right moment they simply are to follow. After they have cleansed themselves and watched faithfully, they are to move forward and take the land that God has promised them.

    We too must make the journey faithfully. Sometimes taking the first step is the hardest. Sometimes we grow weary and discouraged on the way. Sometimes it seems that we aren’t really going anywhere. But we, like Israel, are on the brink of, and in fact laying claim to, something too wonderful to imagine.

    We are not moving into Canaan. Instead God has made his dwelling place in us and he will remain forever. He has promised.


HEARTLIGHT(sm) Magazine is a ministry of loving Christians and the Westover Hills church of Christ.
Edited by Phil Ware and Paul Lee.
Article copyright © Jeanene Reese. Used by permission.
Design copyright © 1996, Heartlight, Inc., 8332 Mesa Drive, Austin, TX 78759.
May be reprinted and reused for non-commercial purposes only if copyright credits are appropriately displayed.
HEARTLIGHT and the flared heart design are service marks of Heartlight, Inc.