- Religion and Philosophy
God's Promises - For Me?
An old hymn
I grew up singing this hymn by Russell K. Carter. When I wasn't singing it, the words rambled around in my head constantly. Here are the first two stanzas and chorus.
- Standing on the promises of Christ my King,
Through eternal ages let His praises ring,
Glory in the highest, I will shout and sing,
Standing on the promises of God.
Standing on the promises of God my Savior;
I’m standing on the promises of God.
- Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living Word of God I shall prevail,
Standing on the promises of God.
It is indeed an upbeat hymn expressing huge confidence in God and in the reliability of his promises. The hymn expresses our longing for a sure place to stand in the midst of rising and rushing cultural waters. It's also full of lingo that for many is meaningless. Yes, even for me. I'm not questioning its truth and theological accuracy. Indeed, God has designed an opportunity for sinners to be reconciled to Him through faith in Jesus Christ. Since we're not even aware of our need for reconciliation, it was more than an opportunity. The gospel carries with it eye-opening, heart-softening and life-giving power. Those who know God are also recipients of God's fatherly care expressed in hundreds of promises found in Scripture. Among these are promises to forgive and to cleanse, to never abandon us, to provide a way to escape temptation, to provide our needs, to receive us in heaven at death, to mention just a few.
All these create in the believing heart a sense of assurance that, no matter what, things will turn out OK. And that's just the problem. It's a generalized feel good cloud. How do I get it from the cloud into practical every day life full of challenges, disappointments, choices and pitfalls?
Some take the promises of Scripture as though each were addressed to them personally. They open with "Dear John" or "Dear Beth" and end with "Sincerely, God." By the way, they also take instructions that way. I knew a woman who refused to move to a city to which her husband was transferred because the Scriptures commanded her to "Stay in the city." Clearly a misapplication of Scripture. Unbelievers rightly scoff at such an expectation. It sounds to them like God has nothing better to do than to micromanage his people's lives.
Others relinquish the matter to authority figures: a parent, a spiritual guide, a priest or pastor. The notion is that some folk have a direct line to God and would know better how a particular line of Scripture applies. When I was in seminary my preaching prof would always ask at the end of a class-room sermon, "What do you want me to do?" And most every Sunday morning someone would come up saying, "Pastor that was a great sermon, but you needed a little more application." I understood that to mean, "You didn't tell me what to do tomorrow morning." It's always dangerous to give someone else the authority to call the shots in your life. If anything is clear in Scripture, it is that God holds each of us responsible for our actions.
A third answer is to give up altogether on any personal application from Scripture. The idea here is "God's in heaven doing his thing and he expects me to do my thing on earth. He has only a general interest in us. He's not engaged personally with me. Except that there's plenty of biblical teaching to the contrary. Jesus' assurances about God caring for the birds in the field comes to mind.
The best I've read on discerning God's will
What to do
Remember that intellectual certainty on anything is a bit presumptuous. Not that God can't be trusted to tell the truth. It's that our processor has a virus that tends to skew all incoming data. However assurance is achievable. What is the difference? Assurance is akin to heart peace. It brings together intellectual reasonableness and inner confidence that God can be trusted, even if not fully understood. Assurance is a gift from God, certainty is a vanity of man.
So how do you make use of God's promises? Consider these.
Are you a child of God? If you've sincerely repented of sin and rest on Christ alone for your present friendship with God and eternal participation in his kingdom you are his child and a qualified recipient of his promises.
Is the promise before you contingent upon your doing something? Jesus indeed promised in Matthew 6 that the Father would take care of us, but he also said, "Seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness."
What is the scope of the promise or instruction you are reading? It's obvious that the scope of Jesus' instruction to stay in the city was limited to the disciples standing before him and by the coming of the Holy Spirit. So it would be wrong to apply it to any present relocation.
Where's your heart? Would you rather have God's goods than have his presence? The one promise that is unconditional is "I am with you always." That's the core covenant promise on which all the others rest.
Finally give yourself and God time to settle on an issue. In our instant gratification times we expect to google God for answers and goods, having them appear in seconds. God can't be used like that. One of the most common commands in Scripture is "wait" as in "wait on the Lord." So you think and you pray and you struggle internally. Eventually an assurance sets in that can only be explained by God's Spirit speaking softly and tenderly into your heart.
Reading back over what I've written alerts me to a possible push back. "Gee, if I have to go through all that to figure it out, I'll not bother!" Aren't all personal relationships something like this? Human friendships require time and investment and sacrifice. So does your friendship with God. Think of the investment He made to make you his friend.