Yesterday, we looked at some of the promises God made in Scripture, some of the highly-specific, almost-unbelievable, only-if-God-says-so promises He gave to His people. Which leads us to some of our own sticky theology....
When was the last time you heard someone talk about a specific promise of God?
Most of us today have come to a faith not in God, but in mystery. We have heard the words of God and taken them as abstract concepts.
You may think, for example, that God's promise is peace. Great. But what is peace? How can you hold God accountable to a promise of peace if you don't know what peace looks like and if He hasn't told you? All of a sudden, it's up to your heart to find peace and then to thank God for it. See something amiss? The promise of God is never something you have to 'find.'
When you read through the Scriptures and see God promising His people peace, there are quite often some very detailed specifications about what peace looks like. It looks like being given rest from your enemies on all sides. That's a certain kind of peace. It looks like lions lying down with lambs. There's another kind of peace. It looks like swords being beaten into plowshares. That's also peace (once you get past all the noise of actually beating metal into a new shape). Jesus says, MY peace I leave you. That's a very specific kind of peace. (And if you're not convinced, ask yourself what kind of peace it takes to lie on a Cross voluntarily.)
So we have this idea in our heads that God has promised us peace, and it's almost true. The peace God promises us is not so abstract as we make it. It's more specific than just peace. It's His peace. That's something far more defined than just a feeling we get in our hearts, which is fleeting at best.
Or we read that God is working all things together for the good of those who love Him, and we take that to mean that God has promised us "good." Really. Would this have been enough of a promise for, well, for anyone to follow God in His story? Would Abraham have left his home and gone to a foreign land on the mere suggestion that "something good" would happen? Would Noah have put his reputation on the line to build a giant ship because God said it would be "good" for something? Would Joseph and Mary have endured all the trials of being young, unwed, and pregnant if all God ever told them was that "it's gonna be good"?
Then why do we think this is enough of a promise for us? (And by the way, this isn't actually a promise; it's an assurance. There's a difference.)
It's not a promise! It has absolutely nothing specific or identifiable that would make it a promise of God. He has given no indication of what He's actually doing, and even in faith, God never requires blind hope. The promises of God are always specific. You can hang your hat on them, so to speak.
The same is true of nearly anything we seem to think God has "promised" us these days. We're content to wrap our idea of God in all these abstract packages - peace, good, blessing, joy, whatever it is. The problem is that none of us have any idea how God is going to do these things, which leaves us living our lives looking less for God and more for promises.
We live in search of peace, which we think comes from God, but we're not looking to God for peace. We may thank Him if we happen to find it, but is it really God's peace? No. We live in search of good, which we thinks comes from God, but we're not looking to God for goodness. Again, we may thank Him if we stumble upon the good, but is it really God's good? No. We live in search of blessing...but not God's blessing. We live in search of joy...but it's not God's joy.
It's the subtlest of dangers in our faith, but one that we're falling victim to more and more as we take God at His abstract word. Slowly but surely, we turn our lives toward these assurances, taken as promises, and come through our own subjective experience of them to get to God. Slowly but surely, we live our lives longing for peace, for good, for blessing, for joy, more than we ever long for God. And we convince ourselves that this still feels holy. Like we're doing the right thing.
Don't be fooled. These are not promises of God. You know how you can tell? Because it's up to you to fulfill them.
Any promise God actually makes to you, anything God tells you He's doing, He will do. And He'll tell you exactly what He's doing. He's birthing a nation, reclaiming a creation, entering a Promised Land, establishing a kingdom, redeeming the world, indwelling the soul. You don't have to wonder if He's doing these things and you missed it; He's doing them, and you're right there in the middle of it. He tells you as much.
And all this peace, all this good, all this blessing, all this joy? It's there, too. Not because God promised it, but because God is these very things. By His presence, He bears these gifts. Not by His promise.
By His promise, He's doing even greater things than these.
So what is God really saying to you?