Why Believing A Promise Is Hard (And Why We Should Do It Anyway)

Tonight at dinner my daughter Eve asked if I would play with her. Or snuggle with her. Either would do.

It was almost bedtime and the answer was a gentle but firm “No.” She slumped and puckered her ample lips into the infamous Eve Gerhardt pout.

image

She tried again: “Will you play with me tomorrow?”

Eager (and happy) to say yes, I said I would. Of course I would. I promised.

And she smiled and lights twinkled in her eyes…

-

I’ve been spending a lot of time in Isaiah these last few weeks. And I love it. Some of it’s weird (Like the parts where God tells whole countries He’s going to annihilate them). But most of it is heart-stoppingly beautiful. 

Like this from Isaiah 41…

I took you from the ends of the earth,
    from its farthest corners I called you.
I said, ‘You are my servant’;
    I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Or this in 44…

For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
    and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring,
    and my blessing on your descendants.
They will spring up like grass in a meadow,
    like poplar trees by flowing streams.

THIS in 46…

Even to your old age and gray hairs
    I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
    I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

And, my goodness, this in chapter 58…

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousnesswill go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

I usually read the Bible on my phone, and lately I’ve filled my photostream with screenshots of Isaiah. Verse after verse… I just can’t stop shoring up these sweet-tasting, soul-filling words.

It seems obvious now that I look at it, but I hadn’t really put it together until just this moment that all of these words in Isaiah—the ones I love so much, the ones so rich I can’t eat more than a handful a day—all these words are, of course, promises.

Promises.

They’re prophecies, too, I guess; in a way all prophecy is promise. But prophecy is an easy word to study and not so much a word to hold. Promise though… Just saying it makes me feel all weird and emotional and, for some strange reason, like I’m a little girl across the dinner table from her mom asking “Will you play with me? Promise?

Promise is a vulnerable word. We’re made vulnerable in the accepting, in the hoping. And we’re vulnerable in the act of promising, too—indebted, linked, responsible. Promises bind (every promise is a pinky promise); they stitch us together. And that’s lovely.

If we keep our promises.

But who keeps all their promises?

The truth? Promises make me nervous. Because I don’t want to (I just can’t) bank on a promise that’s bound to be broken. And so many are.

  • I don’t want my friends to promise they’ll come and me get all excited and them find something better to do.
  • I don’t want the doctor to promise it’s nothing if there’s a 1 percent chance it’s something.
  • I don’t want my husband to promise he’ll stay if there’s even one reason in five million he might not.
  • I don’t want my daughter to dream about playing with mommy all night only to find mommy forgetful and distracted in the morning.

I cannot bear the thought of hoping, a little or a lot, and seeing that hope handled recklessly.

So, I haven’t always loved promises…

Then I read Isaiah. And the promises look so good. And I want to believe them so much. But there’s this part of me that holds back and reads them from afar and thinks, “Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”

That’s the way I’ve read Isaiah in the past—holding God at arm’s length, believing but not believing. And it’s a terrible, bankrupting way to encounter God’s promises.

In Hebrews I’m reminded, “He who promised is faithful.” And every day I live in the presence of the Lord God, I am more convinced that’s true.

So today, more convinced than yesterday, I believed the promises. I grabbed them and loved them and repeated them and wrote them on my walls (for real though). For goodness sakes, I blogged about them.

I delighted in them.

Today I chose to make myself vulnerable with God. Not such a risky thing, but a choice I had to make nonetheless. And in opening myself up to a promise, I opened myself up to joy and confidence and hope.

The apostle Peter says when we believe God’s promises we become participants “in the divine nature.” As if in accepting God’s promises we find our eyes opened  and our hearts committed to the work and glory of God. We connect with God, and in some way, we merge with God.

Believing God’s promises, building a life on those beams and stones, is about more than obeying a command, it’s about lighting a darkness, accepting a challenge, setting out on an unmatched adventure. Believing God’s promises is walking on water and finding every sure step rewarded with solid liquid ground.

Yes, we’ll make ourselves vulnerable. People aren’t supposed to walk on water. But, if we’ll believe, we’ll find our small act of trust honored and multiplied—prismatic.