The Promise Gap
(This Post originally appeared as part of a monthly Blog Devotional series by Grant DiCianni)
As a Christian, as a pastor, as a guy standing in the checkout line of the supermarket, I think conversations seem to turn to this topic as one of the top 5… Promises. Specifically God’s promises to us.
Let me be even more specific… Christians who are frustrated, mad, confused, angry, or even disillusioned with God because they have not yet received something God has promised.
And it seems, especially lately, that there is a the gap between a promise and its fulfillment. I have so many friends, acquaintances, even loved ones that are waiting – longing – to see God keep one of His promises. Maybe that’s even what brought you here to this post. You are trying to understand, wrestling with something that you know God has for you, but haven’t yet received.
Sometimes those promises are ones that really are for everyone so there is such suprises when we seem to not receive them (Peace that passes understanding, strength for the journey, etc) and sometimes those promises are specific to our unique need or hurt or prayer.
And I will freely confess, as I have in past episodes our Monthly Blog Devotional Posts, much of the time I write these devotionals as much for me as for you.
Let’s start with looking at they “types” of promises.
All of us have received direct, specific promises from God, that every single human can bank on. Let’s start with the universal ones revealed in Scripture: Salvation through Christ, Eternity in Heaven with God because of Christ, the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the Return of Christ – just to name a few. These are the “big ones” that occupy our hopes, dreams and lives. They dominate (or at least they should) our church cervices, Bible studies, etc. And the ones that are yet to be fulfilled I can hardly wait for!
There are however several personal – or should I say “personalized” – promises that many of us have received. It might be about a ministry God is calling you to, a blessing He has promised, a purpose, a calling, a healing, a something. Something that God has specifically promised you that you have not yet received. And you’ve been waiting. That’s what I want to center on today.
We see several such “personalized” promises in Scripture. For example, Abraham was promised that he would be the father of many nations (Gen 17:4-5) and that his descendants would be as numerous as the sand on the seashore. Pretty interesting promise for a guy who was, at the time, childless and old enough to collect Social Security (no, they didn’t have Social Security back then b/c they were too smart to have career politicians – that’s a whole other post). Seriously though, at the time Abraham received the promise that he would be a father he was so old it was really a biologically moot issue. But that’s what God said.
Let’s look at another personalized promise – David. David was promised by God that he would be King of Israel. At the time, he was a lowly shepherd boy so seemingly insignificant when his father (Jesse) was asked to assemble his sons, Jesse left David with the sheep and called his other sons home. I love that detail by the way – God’s anointed leader of Israel, one who was “after God’s own heart” was seen by his own family as insignificant. Again, stuff for another post but suffice it to say that God’s picks are rarely the world’s picks. Thank God!
One more personalized promise from Scripture – Zechariah (John the Baptist’s dad). Here’s another man who – despite his geriatric state – was promised a child. And not just any child but one who would come in the power and spirit of Elijah to turn the hearts of the people back to God (Luke 1:11-7). Pretty heady stuff.
My dad even has a great painting The Promise, you can see it on our website) which details one of the biggest promises and longest gaps (God’s promise of the Messiah to Isaiah some 700 years before it was fullied by Jesus’ birth)
Now in all of these cases – let me be more personal, for each of these people – there was a gap between the promise and the realization of the promised thing. Sometimes that gap is days or hours… sometimes weeks… sometimes years or even decades. And like kids – we all prefer immediate gratification rather then waiting on our Father’s timing. Am I right? It’s ingrained in us from childhood – Are we there yet???.
My oldest (he’s 4) asked me for a treat the other day. I said “sure sweetie, in a little bit”. He nodded sagely. 30 seconds later “Daddy’s, it’s a little bit later… can I have my treat?”. And he was dead serious in his earnest expectation that he had waited the requisite time.
God rarely works that way. My dad has a great phrase “God is seldom early, never late and always on time”.
Here’s my point – the waiting is usually what hurts the most. That gap between now and “in a little bit”. In fact, the first three people that we discussed above show us three different responses to God’s promises. Let’s deal with them in reverse order. Zechariah – his response to the promise? Doubt. His exact words were “How can I be sure of this?”. (For those of you who think God speaks only King James English go back and read the angel’s response. It’s a scorcher…Yikes!) The result? Zechariah still received what was promised – but b/c of his doubt there was a punishment – he was mute (unable to speak) not merely until the baby was born but 8 days later at the time the baby was to be named.
David – David trusted God would do what God said, in His timing. At least that’s my assumption because we saw no change in David’s life immediately after he received the promise. Before the promise, we see him tending sheep. After the promise, we see him… still tending sheep. Until one day, his dad sends him to the front lines with some bread and cheese (what a “royal” assignment for a king!). There he kills a giant (God did it but you get my point). Then, David finds himself in the service of the current king whom God has anointed him to replace – as a… musician!. David’s response? He serves the current king so well that he becomes a top adviser and military commander! (Personally I would have walked in looked at Saul and said, “You’re out, I’m in – by the way, why are you still sitting on my throne?”) Finally though, we find David reduced to refugee in the desert supposedly serving the enemies of Israel. It’s only after the death of Saul that the God given promise is fulfilled when the people of Judah seek David out and God’s promise begins to be fulfilled as they anoint him king of Judah and years later king of all Israel.
Last but not least – Abraham. His response? He tried to help God fulfill the promise. Big mistake! In my mind Abraham exemplifies two things: 1) A great example of faith 2) A great reminder that we should never try to “help” God. Abraham received the promise, waited a while and then impregnated his servant girl to give God a helping hand. The resulting child have been plaguing the children of Promise ever since (Ishmael was the father of the nations of Arab descent – predominantly Muslims). Again, this point alone is a great sermon – When God promises an Isaac be careful not to birth an Ishmael – but my goal here is to look at the time between the promise and the realization of the promise.
I had a great friend up in the northern part of California, among the first things he told me was that one of his greatest challenges in life was learning to “live without holding his breath”. Meaning, receive God’s promise, expect it but don’t be paralyzed waiting for it. Not to be so consumed with the promise that every day without its fulfillment is impossible agony. He’s one up on me in that department but I’m learning.
Let me offer these 6 tips for weathering the “gap” between the promise and its reception.
1) Whatever God has promised you in your life (if you’re sure it was a promise from God) WILL come true – In His way, timing and for His Glory. (2 Corinthians 1:20, Romans 4:20-22, Hebrews 11:11)
2) Trust God & Wait. Patiently if you can. You can’t speed it up. Trying to only makes you more miserable (trust me on that one). (Hebrews 11, 2 Peter 3:4 & 9, Psalm 5:3, Psalm 37)
3) Live. This is the one I think we fail at worst. What do I mean? It seems today that when we get a great promise from God, a lot of us sit down, bask in it and wait. However, there is usually some action required from us and typically that is to live in line with the promise. For example, Zechariah and Abraham were both promised children by their wives. Right? What was their part in fulfilling the promise – well they needed to sleep with their wives! Right? Kind of hard to wonder where God is on that promise if your wife is in the opposite tent for the next 15 years! For David, he had to be responsive to where God was moving him… even when it made no sense. The things that make no sense to us are often times God’s training ground (could it be that in the years David served Saul, God was possibly teaching David some of the details of kingship?)
4) Don’t try to help God. This is where I fail the most. I think I see what God is doing so I try to “help” out. That almost always backfires.
5) I’m going to throw one more out there… and this is not precisely a Biblical command but something I have learned to do. Write down the promise and remind yourself of it periodically. Then EXPECT God to fulfill it. I think sometimes when God goes to fulfill a promise, we have forgotten about it to the extent that we don’t recognize things for what they are. I’ve been guilty of that and I know many many good mature Christians who have done the same. If God gives you a promise, live in expectation that He is going to fulfill it! He will!
And remember, the Lord will faithfully sustain you between now and then… as He always has and will for all eternity thereafter!
Let me give you the best example of #5 I can think of. And in all fairness I am stealing this story from a great pastor named Jim Grahams. He told a story about his dad in Wisconsin circa the first part of last century. I may get some of the details wrong but I’ll do my best. His dad was an immigrant and owned a bake shop. And every Sunday night they went to church and didn’t get out til late in the night. In the winter, the only way to get to church was the family’s horse drawn sleigh. And often times when they would come out of church – late at night, sometimes even in the wee hours of the morning – Pastor Jim’s dad would stop the sleigh and gaze up into the sky, lost in the majesty of God’s creation and whisper to his family “a perfect night… look at the stars so clear… the moon so bright… the air so pure…this must be the night that Christ is coming back!”. To him, Christ’s promised return was not an abstract hope – it was a daily expectation. A true fact of existence that simply had not been realized yet in his experience. That’s what the promises of God are: Facts. We simply haven’t experienced them yet.
Let’s be honest, the gap between the promise and its realization can be tough. But hang in there… God is rarely early, never late and always on time. And He WILL do what He has promised.
‘Til next time…