Learning to Keep Our Promises Better

by Rev. Doug Gray

An elderly woman had just returned to her home from an evening of church services when she was startled by an intruder. She caught the man in the act of robbing her home of its valuables and yelled, “STOP! Acts 2:38!” (Repent and be baptized, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven.) The burglar stopped in his tracks. The woman calmly called the police and explained what she had done. As the officer cuffed the man to take him in, he asked the burglar, “Why did you just stand there? All the old lady did was yell a Scripture to you.” “Scripture?” replied the burglar. “She said she had an Ax and Two 38’s!” When life works out differently than we expected, we are often tempted to do one of two things:  to give up on the dreams we believe God has for us, or like the older woman in this story, to throw God’s promises at the problem and expect the problem to listen. Particularly since our economy is changing so fast, we are tempted to stop dreaming and making promises altogether. Sometimes it may even seem like God’s promises are pretty thin stuff in the face of jobs moving overseas, sky-rocketing health care and education costs, and stock markets going crazy while wages stagnate. Our passages for today, have a lot to say about how God makes and keeps promises, and so we can learn more about how we can accept God’s promises and keep ours to each other and to God.

First, only make promises worth keeping. It’s always tempting to approve of things we think are a good idea. But it’s another to actually commit ourselves. Cynthia and I have a wonderful friend who had a terrific husband and a solid career going. Until just a few years ago, she thought children were a fine thing, but not for her…uh-uh! You can imagine how the world shook when she asked her husband if they could try to have a child together! She wisely chose to wait until she knew she could back up her promises with her life. We are much more likely to keep a promise when it has to do with something or someone we really care about. Those are the promises so worth keeping that we are willing to move heaven and earth to make sure they happen. But the key to making promises worth keeping is to care.

Second, ask for God’s guidance and really care what you hear. One of my favorite tricks is to ask God what God thinks I should do, and then essentially stick my fingers in my ears and say, “la la la la” because I really want to do what I want, not what God wants. It’s tempting to do that when we are having Congregational or board meetings. We are tempted to pray before we begin for God to help us make decisions only to excuse God from the room, inviting God back at the end to tell God what we’ve decided. What’s the point of seeking God’s guidance if we don’t intend to do it? We are confused about who is really in charge—and it’s not us! We can make all the promises we like, but if they are not in line with God’s will, they are empty and pointless. Amazingly, if we go God’s way, then we will end up right every time and have God’s help in the doing. What God wants for us is not evil or wrong, but as Moses says, “life and prosperity.” Listening to God is good, but we need to care enough what God thinks to bring our lives into line with what we hear from God.

Third, just do it. Eventually, we have to roll up our sleeves and do what it takes to keep the promises we make to each other and to God. And so we come back to the promises God makes to us:  that God loves us and desires what is best for us, and that God’s loving power will never leave us. Paul even writes that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” If God’s promises are real, then we know that we will have all we need when we step up to do what we know God wants us to do. Where God guides, God will provide. I’ll say it again, where God guides, God will provide. There will be lots of reasons people will think of to not do what we know is right. Only by keeping our eyes and heart focused on the love of God in Jesus will we have what it takes to win through when we just do it.

We live in uncertain times. That uncertainty will tempt us to pull in our horns and not make the promises we know could make all the difference in the world. Some will throw up their prayers, and then wait for God to it all. We will be tempted to think the best things are beyond our reach. God says, “what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.” We will be tempted to let fear decide what we should do instead of love. Today God encourages us, “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land…” The challenges will listen when we listen to God. The world may think we are nuts for investing our lives and finances in God’s dreams for our lives and this fellowship, but God has plans for this fellowship to make a difference in this community. At the end of the day, whatever happens, we know we can keep our promises because of the amazing promises God keeps in our lives day by day.