The Process of a Promise

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord, God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “this man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:1-6 ESV

Abraham was 75 when he first received this promise from the Lord. After ten years, there is no sign of fulfillment in sight. At this point, Abraham takes matters into his own hands and sleeps with his wife’s maidservant, Hagar. This creates a whole mess of problems. Then, at the age of 99, angels visit Abraham and confirm that the promise from 25 years earlier will come to pass. And at the age of 100, Abraham and Sarah conceive a son named Issac. 

Good ole’ Abraham gives us a beautiful blueprint for receiving the promises of God. Now, most people love to receive promises! There are few things that breed as much anticipation. The only problem with promises is that they come through a process. And though the process isn’t always fun, it is always well worth it!

We find two types of promises in the Bible. Let’s take a look at these Greek words: 

Logos: a scriptural word from the Lord
Rhema: an uttered word from the Lord

Before we jump into this, let me say a couple of things. First, it’s important that we not confuse a “promise” with a “desire”. Our emotions can be tricky, so we must ensure we are hearing from the Lord. Not only that, but we have to remember that it’s easy for us to misunderstand what the Lord is trying to say. 

The way to remedy both of these is by seeking wise counsel and bringing them to the Lord over and over again. This will lessen our margin for error.

The promise doesn’t come without trust.
Promises are meant to produce trust between two people. When someone says, “I promise I’ll be there”, they are simply saying, “Trust what I’m telling you.” It is designed to build your confidence in them. But sadly, our society has taught us to question more than we trust. So to raise the stakes, we began shaking hands, giving pinky promises, and signing contracts. All of which is nothing more than saying, “Trust me.” 

Unfortunately, this has led to many disappointments and a lack of trust in people. Therefore, we tend to project those same doubts on the Lord when He makes a promise. But let me remind you, “God is not a man so He does not lie...” Numbers 23:19a 

A promise from the Lord is ultimately an attempt to cultivate further trust in Him. And to do that, sometimes He has to take it out of our control as He did with Abraham. So don’t be surprised when and if this happens to you. 

The promise doesn’t come without righteousness.
The Scriptures make it clear that no person can earn the grace and forgiveness of God. At the same time, I believe it is foolish to expect God’s will to be fulfilled while not walking in God’s ways. 

Abraham obviously made mistakes in his life. But he was known as a righteous man, full of faith, and closeness with God. 

The promise doesn’t come without testing.
God pulled no punches in letting us know about this. Genesis 22:1 says, “God tested Abraham.” But it is important to remember that testing and temptation are different things. The Lord is committed to never tempting us, but is emphatic about testing us. His purpose is not sadistic or manipulative. But rather to test and solidify our allegiance to Him. 

With Abraham, God wanted to ensure that the promise had not replaced the Promise Maker in his heart. 

The promise doesn’t come without work. 
The majority of promises we receive from the Lord are conditional. Here are a few examples:

  • "…if My people who are called by My name humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land." 2 Chronicles 7:14
  • "Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house. And thereby put Me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need." Malachi 3:10
  • "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9

This means that if you have received a promise that God will give you a spouse, your responsibility is to become a marryable person. If you received a promise of a promotion at work, your part is to be a diligent employee.

Abraham and Sarah’s promise was no different. Even in their 90’s, they had to work (if you know what I mean) for their promise to be fulfilled. There is a practical side to every promise.

The promise doesn’t come without sacrifice.
In order to say “yes” to a promise from the Lord, usually means saying “no” to something else. My family recently adopted a newborn baby. It has been an amazing, life-giving experience! But in order to do that, we had to sacrifice others things. And from my experience the sacrifice before the promise has been worth it, every time!

Abraham’s promise was solidified through sacrifice that came in the form of circumcision. Thankfully, most of our sacrifice isn’t as painful. Nonetheless, there will be sacrifice involved to receive fulfillment. 

The promise doesn’t come without waiting.
I grew up in a culture that said, “Don’t ask God for patience, because He answers that prayer every time!” For me, this painted God in a negative view. I felt as if He were just waiting for an opportunity to hurt me. That couldn’t be further from the truth. As C.S. Lewis once put it, “I am sure that God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait.” 

Abraham’s fulfillment took 25 years. That is a long time! But that is not uncommon to fulfillments we find in the Bible. Joseph waited 13 years, Mary more than 30 years, and David stood by for decades in wait. Hopefully our waiting will not be as lengthy, but it’s good to remember the potential is there. 

The promise doesn’t come without questions.
The fulfillment of a promise will not come without questions. It’s part of our falleness to doubt the Lord.

Even Sarah questioned how realistic God’s word was to Abraham. The Scripture tells us she laughed when she heard the plan. May the Lord give us faith. 

The process can be frustrating. But let me assure you that the fulfillment is well worth it! So even when you don’t understand, remind yourself, “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.” Romans 8:28