Theology is for Girl(s): Distorted Promises?

We are sister-blogging today! Please read this post and then head over here to Sunday Women and join Megan in the rest of the discussion. She’ll be blogging on the same topic: So I have a promise from God…now what? A pastor’s wife, adoptive parent, and just overall amazing woman of God, you won’t want to miss her wisdom.

Promise—n. : A declaration or assurance that one will do a particular thing or that guarantees that a particular thing will happen.

Principle—n. : A fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning.

Italy...I want to be here.

Past History or Today’s Promise?

My first Bible was the NKJV whose side notes centered on the promises of God. Every so many pages, there would be a section that highlighted a promise of God. I clung to them, certain these promises were meant for others but that I had been grandfathered in beneath a clause for all humanity. And because I had all His promises neatly listed, my faith depended upon whether or not God He did as He said He would.

For instance, in Ephesians, where it said “God is able to do abundantly more than I could hope or imagine” I applied this verse to mean that if I imagined big enough and prayed fervently about my hopes, then God would accomplish my wishes. It made Him a magic genie and me a performance pray-er. Still, I clung to this promise for years and even applied it to a specific trial in my life. Guess what? All I hoped or imagined is exactly how God moved…so was I right in approaching the Word this way?

Two years ago a woman walked into our tiny church restart of 12 people. (My family was five of those.) This woman was radiant—a sun whose path orbited on earth and the warmth she emitted was the love of God. Six months later she had a cold that wouldn’t go away and nine months later we were at her funeral. Her daughter emailed my husband several times during those nine months asking what she was doing wrong. “I’m praying; and I know if I just pray hard enough with faith enough that God’s will is for her to be healed.”

After all, it was Jesus who said, “Your faith has made you well.”

How are we supposed to pray the ‘promises’ of God with faith if we aren’t sure He’ll deliver?

A close girlfriend is a marriage champion. Five years ago I listened to her talk of the atrocious things her husband had done outside their bedroom. All I could think was, “My friend deserves better than this; I’ll do all I can to support her way out of this marriage.” Instead of filing for divorce, she clung to promises from God’s word and believes God will restore the marriage. Sometimes she’ll call, suspicious of behavior that reflects old patterns. Last time she said, “I have these promises. I just have to keep going back to them.”

Do God’s promises override her husband’s free will to continue a life of sin?

I can’t answer for God and how He speaks to you. I can’t tell you how long you should cling to His promises until perhaps—like the Israelites exile from the Promised Land—that promised territory just isn’t where you’ll live and die your final years.

But I can give you guidance on how to approach God’s word. The question: So I’ve found a promise from God…Now what?

When we approach the Word of God we are looking for a couple main ideas and we can only succeed if we understand one truth about the Word: God is the main character. If it’s the story of David and Goliath, the MC is God. If it’s Daniel in the den, the MC is God. If it’s Solomon building the temple…still God. If it’s Job and his friends…still God.

Knowing that God is always the main character of the Bible, we then can look for two things: (1) What does the passage tell us about God? and (1) What does it reveal about God’s plan?

This is why the scriptures were written. Any personal encouragement, any captivation by the story line or poetry, admiration of the law, or historical insight into the world of Jesus—these are all benefits but not the main idea of why God recorded and preserved the blueprint of His master plan.

So, you found a promise…now what?

  • Read the notes and find the audience. Who was the promise given to originally? What was this particular book of the bible written to accomplish? For instance, Paul’s letters were written to the early churches to resolve theological issues threatening to divide congregations. Chronicles were written to highlight the line of David for a nation recently released from exile. Acts was written to record the movement of God’s Spirit and the birth of the church.

Let’s look at a famous promise from Jeremiah 29.11: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope…and I will restore your fortunes…”

We use this verse at graduations, when someone loses their job, when great catastrophe hits someone near to us. Why? To whom did this verse first bring hope?

These words were written to a nation taken captive by a foreign king. God told them, “build houses and plant gardens..take wives and have children.” Basically, God said to His people, it’s going to be a long haul. Seventy years long, he said. Some Israelites were going to die in exile.

That was depressing, I’m sure. But God had more to say…

If Israel would to turn back to God and seek Him, then they wouldn’t have a future and a hope. God’s anger would turn and their children would have a future with Him.

  • After finding the audience of your biblical promise: Ask yourself what separates you from the audience?

In Jeremiah, it would be the Old Covenant. We haven’t been involved in pagan idol worship (perhaps?), and we aren’t deported to another land.

  •  Then: Ask yourself what is similar between you and the audience?

Sin can lead to punishment—no one is exempt from the consequences of God. When we have sinned, we feel distance from God.  We wonder what the future of our relationship with Him will look like. Also, we are in a covenant relationship with Him.  We are His people.

  • Finally, ask yourself what this passage shows about the main character—God?

God knows (his omniscience).

God cares about the future of His children.

God is involved in that future.

God will bring us back into right relationship with Him if we posture our hearts right…

God desires for us to have future filled with hope—and that hope is centered around Him.

  • And there it is. Once you have the character of God revealed in a passage, that’s where your promise should lie. According to the character of God, we can count on Him to be involved in our tomorrows. We need not fear the unknown. He desires what is best for us–and He is what is best for us.

See how that works?

What Are We to Do?

With the daughter who prayed and the mother who died, we have to look at the passages where Jesus healed. We need to see what He did, and what He didn’t do. We need to ask: What affect did it have on the spread of the gospel? What happened to all the people who weren’t healed in that town? Does his lack of ‘healing’ everyone reveal something negative about the love of God? Or does it expose a greater promise?

With my friend who is waiting for God to redeem her marriage, she could study the passages that speak of God’s redemptive character, His desire to heal the broken (Isaiah 1), and His handling of adultery within covenant (Hosea) and know that it is within God’s character to heal and repair, just as it is in His character to let mankind sin and stumble. Both expose our need and dependence upon Him.

Perhaps we cling to promises because we know we don’t deserve the fullness of God’s movement in our lives. This truth makes His desire for the opposite so much more astounding.

When we fear, when we are looking for hope, we can remember we have the inheritance of the greatest promise given to mankind–Jesus. And come bankruptcy, or death–divorce, or unemployment—this life is part of the marked path that leads us home. What other promise do we need?


5 thoughts on “Theology is for Girl(s): Distorted Promises?

  1. Wow girl…..that is so awesome and so deep! I enjoyed reading your post. It wasn’t God’s will to heal my mom even though that is what I thought He was leading me to believe. Because I wrote down everything about her battle with ALS, others can be helped through reading our story. Most importantly, they will hear about Jesus and come to know Him. My mom would have thought her death was all worthwhile if one person came to know Christ!!

  2. Marian, what a privilege to sister-blog with you!

    I love the way you redirect our selfish hearts to seeing God as the “Main Character”! In my head, I think I know that, but when I read a promise in Scripture that seems to promise ME something, I forget. (Maybe sort of like my kids who, rewarded with one M&M for playing kindly together, then hang around my feet looking eagerly at the candy box instead of returning to their Lego-building!)

    Here’s my question: Do you find Scriptural evidence to encourage women to pray for physical healing, relationship reconcilliation, financial provision, etc.?

    1. Megan,
      Yes, of course! What a great follow up question. You are so good at these! 🙂
      An OT example would be king Hezekiah who prayed for healing and God heard him. Jonah who prayed thanksgiving and God delivered him. A nation of Israel who prayed for a Messiah and Jesus came.
      In the NT, we have the Lord’s prayer which teaches us to pray in accordance to God’s will so we stay oriented toward Him and His will is done. We see family members run to Jesus and pray that he heal their brother, son, daughter. Jesus is in the garden in prayer, asking if there is another way, but submitting to the will of the Father.
      Acts exemplifies corporate prayer as a catalyst for unity. Paul encourages us to pray consistently—as we rejoice and give thanks!
      Cornelius prayed and God sent Peter.
      I believe that prayer can be a catalyst for the movement of God and that prayer keeps our eyes peeled for the movement of God. We can run to Jesus and he will turn toward us, with love and compassion…but that in the end, our faith can’t be dependent upon how God answers our prayers. But they surely can amplify faith and thanksgiving, or lead us to trust His mercy and justice include plans higher than ours. What do you think?

      1. Marian,
        Thanks for your thoughtful (as always) answer! I love how you say: “we can run to Jesus and he will turn toward us with love in compassion. . .but that in the end our faith can’t be dependent on how God answers our prayers.” That is right on! And if we are hung up on the “how” he answers, we may not even notice or give thanks for the “love and compassion” part.

        I would add, and this is not disagreement, just my own further thinking: the promises of God do show us what pleases Him and give us some idea of direction to pray. When God says: “honor your father and mother that it may go well with you and you may live long in the land” it shows us something about the kind of thing that God likes to do. He is happy for people to respect authority, and he is happy for their lives to go well, and he is happy for them to have long life. I think we can use that promise as food for prayer, asking God to grant obedience and wellness and long life, because we know those are in keeping with God’s character.

        How and when He may choose to grant them is, of course, His mysterious working! And we can be content in that.

        Thanks for sharpening my theology, friend!

  3. That’s a beautiful image isn’t it? Of being ABLE to please God. I love that so much…Just this week I came home with an intense feeling of displeasing God, and the growth that comes from that realization that we stepped away from his principles and we have stepped into a world of self…I am so grateful that we have the Word as a compass to orient us back in the right direction and that we can–like you said–please him….

    Great truth, Megan! I love how you take it a step further.

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