One of the very first “Christian” possessions I ever had, apart from a Bible, was a “Promise Box”—a box containing hundreds of biblical promises printed on small cards, one for each day of the year. I cannot now remember whether it was a gift or a personal purchase. Perhaps my forgetfulness is a personal convenience. It might be something of an embarrassment today to admit it to my friends if I still used a promise box. After all, we do not wrest Scripture texts out of their context; nor do we use the Bible as the ancients used the famous sortes virgiliance—randomly finding a line from Virgil to guide them on their daily path. To live in this way smacks of the Chinese fortune cookie approach to the Christian life.
My promise box went the way of all flesh. God’s promises are not fortune cookies. We do not use them in order to get a spiritual “fix” for the day. Serious progress in the Christian life requires the thoughtful understanding of the biblical message as a whole, understood in this context and applied appropriately to our own context. We are, after all, learning to think God’s thoughts after him—about himself, about the world, about others, about ourselves. God’s Word is not our comfort blanket. It is the sword of the Spirit; indeed it is sharper than any two- edged sword.
All this is true. But the other day, when I remembered my long-lost promise box, I found myself asking the question: Did I throw out the baby with the bath water? Do I still have a firm grasp on the promises the Lord has given me, and am I living on that basis day by day? What promises have I seen him fulfilling for me recently? What promises am I expecting him to keep in my life?
There are two places in the New Testament where right living is seen as the direct consequence of trusting God’s promises. Writes Paul to the Corinthians: “Since we have these promises . . . let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit . . .” (2 Cor. 7:10). The “promises” to which he refers are God’s covenant with his people that he will 1) be with them, 2) receive those who “touch no unclean thing,” and 3) be a Father to them (2 Cor. 6:16-18). Paul’s reasoning is: If this is what God promises to be to his holy people, let us make every effort to be such holy people. If these are the riches that await me, let me walk on that path of holiness that leads to them. Here holiness is a direct result of living in the light of the divine promises.
Peter writes in a similar vein: “[God] has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Pet. 1:4). Here, the promises of God in general are in view. What is their fruit? Once again it is holiness, or right living.
The question this raises is: What promises of God have been etched upon my heart? What am I expectantly waiting for the Father of lights who does not change like shifting shadows, to give to me (James 1:16)? Am I really living as his covenant child, with the words, “Father, you promised” forming on my lips, as I live in expectation of him keeping his Word?
How am I to live my life in the light of God’s promises?
First of all, I must know what God’s promises are. The old daily Bible study question was not far off the mark when it asked: “Is there a promise here for me today?” We have outgrown the “promise box mentally,” but we can never outgrow the promises themselves. Scripture is full of them. Is there one in the passage of Scripture I read today? (Did I even remember to read a passage of Scripture today?)
Second, I must feed my mind on the promises of God. As a child I was often amazed by the ability of my grandparents’ generation to suck a single peppermint for half an hour, while mine was crunched to pieces within minutes!
We need to learn to do the same with God’s promises, metaphorically placing them “under our tongue,” allowing them to release their pleasurable blessings over the whole day. We need to meditate on them if we are to find them redirecting our thinking and filling us with an expectation that the Lord will keep his Word. Only then will we be able to say “How sweet are your promises to my taste” (Ps. 119:103).
Thirdly, I must let God’s promises govern my life-style. Has he promised never to leave me? Then I will commune with him regularly, as an expression of my faith that he is near. I will allow the knowledge of his presence to give me poise in times of crisis and pressure. I will live in such a way that I will not be ashamed that he is near.
It is not surprising that Peter speaks about “great and precious promises.” He himself had clung fiercely to Christ’s promise when everything within him and around him seemed to be caving in. Jesus has said: “I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back . . .” (Lk. 22:32). His hope in Christ’s implicit promise of his restoration was the “very reason” he had held on.
May God’s promises similarly renew your life.
This article was previously published in Eternity Magazine, February 1988.