/ God's Promises

Adjusting Our Grip on God's Promises

No one would have called Jacob's life easy. To be sure, he sometimes made it harder than it needed to be but even then it was never a life given to comfort. Early estrangement from a brother who wanted to kill him. Deceived, duped and threatened by his father-in-law. Wives who didn't get along. Sons filled with so much hatred they sold one of their own into slavery. Years of mourning that son only to send the youngest one down to Egypt for the hope of getting a few more months worth of food.

But at least he had the promises. God's promises. At least he could always think back to receiving the covenant blessings from Isaac. Blessings of numerical greatness and a Promised Land. He could remember the dream in Beersheba of the ladder and God's promise, "I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land." (Gen. 28:15) He could remember his wrestling match with God and the blessing so great it came with a limp.

So when the sons return with the amazing news that Joseph is still alive and is, in fact, ruler of Egypt, Jacob realizes his time in the Promised Land is over. He needs to leave again. Though they had the promises for three generations, the family of Abraham still had only a few people and owned only a grave plot in the Promised Land. And just when things were getting good, just when the family was united and actually growing into a nation, he had to leave that land for good.

In grace, God met Jacob one final time in Beersheba, where Jacob worshiped at the altar used by his father and grandfather. There, God gave the promises again: promises of becoming a great nation and even, in time, returning the people to the Promised Land. And He gave the greatest promise of all: "I myself will go down with you to Egypt." So once again, Jacob had the promises and once again, he was forced to readjust his grip on those promises.

And there is the lesson for us: we must learn to distinguish between the clear promises of God and our expectations for how those promises will be fuilfilled. Jacob had received the promise of the Land and surely as he grew old thought he would at least die in that Land. But now he finds out that God's plan, all along, was to hold that land in reserve for Jacob's descendents to receive in 430 years. The promise was always true but the fulfillment wasn't what anyone expected.

So it is with any and every Christian. We have "his precious and very great promises" (2 Pet. 1:4), promises which give strength and true hope and reason to keep putting one foot in front of the other. *But we need to learn to distinguish between the true promises of God and the way we believe God should fulfill those promises. *

Two examples: A Christian reads and takes to heart Psalm 27:13, "I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!" and not only believes that promise but begins to "claim" that promise for a new job. And when that new job doesn't come, he begins to doubt the promise or, even worse, the Promise Maker rather than realizing he had imposed an expectation on God which He never promised.

Or, a Christian suffering cancer takes to heart James 5:15, "...the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up." She confidently expects to be healed and communicates that expectation to those she loves. And at her funeral, the family is left to wonder where the breakdown happened. Was God unfaithful? Did the promises fail?

The solution for this common problem is not to give up on the promises of God or to make our prayers awkwardly general. It is to first know and claim what God actually said. Try to see where you've written in between the lines of the Bible, subtly adding your own interpretation as the words of Scripture. Repent of that and rest on the Scriptures as they are. Second, prayerfully seek God's favor in applying those promises in the way you hope He does.

And finally, if God chooses to fulfill His promise in an unexpected way...if He chooses to bring you to Egypt and give the land to your great-great-great-great-great-granchildren...if He chooses to give you a new resurrection body rather than heal the one you have...then submit to the goodness of His plan. Don't listen to the devil's whispers that God is unfaithful. Praise God that He is true to every promise He's ever made and that His plan for fulfilling those promises is infinitely better than the plan we've written.

Jared Olivetti

Jared Olivetti

I'm a pastor at Immanuel RPC in West Lafayette, Indiana. God has blessed me with a wonderful wife, six kids and a loving church family.

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