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What can we do to make God fulfill His promises? Not a darn thing. That’s probably not the answer you were hoping for, but it’s better than believing in a lie. We can’t control God. We have zero ability to manipulate Him. So if He promises something to us of His own free will, all we can do is sit around and wait for Him to do it. But while we wait, there are some important principles that we should be pondering.
EXAMINING THE PROMISE
Before you spend years waiting for something that God isn’t going to do, you need to make sure you are properly aligned with Him. What exactly is it that you think He’s promised you? How did you receive this promise? These days, the Church is overloaded with a bunch of misguided prophets, evangelists and teachers who are constantly yanking verses out of context and casting out promises in God’s Name without His Authority. If you are waiting on some good fortune to befall you because some human being with a fancy title declared that abundant blessings are going to rain down any moment, then it’s quite likely you have been led astray by false prophets.
Let’s get clear about this prophesying business. The main function of future speaking prophets is to motivate stubborn hearts to repent and turn back to God. They do this by describing all of the terrible things God will do to people if they don’t start obeying the Holy Spirit’s convictions. Future speaking prophets who are really speaking for God emphasize the horror of sin, the terror of God’s wrath, and the importance of repentance. They don’t speak on their own, they say what God tells them to say, which is why their words are powerful and disturbing.
Future speaking prophets who are speaking for Satan emphasize just the opposite: all they talk about is love, blessings, and happy times on earth. Your fallen flesh will recoil from true prophets of God, but it will love false prophets. False prophets pet your ego, schmooze you, and paint God out to be like some merry Santa in the sky—a grinning, spineless dope who is so desperate to have the approval of grasshoppers that He would never think of giving you a bad day. False prophets are idiots, their messages are garbage, and you need to reject everything that they say. So if you think God has promised you some good thing in the future because you listened to one of these morons, you have been deceived by a servant of Satan and you need to stop hoping in delusions.
Another trap to look out for is plucking some pretty sounding verse out of the Bible and deciding that it’s for you. Such behavior is encouraged in the Church by teachers who don’t know the first thing about properly interpreting Scripture. We really set ourselves up for disillusionment when we start slicing and dicing the Bible. Before you even start to consider applying some verse to yourself, you need to read its full context, identify who God was originally speaking to, and look for what conditions He attached to the promise. There are always conditions attached. (For help in interpreting promises, read The Promises of God.)
Now it is quite possible that you are correct in believing that God has made you a specific promise. What we’ve reviewed so far are some common traps that you want to look out for. But if you believe that God did make you a specific promise, then by all means, you want to stand on it. The question now becomes, why is He taking so long?
UNDERSTANDING GOD’S PROPHETIC STYLE
Promises are technically prophecies: God gives you some verbal or visual glimpse into the future. Now there are some very important things that you need to understand about God’s prophetic style. First of all, He leaves out a lot of information which you would consider very critical. For example, when He promised to give Abraham a son, He didn’t mention the fact that He would take a quarter of a century to actually fulfill the promise. When we aren’t given a specific timetable to work with, we humans automatically assume that God’s promises are going to be fulfilled quickly. This is often a mistake. God definitely airs on the side of long instead of short. When you understand this, you learn not to view the passing of time as “evidence” that God’s promise to you will never happen. Unless God specifically takes back His promise, you should press on and keep expecting it to be fulfilled.
A second thing to understand about God is that He gets the most glory by fulfilling promises that look impossible to keep. This means that after He promises that a specific event will happen, He will often cause a bunch of other things to happen which make it seem like it’s physically impossible for His promise to be kept. We find many examples of this in the Bible. God promised to rescue His people from Egypt, and then He intentionally led them down an escape route that caused them to be trapped between the Red Sea and an angry Egyptian army. At that moment, His promise of deliverance looked pretty empty. No one was expecting Him to part the sea.
God promised David that he would become Israel’s next king. Then He not only continued to let the current king remain on his throne for many years, He also ruined David’s initial friendship with Saul until David found himself running for his life from Saul’s men. For many years, God’s promise seemed pretty empty.
In real life, God might introduce a man to a woman and promise that she will be his future wife. This sounds exciting until the woman up and marries someone else. At that point, it would be very easy for the man to tell himself he heard God wrong. Yet if God did in fact promise that the marriage will take place, the man should not waver from believing it no matter what happens. There have been real life cases in which events like this have happened, only to have the woman lose her first husband and then become available to marry again.
If you are currently waiting on God to do something and it seems like His window of opportunity is lost, don’t despair. God loves to rake in the glory. Joseph’s dreams of his family members bowing down before him seemed pretty lame when he was wasting away in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. Who would have thought that a Jewish prisoner would become one of the most powerful men in Egypt? God loves to wow us with His feats.
A third thing to consider is that God often uses symbols and metaphors when prophesying the future. If you’ve had a vision from God about future events, it is quite possible that it will only be fulfilled in principle instead of literally. Unless God has specifically told you to expect a literal fulfillment, you should assume there is a some symbolism involved, because this is how God usually communicates future events to us. For example, when He promised King David that one of his descendants would always reign on the throne of Israel, what He actually meant was that Christ would forever reign in Heaven. Christ is not a human being, nor does He have DNA and traceable bloodlines. But He spent some time on earth in a human body which everyone assumed shared DNA with one of David’s biological descendants because everyone assumed that Christ was the biological son of Joseph. So figuratively speaking, Christ was a descendant of David. But literally speaking, He is a Divine nonhuman Being who existed long before David was ever created, so to call Him a descendant of David is totally absurd. Furthermore, the Israel that Christ forever reigns over is not the Israel we read about in the news, but a new, spiritual Israel which is another name for all Christians. Yahweh changed how He defines the term “My chosen people” when He changed Covenants. So this promise to David was extremely symbolic. Yes, it was fulfilled, but not at all in the way that David was expecting. David assumed that God would always preserve the nation of Israel on earth, and that David’s line of ruling descendants would remain unbroken. This isn’t what happened. God destroyed Israel and she ended up with no king at all. It’s wise to pray about the promise you’re waiting on, and ask the Holy Spirit to show you how He wants you to interpret it—literally or figuratively. If He says figuratively, then you need to be open to a wide range of possibilities.
A fourth thing to be aware of is your own maturity. If things are going well between you and God, then you are growing in your walk with Him. The more time that passes, the more your theology and priorities will change to be closer to His. This is a very good thing. The day we think we know everything there is to know about God is the day we start stagnating. But because you are changing, your view of this promise you have will change also. Sometimes God promises to give us something on earth that we really want. Our eagerness turns to impatience as He takes forever to deliver. Perhaps a woman desperately wants a child, but she’s infertile. One day God promises to heal her and give her a son. She’s thrilled at first, but as time wears on she gets discouraged. Meanwhile, she’s continuing to grow and mature under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Many years later she has a child, but he is severely handicapped. By that time, she’s a very different woman. She now has spiritual resources that she didn’t have before. She’s equipped to deal with a handicapped child and she thrives in her role. But at the time God first gave her His promise, she was not ready to handle a child with special needs. The idea would have devastated her, so God purposely withheld certain facts and allowed her to assume that her child would match the ideal image in her mind. He knows that by the time He brings the boy into her life, He will have made the necessary changes in her heart and character so that she would be ready to be the mother He wanted her to be. Do you see how this works? God gave the woman a promise early because He wanted her to have hope. In your case, He might be delaying in His fulfillment of the promise He’s given you because there is some prep work that needs to be done. Don’t let this bum you out—as God matures us, our view of life radically changes. It isn’t a sad thing when an adult no longer gets a thrill out of playing with the toys he loved as a child. Growing up is good, and with God there are always new, richer joys to be had. Our woman with the handicapped child does not feel cheated at all. She loves the child that God has given her, but she does realize why He didn’t tell her the full story, and she’s thankful to Him for withholding information she wasn’t ready to handle. If this is the kind of path you’re on, you will react the same way when your turn comes. Don’t wish for God to give you something until He knows you’re ready to receive it. Trust His timing. He knows what He’s doing.
WHY TELL US EARLY?
It is extremely common for God to take much longer than expected to fulfill His promises to us. If this is the case, why does He speak to us at all? Why not just wait until things get closer? Why all the false hopes?
God uses hope to direct our focus in life. It’s like the rudder on a ship that keeps it on course amid a vast, open sea. By telling you to expect something specific in your future, God directs you away from expecting other things. Suppose God tells you that He will bring your future spouse to you, therefore you don’t need to go out looking for him. This directs you away from spending oodles of time trying to find Mr. Right through internet dating services or at social events. It frees you up to put all your mental energy into furthering your relationship with God instead. Likewise, when our infertile woman is told that God will heal her, she knows not to keep trying fertility treatments. God uses promises to point our expectations in the right direction and also to make us more receptive to certain kinds of instruction.
Suppose He calls you to preach even though you feel totally unequipped for it. Suddenly you become very interested in everything He has to say about the preaching profession. You’re a focused, eager student, whereas before you might have blown off His instructions because your mind was totally closed to the idea of Him speaking through you. By giving us promises in advance, God opens our minds to new possibilities, and motivates us to learn the lessons He wants to teach us.
God’s first priority with you is to strengthen your relationship with Him. When we have unfulfilled promises lingering in the back of our minds, it’s very easy to start obsessing over them and forget what is most important. Your relationship with God trumps everything else. Developing a deeper walk with Him must always be your first priority. Getting or doing some specific thing on earth is all fine, but eternity is what matters. Don’t let promises about other things or people become more important to you than your personal relationship with God. If your promise has to do with your relationship with God—for example, He might have promised you that one day you’d be much closer to Him than you are now—then be encouraged. Our desire for God comes from Him, and if He’s promised to satisfy your hunger for more of Him in your life, then that is exactly what He’ll do. Meanwhile, realize that God never just toys with us, nor does He think our frustration is trivial. It can be agonizingly difficult to wait on God for something that is very important to us. But meanwhile, we don’t have to let the fulfillment of that promise define us in life. There is still much to be done: every day is a new opportunity to draw closer to God. Focus on staying aligned with Him in your heart by desiring for Him to have His total way in your life. Ask Him to help you wait on Him with a good attitude. Remember that He loves you very much, and that everything He does in your life is for your spiritual best.