The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Practicing Discernment: Bible Promises

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AUDIO VERSION: YouTube  Podbean

If ever there was a topic that is grossly abused in the Church, it is that of God’s promises. On all sides, you are told that God’s Word is filled with promises that are just waiting to be claimed in faith. And according to promise promoters, the only reason you’re still struggling with that addiction, depression, fear, demon, poverty, disease, or any other problem in life is because you are such a sad slacker in the faith department. If you’d just crack open the book and start claiming the promises God has given to you, you could fix your life. You see, in the world of promise promotion, God is nothing more than our super powerful robot. He can do all of these really fabulous things, but not until we speak the right verbal commands. If you want to get your robot to perform the way you want, you have to familiarize yourself with the robot command manual, which is the Bible. In the Bible, you can find commands to make the robot do whatever you want. Experiencing a sweet life on earth is simply a matter of flinging the right commands. This is how disrespectfully Christians treat their Gods, and then they wonder why Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are less than thrilled with them.    

The irony of the whole promise package is that the same people who insist that God’s promises are rock solid guarantees talk as though the promises are also useless until they are claimed. What kind of sense does this make? Does God protect us in life or doesn’t He? Promise pushers love to whip out Psalm 61:3:

For You have been a shelter for me, A strong tower from the enemy.

Well, if this is really a rock solid promise, then why do we ever feel unsheltered? Does God keep His Word or doesn’t He? Promise pushers say that He does. They say the promises of God never fail. But then they provide lists of promises for you to refer to in the tough times. Well, how can there be tough times if we can compose whole lists of promises that say God will shelter us from tough times? Well, apparently His promises aren’t as solid as we pretend. By the time the promise pushers are done scrambling our brains, we find ourselves desperately claiming promises that have clearly failed (hence our need to claim them), while at the same time declaring that we believe God’s promises don’t fail. What kind of sense does this make? Isn’t it true that by the time you feel the need to claim that

The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them. (Ps. 34:7)

it’s because you feel that the angel of the Lord has ditched you? If the angel of the Lord was already encamped around you, and constantly shielding you, then you’d never have cause for fear. See the problem? The very fact that we feel the need to claim these promises proves that we’re interpreting them incorrectly. Consider good old James 4:7:

Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  

There you sit, submitting and resisting the best you know how and yet that bad ole devil isn’t going anywhere. And then there’s good old Psalm 34:17:

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles.

Wow. So according to this promise all you have to do is cry out and poof, God will make all of your troubles go away. Well, if this was really our experience in life, we’d never feel the need to repeat ourselves in prayer. We’d immediately receive whatever we asked for and life would be one big bowl of pitted cherries. But that’s not how it works, is it?

In real life, you find yourself crying out to the Lord over and over again while your troubles just keep getting worse. Instead of facing reality, you just keep trying to claim that God is doing something which He’s obviously not doing. When we Christians act this ridiculous, the God haters have reasonable ground for mocking us. It’s more than a little stupid for us to sit around claiming that our God delivers us from all trials when the whole world can see that same God pitching us into trials of increasing intensity. And while we’re all caught up in denying reality and treating God like our robot, are we maturing spiritually? No, we’re regressing. We’re refusing to learn the lessons that God wants to teach us about how He actually works in our lives, and we’re refusing to respect Him as the God that He is. Meanwhile, God is responding to our attempts to control Him by disciplining us, and one of God’s favorite forms of discipline is to drop a shroud of blind ignorance over us so that we can’t recognize wisdom when it’s right in front of us. Ever wonder why the Church is so overloaded with spiritual idiocy? It is because God is intentionally blocking the majority of us from understanding truth. Why? Because the majority of us are grossly disrespecting Him 24/7.

When Christians think of God’s wrath they think of things like epic plagues, destructive geological events, and fire raining down from Heaven. Yet God’s wrath often expresses itself in far more insidious ways. When God brings some disaster down on your head that causes you to turn your focus back onto Him and get more serious about obeying His convictions, that’s a form of discipline that greatly benefited you. But when He starts encouraging you to believe that you really are some impressive sorcerer who can boss Him about at will, well then you’re in serious trouble. Because once God is encouraging you down the road of deception, you’re not even going to recognize the danger you’re in, nor will you realize how far you’re wandering from truth. Why would God intentionally mess us up like this? It’s His way of creating distance between us and Him. It’s His response to our refusal to listen. It’s a form of rejection (see The Eternal Cost of Defying God: A Warning for Christians).

Now it’s important to realize that God teaches us all truth at a different pace (see Getting to Know God: Understanding the Process). Two Christians can be putting their faith in the same lie but for very different reasons. The first fellow has never been taught better because so far God’s been working with him on other truths. The first fellow is in a good place with God because he’s eagerly listening to what the Holy Spirit says and wanting to learn how to treat His Gods with ever greater respect. But the second fellow who is clinging to the same lie is in a very different place. There was a time when God showed him the error in his thinking, yet the second fellow found the lie to ego-pleasing to let go of. So he rejected what God was telling him, and refused to change his beliefs. God spoke to him many more times, but the second fellow kept refusing to listen, so now God has decided He’ll no longer invite this second fellow to know Him better. Instead, God has led this second fellow over to a group of other folks who promote the same lies, and they’re all sitting around encouraging each other to wallow in deception. They’re all treating God with gross disrespect, but God isn’t bothered in the least, because He’s already getting sweet revenge. He’s thrown up barriers to block these souls from ever understanding certain truths, which means they’re now trapped in stagnation. God has withdrawn His invitations for them to come closer to Him, so now their pretty lies are all they have to cling to (see Cancelled Invitation). Because they wouldn’t set down their armloads of deception, they lost their chance to embrace the wisdom they needed to move forward with God. This is how God responds when Christians rebel against Him for too long: He closes the door to deeper communion with Him so quietly that we don’t even hear it latch. It’s a terrifying thing, and yet those it is happening to are too far gone to realize what is happening. You really don’t want to go there, because once God closes a door, He’s the only One who can open it back up again. You’re not going to break through that barrier on your own. You’re going to be totally stuck.

So how do we avoid landing in such a frightening spot? It’s not hard, we just need to listen when God speaks, and remain receptive to Him. God isn’t in a rush to give up on you. On the contrary, He is very patient and kind and eager for you to grow. God delights in teaching you His truths, and He takes His sweet time in maturing you. There’s no need to fear that you’ll end up on the wrong side of His patience because you aren’t instantly understanding everything He says. Many new insights about God are so shocking that they take quite a while to digest. There is a whole lot of wrestling that goes on in the maturity process, but as long as your bottom line desire is to please God, He is going to help you through the difficult spots. God enjoys teaching us, and we need to keep a firm grip on this. He thoroughly enjoys the whole stumbling, bumbling process that we go through as we try to get our tiny minds around His shocking truths.

Because the Church is so steeped in idiocy, you’re going to have to do a ton of unlearning in order to grow closer to God. You’re going to find Him teaching you the direct opposite of things you’ve always been taught. The Church says the Bible is perfect. God says it’s full of error. The Church says God never lies. God says He lies all the time in many different ways. The Church says God’s control is limited. God says His control is absolute. When you’ve spent years looking up to the Church as a trustworthy guide in life, you don’t just throw out what she says without a whole lot of discomfort and angst. You’re a very impressionable human being who is easily swayed by confidence. A lot of blatant lies in the Church are being preached with great confidence, so how can you possibly sort through the mess on your own? Is it really possible for you to figure out all on your own what’s really true and what’s a lie? No, it’s not. You can’t find truth on your own, you can only find it if God Himself reveals it to you. But here’s the thing about God: He is leading you personally in life, He’s not just leading everyone else. He is speaking to you personally, not just to the people with the fancy sounding degrees and titles.

God is the One who draws you closer to Him. God is the One who teaches you truth. You need to learn to view everyone else as nothing more than channels which God may or may not choose to speak to you through. That goes for our material as well. Is any of it useful to you? It’s entirely up to God. It doesn’t matter if we are speaking perfect truth—unless God chooses to make that truth make sense to your personal soul at the time you’re reading what we say, then what we say will be meaningless to you. We cannot teach anyone truth because we are not God. This is why if you ever feel helped by our material, God is the only One you should be thanking.

It is only God who teaches you truth, and the sooner you recognize this, the sooner you will start to see more evidence of His personal involvement in your life. As long as you’re focusing on humans, you’re going to remain dependent on humans and humans will lead you astray. But when you throw all of your dependency onto God and say, “God, You are my only Source of wisdom in life. Apart from You, I have no hope of ever knowing anything,” then you’re positioning yourself to do some fabulous growing. Yes, you really can learn how to stand on truths without the support of the Church, because when you have God Himself affirming you that you’re on the right path, you don’t need anyone else. No one else can stand in for God in your life. Some human telling you, “Yep, you’re doing it right,” means nothing. God is the One we must be relying on for guidance in all things. When we put our trust entirely in Him, we will thrive.

DISCERNMENT EXERCISE: ANALYZING PROMISES

So now that we’ve established where truth comes from, it’s time for another discernment exercise. Our material for this exercise was pulled off of a Christian website which made the following claim:

God’s Word contains literally thousands of Bible promises waiting to be claimed in faith. Below we’ve listed just a few. It’s our prayer that your faith and trust in our Heavenly Father will be increased as you seek Him to supply your every need. May you be blessed.

The promises listed below this opening statement were grouped into categories. In this exercise, we’re going to pull one promise from each of seven different categories and show you how utterly ridiculous promise pushers get when they’re trying to claim that God was talking specifically to you in the verses that they rip out of the Bible.

Now remember that spiritual discernment is about properly identifying truth and lies. In the Church, lies are often labeled as truth and vice versa. Since you can only thrive in your walk with God by putting your faith in real truth and not false truths, you need to get good at spiritual discernment. But, as we’ve been discussing, God is your only Source of truth. So can you discern truth without Him? Absolutely not. If you approach the concept of discernment with the wrong attitude, you’re not going to get anywhere.

Now since attitude is so important, let’s use a metaphor to help you understand how to approach discernment properly. Picture yourself standing in the middle of a huge, pitch black room. The lights have been turned out. There are no windows, and the floor of the room has been covered with little bombs that will explode if you kick them with your foot. How are you going to safely find your way out of this room? If you just start groping around, you’re guaranteed to set off a bomb. Well, happily, you’re not alone. The Holy Spirit is standing right behind you, and He says He can guide you safely out of the room. He tells you to lean back so that your whole body is pressed up against Him. Now when He moves His right leg forward, it pushes your right leg forward a certain distance. The same with your left leg. As long as you stay totally pressed up against Him, focused on moving only as much as He indicates, you’ll be safe. But if you take a bigger step than He takes, or if you pull away from Him, then you could set off one of the bombs.

The way you are leaning against God in this metaphor is a good picture of the attitude of soul trust and dependency that you need to be practicing when you’re trying to discern truth from lies. In our metaphor, you were surrounded with danger, but if you focused on that danger, would that have helped you? No. The only way to get through the danger safely was to hyper-focus on God. You needed to concentrate on His movements and allow His movements to totally control your own. You were practicing submission: letting Him make all of the calls and steer you exactly where He wanted you to go. This is how you excel in the faith: you learn to lean on God. You don’t lean on other humans. You don’t lean on your pastor or on a website or on the Bible or on the Church. You lean only on God. You focus just on God and you only move when He nudges you. This is not something you do automatically, it takes practice and training. But God will get you there, and He will eventually shove every other support out of the way until He becomes the only One you’re leaning on. Then you’ll really be in a fabulous place.

So then, we’re going to practice discernment, and what does that mean for you? It means you need to get into your leaning position. By now you should have already asked the Holy Spirit to show you if any of the information in this post is even true. If you haven’t done this, do it now, because we’re not your source of truth in life—God is. If you’re not talking to Him, you’re not going to learn anything.

Now the internet is loaded with Bible promise lists and they use two basic principles to sucker you into claiming a bunch of promises that God never gave you.

The first principle is to totally ignore the original context of the so-called promise. Don’t think about who’s talking. Don’t ask who is being spoken to. Don’t pay attention to what book the passage is being pulled from. Don’t consider which Covenant was active at the time the words were spoken.  Just decide that the context of every promise is the same: God is speaking, and He is speaking to you personally, even though this is never the case for any passage in the Bible.

The second principle is to mask the identity of the Gods being referred to. We have three Gods, not one Triune blob. Yes, it really does matter which God is being referenced, so when we list off the promises that are being recommended to all Christians, we are going to fill in the appropriate God Names so that you can understand what the verse actually says. We won’t mask Yahweh’s Name behind the generic titles of Lord and God so that you can just gleefully pretend any one of your Gods is being referred to. The biblical authors were very specific about which Gods they spoke about, so if we’re going to quote them accurately, we need to be specific as well.

In our lesson, we’re not going to just park our brains and let Bible promise pushers tell us how to think. Instead, we’re going to do our own analysis of seven specific promises and we’ll decide for ourselves if they are valid or not.

A PROMISE TO HELP WITH ADDICTIONS

“Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” (Ps. 50:15)

In analyzing a promise, always start with the reference, not the verbiage. This promise comes from the book of Psalms, and right away that tells us two key things. First, Yahweh is the only God referred to in the book of Psalms. (Many will tell you that the Psalms are loaded with Messianic prophecies, but this simply isn’t true.) Second, a psalm reference tells us that a human, not God, is speaking. The psalms are not prophetic. When prophet like Moses, Isaiah and Jeremiah say “This is a word from Yahweh,” what follows is actually something Yahweh said. But when a psalmist puts words in God’s mouth, that’s the psalmist either quoting something God said in the past, or simply making up stuff that he personally wishes God would say. The latter option is far more common.

So clearly God is being quoted here, but because we’re in Psalms, we know that this is just some Jewish songwriter putting words in God’s mouth. Let’s now go to the actual psalm so we can examine context and answer the following questions.

Q: Who is talking? Asaph wrote Psalm 50. Asaph was appointed by King David to be the official worship leader at the Tabernacle. Asaph’s job was to write songs that could be sung to Yahweh.

Asaph wrote Psalm 50 and Psalms 73-83. When Asaph is personally frustrated by the corruption around him, he writes a psalm in which he has Yahweh expressing Asaph’s personal frustrations. In Psalm 50, we find Yahweh speaking angrily towards wicked people in Israel. He says that if people have a right attitude towards Him, He’ll bless them, but if they don’t, He’ll shred them. What does the right attitude look like? Thankfulness. If this sounds odd, it’s because it is. In other places where God is doing His own talking, we find Him elevating things like reverence, submission, dependency and trust as super critical attitudes. But here in Psalm 50, we find God having this strange fixation with thankfulness, and He’s talking as if gratitude makes the difference between the righteous and the wicked. Let’s compare these two excerpts. First Yahweh ends His lecture to the general masses like this:

“Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God, and keep the vows you made to the Most High. Then call on Me when you are in trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give Me glory.” (Ps. 50:14-15)

Then He ends His lecture to the wicked like this:

“Repent, all of you who forget Me, or I will tear you apart, and no one will help you. But giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honors Me. If you keep to My path, I will reveal to you the salvation of God.” (Ps. 50:22-23)

Remember, Yahweh isn’t talking here—Asaph is just putting words in Yahweh’s mouth, and they aren’t ringing as very true. While God certainly wants us to be grateful, He doesn’t hold gratitude up as the defining difference between the righteous and the wicked. Asaph was obviously peeved about a lack of gratitude among the Israelites at the time he wrote this psalm.

Q: What’s the original author’s point? Asaph’s point in writing this psalm is clear: he’s trying to scare rebellious Israelites into getting more serious about pleasing Yahweh. He portrays Yahweh as threatening immediate disaster if these wicked Jews don’t shape up. Then he has Yahweh promising deliverance from trouble for all who do show proper gratitude. Asaph is trying to be a voice of conviction here. He’s certainly not talking to modern day Christians. He’s never even heard of Christ.

Q: What’s the suggested application? On the website we’re working off of, Psalm 50:15 is listed as a promise we can claim in faith to deal with addictions. The obvious implication is that if we call on Yahweh the moment we’re struggling with that temptation, He promises to deliver us. Well, who knew it was such a simple thing to kick that porn, smoking, drinking, fornicating, hating and all of those other nasty things that we keep falling headlong into? Ah, but when you try to throw Psalm 50:15 in God’s face, nothing happens. You’re still as tempted as ever, you’re still addicted to whatever nasty thing it is you’re addicted to, and there you go doing it yet again. So what’s going wrong? Well, God can’t be to blame because He gave you the promise in black and white. He’s standing right there, ready to deliver you, but obviously you don’t have enough faith. You see, the promise pushers have to blame you when the promises fail otherwise they might have to face the fact that a lot of their promises are just a bunch of hooey. Because the truth is that Asaph really wasn’t trying to coach addicts on a quick way to kick their bad habits when he penned these song lyrics. He was just using the platform he had as a worship leader to unload his personal beefs about his fellow Israelites. Given this, how should you be applying Psalm 50:15 to your own life? Well, there are several lessons to be learned. The first lesson is that anyone can put words in God’s mouth, but it doesn’t mean God actually said them. The second lesson is that the whole “God will always help us when and how we want Him to” theory is absolute baloney. Never does God promise to always give us what we want, no matter how much we try and butter Him up.

Another lesson we can learn from seeing what Christians have done to poor Asaph is how important it is to look up the original context of a passage. It doesn’t matter how much you want Asaph to be speaking to addicts in Psalm 50:15—the reality is that he simply isn’t. You see, you don’t get to decide for some other human what he meant by what he wrote. We do this all the time, of course, but any so-called “promise” that we get by twisting someone’s words is hardly a valid one. God simply doesn’t view Psalm 50:15 as a binding statement. If you want real help with your addiction issues, you need to start by acknowledging that God is the One who brought this trial into your life. Then you need to ask Him to help you learn all of the lessons that He wants to teach you. Don’t just try to make it go away—that’s not how you grow. We’re supposed to be learning from our trials, not just trying to wriggle out of them.

A PROMISE TO HELP WITH DEMONIC HARASSMENT

Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)

If you think this over-quoted gem has never failed you, just wait. It will. Because once again, this isn’t God talking, it’s a human being named James. This James was believed to be functioning as the leader of the Christian church in Jerusalem. James is a Jew with an Old Covenant background, which is why he is only referring to Yahweh when he tells you to “submit to God.” James’ epistle is filled with bad advice, wrong theology, and he does a fabulous job of misrepresenting who Yahweh is (see Applying James 1: The Many Ways You’re Failing God).

Like the apostle John, the apostle James has no tolerance for Christians being imperfect. He detests doubt, and in Chapter 1 of his condemning little letter, he tells all those who waver in their faith that Yahweh won’t lift a finger to help them.

For the doubter is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from Yahweh. An indecisive man is unstable in all his ways. (Jam. 1:6-8)

Well, no, this actually isn’t who Yahweh is. Unlike James, Yahweh sets reasonable expectations for the creatures He made, and He understands that for us, doubting is wired in. We just can’t help it. When we’re scared, hurting, or confused, we doubt. When the odds are stacked against us, we doubt. When God acts mysterious and nonsensical, we doubt. We’re chronic little doubters and Yahweh doesn’t despise us for it. James does, but James is impossible to please. James also feels immensely threatened by the concept of Yahweh’s absolute sovereignty. Even though Yahweh Himself claims in the Old Testament to be the Source of both good and evil, James totally denies this and says that Yahweh has nothing to do with our struggles with sin.

No one undergoing a trial should say, “I am being tempted by Yahweh.” For Yahweh is not tempted by evil, and He Himself doesn’t tempt anyone. But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death. (Jam. 1:13-15)    

According to James, we have to perfect ourselves, fix ourselves, and whip perfect faith out of the air before we dare to approach Yahweh, otherwise Yahweh will simply ignore us.

My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of Yahweh. Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and evil, humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save you. (Jam. 1:19-21)

To James, it is simple: rid yourself of all moral filth and evil. You know, just press that magic button and turn yourself into righteousness personified. Where was that button again? Oh, that’s right, it doesn’t exist. Like John, James demands the impossible from Christians, and then threatens them with eternal damnation if they fail to meet his requirements. Be glad you weren’t stuck with James for a pastor.

Once you understand how out of touch James was with reality, you can get a feel for why the man makes Yahweh out to be our Servant who will do whatever we want as long as we keep Him sufficiently wowed by our moral perfection, our perpetual good deeds, and our rock solid faith. But then again, Yahweh is only God Almighty, so we can’t expect Him to work without our assistance. When it comes to the monumental task of curing some human from illness, James says we have to employ a three step formula. First, we have to get the elders to pray—you know, because their prayers are worth more than those of the commoners. Second, those powerful sorcerers—er, elders—have to anoint the sick person with magic oil in the Name of Yahweh. Third, people had better be praying in faith. If you follow these steps, James guarantees that Yahweh will act. After all, James says the prophet Elijah told Yahweh when to turn the rain on and off. Clearly if Elijah could boss God around, so can we (see The Power of a Righteous Man’s Prayer).

Is anyone among you sick? He should call for the elders of the church, and they should pray over him after anointing him with oil in the Name of Yahweh. The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and Yahweh will restore him to health; if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours; yet he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land. Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its fruit. (Jam. 5:14-18)

The fact that James doesn’t know better than to credit Elijah for controlling the weather just shows what a dim bulb James was. And yet this passage about curing the sick so appeals to our egos that no one ever talks about what a condescending bit of snark it really is. How arrogant is it to get the oil out and command Yahweh to heal someone? And notice how James even guarantees that Yahweh will throw the forgiveness of sins into the bargain. What a cheeky little apostle.

James was a dingdong, and when he tells you that the devil will always flee whenever you resist him, he’s once again trying to put the power into your hands. Well, no, you don’t have power, and demons don’t take orders from you. So if you’re resisting your little heart out and those demons are just laughing at you, you need to stop trying to pull rank that you don’t have and realize that you’ll never really be submitting to God as long as you’re trying to boss Him around (see The Spiritual Benefits of Being Trampled by Demons). It’s pretty ironic for a guy like James to even talk about submission when he’s so full of guarantees for how we can make Yahweh do what we want. But such was the foolishness of the New Testament apostles.

Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)

If James hadn’t used such strong wording in this declaration, there would be something to salvage. But as it is, the whole thing is baloney. James doesn’t say the devil will only flee sometimes, and he doesn’t even acknowledge God as playing any role in the management of demons. He says if you resist, the devil will flee, period. Well, no, you will discover that in real life, things are far more variable than this. The reality is that only our Gods can force demons to leave you alone. And since They are the Ones who gave demons access to you in the first place, They aren’t going to throw the demons off until They accomplish Their personal goals. Their goals will always center around drawing you closer to Them, so if you want to shorten how much time you’re being plagued by demons, you once again need to ask the Holy Spirit to help you learn everything He wants to teach you through the trial.

A PROMISE TO HELP WITH DEPRESSION

Blessed be Yahweh, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by Yahweh. (1 Cor. 1:3-4)

This is Paul talking. Paul rejects the Divinity of Christ, which is why he says that Yahweh is the God of Christ instead of acknowledging that Yahweh and Christ are Divine Peers. And once we can’t even get the identity of Christ right, things are only going to go downhill. Here Paul says that Yahweh comforts Christians in all of their troubles. Well, no, He really doesn’t. Sometimes Yahweh really pours on the comfort, other times all three of our Gods put on a fabulous act of utterly abandoning us in our hour of need (see Why the Holy Spirit Left You: Guidance for Panicking Christians). If They haven’t done this to you yet, then you don’t want anyone to burst your simplistic view of how God operates. But denying the wildness of our Gods gets us nowhere. They aren’t always going to do what we want—this is a reality that we need to learn how to deal with, and we won’t learn anything as long as we’re hiding out in denial.

Paul put people before God in importance. In Romans 9:3-4, he declares that he wishes he could be cut off from God entirely in exchange for a bunch of his fellow Jews receiving salvation. In 1 Corinthians 13, he waxes on and on about what perfect love looks like and never once mentions God. People were Paul’s first love—specifically people of Jewish ethnicity. Once you understand this, you understand why Paul says the exciting thing about getting comforted by Yahweh in our down times is that we can turn right around and give that comfort to others. Well, no, it doesn’t work like that. You can’t just pass Divine comfort along whenever you want to. You don’t get to control who God influences. All of you husbands who sat there feeling frustrated while your wives cried all over you—ever wonder why your best efforts to say something helpful only made everything worse? Ever find yourself standing speechless in the face of someone else’s immense grief? What’s the problem in these moments? It’s not like God has never comforted you in life, so why can’t you just flip the switch and let that love flow from you to the hurting? Because nothing’s flowing anywhere unless God wants it to. When comforting words actually succeed in comforting, it’s because God made them work. When comforting words only make the hurting hurt worse, it’s because God is blocking them from working. The power is not in our hands, it’s in God’s, and He doesn’t share it with us. So this pat little formula that Paul has worked out in which we always receive comfort from God and then we pass that wonderful comfort onto others is only going to raise false hopes.

For those of you who are currently battling with depression, what’s going on? There is no “one size fits all” answer here. Depression, like every other form of misery, doesn’t happen to you by accident. God is the One controlling what kinds of trials you experience, and emotional trials are a category of trials He uses on everyone at one time or another. Only God can tell you what His purpose is for keeping you cheerless right now. Maybe He’s trying to get your attention more onto Him than it’s been. Maybe He’s decided it’s time for some compassion lessons so that you’ll get a better understanding of how miserable emotional trials can be. Maybe He wants to deepen your understanding of dependency. Maybe He wants to break you out of trying to impress Him with your good deeds by draining all of the energy out of your life. Maybe He wants to help you understand that His love and desire for you isn’t based on you being some perpetual ray of sunshine. There are all kinds of very beneficial lessons that we can learn by dealing with depression and “you suck for not having enough faith” isn’t one of them. So forget about claiming promises and go to God directly with your struggles. He does have a positive purpose in putting you through this, and His lack of comfort does not indicate a lack of love.

A PROMISE ABOUT FAMILY

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. (Prov. 22:6)

We’re in the book of Proverbs now. Proverbs has 31 chapters of supposedly “wise sayings,” with the first 29 chapters being credited to Solomon. You have to think about each individual proverb, not just accept it as some God breathed truth. Solomon also authored the lusty Song of Songs as well as the foolish dribble of Ecclesiastes. The man says a lot of really foolish things, which should be expected given the fact that he totally turned away from Yahweh in his personal life (see Know Your Bible Lesson 11: The Rebellion of Solomon).

Here we have Proverbs 22:6 being given as a promise that we can count on as parents. Solomon guarantees that if we raise our kids right, they’ll never turn away into rebellion. What happened to the concept of free will? Solomon just scrubbed it from the equation. What he’s really saying is that parents can control their children’s future choices simply by the way they raise them (see Practicing Discernment: Victoria Osteen Advises Christian Parents). Well, no, that’s not how it works. God doesn’t turn your child into a robot of obedience just because you spanked on time, drew boundaries, and gave them plenty of love and godly guidance. As a parent, you have no guarantees of how your child will turn out, because you don’t get to control the way your child will respond to God in the privacy of his or her own soul. And since God wants obedience to be a choice, not something that’s shoved on us, He isn’t going to take your child’s option to choose away from her just because you kept nagging Him to do so (see Praying for Our Kids).

As a Christian parent, your responsibility ends with doing what God convicts you to do. You need to be looking to God for wisdom in how to raise the children He gives you, and you will be judged by Him for how you responded to Him, not for how your children responded to you. Maybe you do everything right, and your child grows up to be a monster. God will reward you for your obedience and discipline your kid for defying Him. Or maybe you blow God off and do everything wrong and your child grows up to be a God fearing sweetheart. God will discipline you for your defiance and reward your child for obeying Him. We are each judged by how we respond to our Makers, and no one gets to control other people’s choices. Once you understand these principles, you realize that Proverbs 22:6 is nothing more than wishful thinking.

A PROMISE TO HELP WITH FEAR

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.” (Isa. 43:2)

We’re in Isaiah here. Isaiah is an Old Testament prophetic book, and that means several things. First, when God is being quoted in Isaiah, that God is always Yahweh. Second, Yahweh is going to be addressing a specific audience, and that audience will not be New Covenant believers. So before we even crack open the book, we know that this is not a promise from God to us, it’s a promise from Yahweh to someone else. But it’s also using some very exaggeratory language, which means it’s probably not meant to be taken literally. We need more information, so let’s pop over to Isaiah 43.

Q: Who is Yahweh talking to? We find this answer out at the beginning of the chapter.

Now this is what Yahweh says—the One who created you, Jacob, and the One who formed you, Israel… (Isa. 43:1)

This is a message to ancient Israel. Are you ancient Israel? No, so it’s more than a little ridiculous for you to try to rip off their promises for yourself.

Q: What is the context? We’re in the Old Covenant here, and we’re reminded of the fact that no one has ever heard of Christ yet when we find Yahweh tossing out this classic bit of deception:

“No god was formed before Me, and there will be none after Me. I, I am Yahweh, and there is no other Savior but Me.” (Isa. 43:10-11)

No god was formed before Yahweh, because true Gods are not formed at all. But when Yahweh says that there is no other Savior but Him, well, that’s just not true. Today we know that there are two other Saviors: the glorious Jesus and the magnificent Holy Spirit. Yahweh knows this as well, of course, but He’s not ready for the Jews to understand this yet. So He’s pretending to be the only God in existence (see Why did Yahweh lie about being the only God in existence?).

Now the Israel of Isaiah’s day was a cesspool of spiritual rebellion, yet here we find Yahweh talking about really blessing the nation. Since we know God doesn’t reward rebellion, what should we make of this? Well, Yahweh is in the middle of disciplining His people for their sins. He’s hitting them very hard, and they’re still not responding. At the end of this chapter He says:

“From the very beginning, your first ancestor sinned against Me; all your leaders broke My laws. That is why I have disgraced your priests; I have decreed complete destruction for Jacob and shame for Israel.” (Isa. 43:27-28)

Soon the northern kingdom of Israel will fall. Then, decades later, Yahweh will topple the southern kingdom of Judah. He talks a lot about the epic destruction that awaits the two kingdoms of the nation of Israel, but because He doesn’t want to utterly discourage the small remnant of folks who are still trying to do right, He rotates between messages of doom and messages of future restoration. The goal is to encourage the righteous that there is still hope—that God isn’t totally giving up on people.

Q: What is the suggested application? Our promise pushers naturally want us to take Isaiah 43:2 to mean that God will never let any harm come to us. Well, this is an absurd application, especially when we could skip down to the end of the chapter and yank out that line where Yahweh decrees total destruction for His people. Promise pushers cherry pick which lines to quote and which to ignore. It’s just a meaningless game that’s intended to totally mislead you about what the Bible actually says.

Q: What is the appropriate application? So how should you, a modern day believer, be applying Isaiah 43:2? First, you need to recognize that Yahweh isn’t talking to you in this passage. Second, you need to realize He’s using exaggeratory language.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.” (Isa. 43:2)

Jews today who try to go walking into deep rivers will find themselves swept away by the currents. Jews who try to walk through fire will get plenty scorched. So even if you’re a Jewish Christian, don’t try to take this promise literally. Yahweh isn’t promising to protect you from the elements here. He’s simply using exaggeratory language to encourage frustrated believers in a rebellious nation that the season of harsh discipline they’re currently living in won’t last forever.

A PROMISE FOR FORGIVENESS

“If My people who are called by My Name will 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 Chron. 7:14)

Like Malachi 3:10, 2 Chronicles 7:14 is one of those Old Testament passages that is grossly misapplied by modern day believers. This is Yahweh talking, and Chronicles is a book that is focused on the history of Israel. Is God talking to Christians in this passage? No, because there are no Christians at this point in history. God is talking to a Jew who is living under the Old Covenant—a Covenant which promised that the entire nation of Israel would experience abundant blessing if the entire nation of Israel fervently sought God. Yahweh is simply reviewing Old Covenant conditions in this speech—He’s not making promises to future believers.

What few people realize is that this statement is part of a long speech Yahweh made to King Solomon shortly after the first Temple in Jerusalem was dedicated and opened for business. One night Yahweh comes to Solomon and confirms that He approves of the Temple as a place for worshiping Him.

“I have heard your prayer and have chosen this Temple as the place for making sacrifices. At times I might shut up the heavens so that no rain falls, or command grasshoppers to devour your crops, or send plagues among you. Then if My people who are called by My Name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land. My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to every prayer made in this place. For I have chosen this Temple and set it apart to be holy—a place where My Name will be honored forever. I will always watch over it, for it is dear to My heart.” (2 Chron. 7:12-16)

When you go to so much trouble and expense to build something for God, it’s really nice to have Him clearly express His acceptance of it. But in this speech, Yahweh goes on to say that there will be consequences for rebellion. He might approve of the Temple, but that won’t stop Him from destroying it.

“But if you or your descendants abandon Me and disobey the decrees and commands I have given you, and if you serve and worship other gods, then I will uproot the people from this land that I have given them. I will reject this Temple that I have made holy to honor My Name. I will make it an object of mockery and ridicule among the nations. And though this Temple is impressive now, all who pass by will be appalled. They will ask, ‘Why did Yahweh do such terrible things to this land and to this Temple?’

And the answer will be, ‘Because His people abandoned Yahweh, the God of their ancestors, who brought them out of Egypt, and they worshiped other gods instead and bowed down to them. That is why He has brought all these disasters on them.’” (2 Chron. 7:19-22)

Notice how Yahweh predicts driving the Jews out of their land and destroying the Temple—both of which He ends up doing in the Old Testament. But notice how we so carefully rip verse 14 out and chop away all of these disturbing threats. And notice how we strip away the references to a Temple which would remind us of how Yahweh was speaking in a very specific historical context. Such are the games we play when we’re inventing phony promises.

A PROMISE FOR GUIDANCE

“Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.” (Gen. 28:15)

This is Yahweh speaking to Jacob in a dream. So you’re going to rip some statement that God said to a man in his dream and claim it as a promise for yourself? Are you seeing how absurd that is? Suppose you’re having lunch with your friend Mary on Tuesday. When you’re standing in line, you say to her, “I’ll pay for your lunch.” Standing behind you, some guy who you’ve never met records what you said on his phone. Then a week later, he comes up to you on the street, plays back the recording of your comment to Mary and says, “Where’s my free lunch?” When you stare at him blankly he says, “You promised me a free lunch—I have the evidence of it right here.” You protest, “I wasn’t even talking to you. That was last week and I was talking to my friend Mary.” But the guy just shrugs and says, “I don’t care. I have proof that you promised to buy me a lunch so let’s have it.” This is how absurd we’re being with God when we demand that He fulfill promises He made to other people thousands of years ago.

CONCLUSION

We’ve only covered seven promises in this exercise. The list we got these from offered many more, but as you can see, this is just a ridiculous game. Certainly we have promises from God, but none of those promises result in guarantees of a trouble free life on earth. It is because God doesn’t give us the promises we want that we start scouring through the Bible for passages that we can turn into the promises we really want: promises that God will do whatever we want whenever we want while we boss Him around all the time. But no, these games will get us nowhere.

What God has actually promised us is that He will draw us closer to Him if we sincerely submit to Him. He doesn’t promise the journey will be fun, easy, or pain free. But He does promise that if we totally submit to Him and hold nothing back, we will eventually end up with an abundance of soul satisfaction and joy. With such a fabulous guarantee, what more do we need? Rather than fixate on trying to get things that God isn’t giving us, we need to fully embrace what He does offer us and accept that He knows far better than we do what we really need to thrive.

God loves us immensely, and He loves us with a far better quality of love than we have even for ourselves. Our idea of loving ourselves is to put our earthsuit happiness above the future joy of our souls. God puts the well-being of our souls above the current happiness of our earthsuits, and His priorities end up being a far greater blessing to us (see Soul Before Earthsuit: Understanding God’s Priorities). In the end, it comes down to a question of who you’re going to trust: the God who knows everything, or your own foolish self? God is the only One we can safely trust with abandon, and with Him taking care of us, we don’t need long lists of promises.

FURTHER READING:
Four Ways to Identify False Teaching in the Church
Why You Must Learn to Separate God from the Church
Why We Shouldn’t Make Promises to God
Practicing Discernment: 3 Biblical Tests That Let Us Down

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