While manufacturers may not be able to live up to their extravagant promises, God can always do more than we can ask or even think.
by Gillian Bethel
“What kind of promise is that?” I questioned. It sounded wonderful!
Reading the Bible for the first time, I was looking at the verse, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you….Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:27.
My fragile heart, like many, was rarely filled with peace. Storms and stress were much more familiar experiences. Jesus was promising peace, even to someone caught in the crossfire of confrontations and conflicts. It sounded so good. Yet, after I became a Christian, I realized that many Christians find that kind of peace strangely elusive. Why?
Over the years I found a lot of mind-stretching promises in scripture which few people seemed to know how to realize in their daily lives. In 1 Corinthians 13, I read about a type of love which is long-suffering, not easily provoked, thinks the best of everyone, and bears and endures all things. Where was that to be seen in my own life or the lives of many Christians?
Gradually I came to believe, without consciously admitting, that the Bible must be exaggerating the benefits of following God—like a piece of commercial advertising which could never realistically measure up to the spectacular promises made. But I couldn’t have been more wrong!
The Bible is definitely not to be confused with an advertising blurb. While manufacturers may not be able to live up to their extravagant promises, God can always do more than we can ask or even think. Ephesians 3:20.
Why wasn’t I finding that longed-for peace? One problem was that I wasn’t asking for peace in the right way. In fact, I had never even thought to ask for some of the things which the Bible promised. I just expected them to happen. When I read Daniel 9 and found Daniel apologizing to God that he and his people had not prayed and asked Him to help them turn from their sins, I was amazed. I thought I had to do that on my own. I never thought to ask for help!
Nor did I think to ask for peace; or if I did, my prayer was usually just a one-liner, and if nothing happened, I assumed that God did not choose to give me peace just then, and I should forget it and move on to something else. I wasn’t taking seriously Jesus’ instructions to His disciples to ask, ask and ask—like someone turning to an unjust judge or a sleepy friend at midnight. God is neither unjust nor sleepy, but He wants us to ask urgently and repeatedly for His blessings to help us realize how desperately we need them. Most of us give up much too easily.
Not only was my asking in need of some intensity, my thinking was also out of line, and the issue was faith. I really didn’t understand what it was. I wrestled with the famous definition in Hebrews 11, but it seemed hard to grasp.
What eventually helped me was the illustration of faith which the apostle Paul draws from the lives of Abraham and Sarah in Romans 4. God gave Abraham an “impossible” promise, that he and Sarah would have a child when she was barren and he was too old. The Bible says that Abraham did not look at their limitations, “but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was able also to perform.” Romans 4:20, 21.
Suddenly I realized that weak faith is looking at your own weaknesses and the seemingly impossible situation; strong faith is simply believing that God is able to carry out what He says, no matter how impossible things seem. And when I returned to the faith chapter in Hebrews, I realized it was saying the same thing—faith is confidence concerning things hoped for. This confidence does not come from looking at the situation; it comes from knowing that God is true to His promises, despite the situation. Hebrews 11:11, 13.
I realize that my thinking has often been limited to the possibilities I can conceive of, or I have looked at myself instead of remembering how powerful God is. When the angel Gabriel told Mary that all things are possible with God, He wasn’t exaggerating. Luke 1:37. Add to this thought a determination to keep asking for the promises and not give up, and there is no reason we should not find a faith experience like any of the Bible heroes.
Well, maybe there is. God’s promises depend on two important conditions—that we do what He asks and that we keep nothing back. If we are not willing to meet these conditions, God cannot change our lives. What God really wants is for us to give Him ourselves. That used to sound like a gigantic gift until I realized that there are four gifts involved in salvation, and of the four, we give only one. God gives three!
It is very humbling to realize that before I cared about God in any way, while I was still rebellious and uninterested, Jesus gave Himself and met the penalty for my sins. Romans 5:8. That was the first gift. The second gift—the one that I give—is my life. This seems very little to give in return for all that Jesus went through on my behalf.
When I make that gift of myself to God, He is then able to give me two more enormous gifts—the Holy Ghost to completely transform my present life, then He gives the promise of eternal life, of living forever with God in a universe where there is no more death, tears, or disappointments.
There is nothing tame about the biblical concept of Christianity! I make it tame when I refuse to give my gift and to accept God’s promised gifts. “Peace… not as the world giveth,” turns out to be only one tiny facet of what God will do in my experience if I’m willing to give His way a try. To me, the most exciting challenge I’ve found is to live “beyond appearances”—to stretch myself and take hold of God’s reality beyond the hassles and frustrations of everyday life and to watch as promises of unseen things become “seen.”
If we give ourselves to Him, ask persistently, and think about what God can do rather than the limitations of the situation, every promise in the Bible really is ours!