Young parents learn early about the dangers of promise-making. They dangle all manner of carrots in front of their children trying to motivate them toward the desired behavior: “I’ll pay you $5.00 for each ‘A’ on your report card.” Parental promises can be problematic: They can be costly to fulfill and can give children the impression they should be “paid” for good behavior.
Another problem with the promise mentality is that Christians sometimes read something modern into something ancient. The Hebrews’ relationship with God was based on an “If . . . then” understanding (you see it even in the New Testament; e.g., John 15:7). For instance, when kings made peace agreements (covenants), they were based on, “If you do this . . . then I will do that.” When God made his covenant agreements with the nation of Israel, they were based on this “If . . . then” formula: “If you fully obey the Lord your God . . . [then] the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth” (Deut. 28:1). When the principles of God’s covenant promises were boiled down into the nation’s wisdom literature (e.g., Proverbs and several Psalms), they became principles based on promises.
For example, the entire message of the book of Proverbs can be summarized by this principle: “[If] you will apply God’s wisdom, [then] you will develop the skills needed to live successfully.” Another good example is Psalm 37:4: “[If you will] delight yourself in the Lord [then] he will give you the desires of your heart.” Should this principle be read as an iron-clad promise that God will give us whatever we want? Not at all. Rather, it should be read as a principle based on many promises: We find God when we seek him; we receive from God what is best for us; our desires are aligned with his as we grow in him; and we are blessed by him as his children.
God makes promises, but not out of desperation—and he always follows through in his time. His gifts to us are not rewards for good behavior. They are expressions of love which reflect a deepening bond of delight between Father and child.
God’s Promise to You: “As you delight in me, I delight in showering blessings on you.”