“Language opens up the non-present to our present.”
My lecture on the philosophy of language ended with that statement. How beautiful that humans get to share language, and through it, have the ability to reflect on the past, speak about the present and hope for the future.
Promises are, in this sense, a language of the non-present. The language of the future. I love that God makes promises to His people, and that His promises are unchanging. He never fails and never backs out of any promise He makes (Deuteronomy 7:9).
The difficult thing about promises, however, is holding on to them in a posture of surrender. Sometimes, when God deposits a dream or calling in us and nothing really happens, it can feel like He has forgotten about it. We might grow sceptical about whether we had heard right.
We are called to live by faith, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV), but as humans, not seeing can sometimes lead to disbelief, especially when we are being battered by the storms of life.
When Abram was 75 years old, God made a promise to give the land of Canaan to his offspring (Genesis 12:7). Sometime later, he reaffirmed his promise that Abram’s descendants would inherit the land he was living in.
“After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.”
And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:1-6 ESV)
There’s a sense of frustration in Abram as he says: “I continue childless”.
Continue. “Lord, you promise to make me a nation, but how would that be possible when I continually, again and again, have no child?”
Abram believed the promise then, but as the years went by, it must have gotten harder to sit by and do nothing. So, he and Sarai had a son – through Hagar – when Abram was 86 years old.
As humans, not seeing can sometimes lead to disbelief, especially when we are being battered by the storms of life.
In chapter 17, when Abram was 99, God again reminded him of His covenant to make Abram the father of multitudes. He renames him Abraham.
And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”
Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (Genesis 17:15-17 ESV)
Sarah and Abraham both responded cynically to this promise because it seemed biologically impossible for the promise for children to be fulfilled.
But as we find out later, Isaac was finally born to the couple when Abraham was 100 years old, a good 25 years after God first appeared to him.
There are 2 things I want to draw our attention to: God is sovereign and He is good.
“No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you” (Genesis 17:5-6 ESV)
Interestingly though, God’s word to Abraham was as if the promise of children had already been fulfilled. “For I have made you the father” suggests that it is already done. He gives the assurance of His promise to Abraham in the act of renaming him. God fulfils the promise before Abraham is even able to see or comprehend it.
Perhaps an analogy could help us to better understand this: Your tap explodes while you’re at work, and your neighbour calls to tell you that there’s water leaking out of the flat. You’re stuck in an important meeting, and there’s no way to leave so you call your father to help you sort it out. Two hours later, while you were panicking and worrying about everything being ruined in your house, you get a text from your dad saying it’s been sorted out – everything has been cleaned up.
Relief. Why so? Because your Dad is someone who loves you and is trustworthy. When he says he has sorted something out, it means it has been done, even though you might not be able to physically see the situation being sorted out. You know that his word is good, and that everything really is alright.
When God said “for I have made you a father”, that was an assurance to Abraham.
He’s telling Abraham: “Don’t panic, don’t doubt. I have already sorted it out.” We can be assured of God’s promises because our God is a good God and a loving Father. He works things out for our good. He is unchanging and forever. He doesn’t go back on His word. We can trust Him when He makes promises. Learn to trust His promises for you, especially when things seem so impossible.
It’s precisely in impossibility that God likes to operate. Look at Abraham and Sarah, or the mess of Jacob and his wives. Most importantly, look at the life of Jesus, from conception to death on the cross. God is always doing the unexpected, the impossible.
If He only operated in what is natural (which, of course, He also does), then how do we understand and experience the supernatural nature of God? How do we trust and follow a God if He merely did what was rationally possible? How can His name be glorified if He only chose the logical, the strong, the competent?
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV)
It is precisely in impossibility that God likes to operate.
How much more will we understand how utterly dependent we are on God, and how infinitely good He is, when He does the impossible in our lives?
When the dreams and promises he deposits in our lives seem impossible, that’s when we have to press in and believe Him for it. It’s an opportunity to learn to pray in surrender and to learn about His greatness. What an incredibly rich life it would be, if we lived in constant expectation of God’s promises being fulfilled.
When we dare to ask for bigger things for His glory and hold on to impossible promises, how exciting life would be!
This article was first published on Delphne’s blog and is republished with permission.