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When God's Promises Don't Match Your Current Reality

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When God's Promises Don't Match Your Current Reality

God never breaks a promise. 

I think we know that is theologically true, but what do we do when this theological truth doesn’t seem to be matching reality? 

We claim Proverbs 22:6. “Train up a child in the way he should go and he will not depart from it.” What do you do with that verse when your child rebels and continues to rebel until your death. Did God break a promise? 

In Philippians 4:19, Paul encourages the Philippians who have given to his ministry with these words, “But my God will supply all your needs…” You take that to heart. Finances are tight, but you trust the Lord. You’ve got $19 in your bank account but you still write that $50 tithe check. It bounces. Should tithe checks ever bounce? 

James 5:15 tells us that “the prayer given in faith will heal the sick man.” A man with cancer comes to the church elders, they put anointing oil on him, just as prescribed in the text. He is prayed over. We believe that God will heal him. He dies of cancer a couple days later. Didn’t God say this man would be healed? 

What do we do when marriages fail? What happens when our ministry is dashed upon the rocks? I could go on and on mentioning several disappointments. And these are just a few of the ones mentioned in Scripture. What do we do about some of the impressions which we believe the Lord gives to us — where we are confident that He has spoken and it ends up almost the opposite. What do we do when it seems like God’s promises do not match reality?

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Our Biblical Heroes Asked the Same Questions

Sad, disappointed young woman

Abraham was asking the same type of question. God said, “I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” Yet, his wife remained barren and they were both well past the years for giving birth. It seemed as if God had broken his promise. 

Or Habakkuk wondering about the faithfulness of God to his own righteous call. How can God tolerate such evil? Did God not promise that He was a faithful Judge? Does he not say that He will not put up with wickedness? Asaph in Psalm 73 is asking the same types of questions. Aren’t the righteous supposed to be thriving and the wicked languishing? Why does it seem the opposite is happening? 

Paul struggled with this in Romans 9. How are the Jewish people rejecting their own Messiah? Are these promises not coming to fruition for them? Is the promise of God void? Didn’t God say that they would be heirs? How are the Gentiles enjoying this, but his own people are missing it? 

These are not easy questions. We have to let a verse like Hebrews 11:39 sit with us for a while, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised…” We can gloss over that because we are the recipients of the gospel. But there was some real heartbreak and probably a bit of disappointment in these verses. Jeremiah bought a field that he’d never use. 

What do we do with all of these seemingly broken promises?

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Why Are Promises Broken?

Red candy heart lollipop, broken into pieces

There are different reasons why a promise might be broken. 

Sometimes a promise is broken because there are conditions to that promise. If you do not meet the conditions of the promise, then you are not qualified to enjoy the promise. If a baseball team says, “If you pitch 200 innings, we will give you a $500,000 bonus”, and the pitcher only completes 180 innings, then the team is not required to fulfill their end of the promise. In this example the promise isn’t technically broken — or if it is broken, then it’s broken on our account.

The second reason why a promise might be broken is if the person making the promise cannot fulfill the promise. If a person with $23 in the bank account writes a check for $1000 (which is a promise to pay) then the person cashing that check will be sorely disappointed when the bank doesn’t fulfill that promise. 

The third option is that a promise is made but the promise does not apply to you. A man says that he will give a free book to everyone who is a better than average reader. You assume this includes you, and so you show up to receive your free book. Much to your surprise you are a below average reader. The promise doesn’t apply to you. Simply because you think a promise applies to you it doesn’t mean that it necessarily does. 

We could also say that a promise might be thought to be broken but it’s only radically misunderstood, and so you accuse someone of breaking a promise that they never made in the first place. An example of this might be Proverbs 22:6. It was never meant as a promise. It’s a principle. Generally speaking, it is true that when you train up a child in the way he should go, he will not depart from it. But the Proverbs are just that — rules of what typically happens. They aren’t meant to be promises. To claim them as promises is to claim a promise that was never made. 

The last option is that the promise isn’t actually broken, it simply hasn’t been fulfilled yet. If I tell my daughter on Monday that I will buy her ice cream, she likely assumes that I mean sometime that day. But in my mind, I’m thinking of taking her out for ice cream at the end of the week. I know that’s when I will fulfill my promise. By Thursday she is going to think that I had reneged on my promise. But that’s not the case, it just hasn’t been fulfilled yet. 

When we think about the Bible and promises, they fall into many of these categories. Sometimes we wrongly claim a promise which isn’t ours. At other times we are assuming a promise for tomorrow is supposed to be fulfilled today. Occasionally, a promise isn’t fulfilled because it was a conditional promise and we didn’t meet our end of the bargain. But one thing is certain — promises are never broken because God is unable to accomplish that which He has set out to do. Nor are promises broken because God has lied. 

He is able. He is truthful. So, what happens when our reality doesn’t match up with what we think is God’s promise?

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When Reality Doesn’t Match Up to Our Expectation

A hopeful woman looking up at the sky

Asaph struggled with this in Psalm 73. His life is built on the promises of Deuteronomy. Do good and you’ll be blessed. Do evil, and you’ll endure the curse. But Asaph looks around and everything seems the opposite. He has followed the way of righteousness all the days of his life and the people around him are reprobates. Yet, they are the ones who are “fat and sleek.” Asaph is eating a Salisbury “steak” out of one of those Banquet TV dinners. And his neighbors are feasting on those $50 steaks from Ruth Chris Steakhouse. (In the words of Joe Walsh, I’ve never been there but they tell me it’s nice.) How is this possible? Has God lied to Asaph? 

Asaph gets angry. So angry that he says he became an ignorant brute. It seems that he was about ready to walk away from the way of faith. “Why not,” he thought. What good is it to follow the path of righteousness if it is the one that seems to be leading to death. But then Asaph goes into the sanctuary of God. And he gets another view. This world is all that they have. God’s promise to Asaph is meant to be fulfilled on a different day. 

We are in a similar place as Asaph. There are times when it seems as if the promises of God are being made null and void in our life. And we go through those options of why a promise might be broken. Often as believers, we’ll make the assumption that there must be something wrong with us. Maybe we aren’t believing hard enough or rightly enough. But often times the issue is either that we’re claiming something that isn’t meant to be a promise or we’re thinking a promise for later is meant for now. 

We do well in all seasons to trust the heart of God. He is good and faithful and will never ultimately let us down. Spurgeon says it well, 

“It is well to make sure of what we do know, for this will be good anchor hold for us when we are molested by those mysterious storms which arise from things which we do not understand. Whatever may or may not be the truth about mysterious and inscrutable things, there are certainties somewhere; experience has placed some tangible facts within our grasp; let us, then, cling to these, and they will prevent our being carried away by those hurricanes of infidelity which still come from the wilderness, and, like whirlwinds, smite the four corners of our house and threaten to overthrow it. O my God, however perplexed I may be, let me never think ill of thee. If I cannot understand thee, let me never cease to believe in thee. It must be so, it cannot be otherwise, thou art good to those whom thou hast made good; and where thou hast renewed the heart thou wilt not leave it to its enemies.”

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Mike Leake is husband to Nikki and father to Isaiah and Hannah. He is also the lead pastor at Calvary of Neosho, MO. Mike is the author of Torn to Heal and Jesus Is All You Need. His writing home is and you can connect with him on Twitter @mikeleake.