By Elder Enoch Ofori Jnr
(Sabbath Sermon, 21st April, 2012)
"Promise and Fail" Hurts
There is a phenomenon in Ghana called "promise and fail". The first time I heard it was when a man came to me for prayer so that he would no longer experience "promise and fail". New to my ears, I asked him to explain what he meant by "promise and fail". He told me that it meant that well-to-do friends and relatives would promise him financial and other help but then always fail to make good their promises.
Definitely an ingenious name to give to an irksome jinx on promises and assurances! I guess some of those smart, mercenary ‘prophets’ coined the expression.
Be it as it may, disappointment can be a frustrating experience. Ask any child or cast your mind back to your childhood when your parent or an uncle failed to deliver the goodies he had promised you. What made it even more painful was the high expectancy and hope built in anticipation of the fulfilment of the promise, only for it to be dashed. For children, reactions range from anger to uncontrollable weeping. Disappointment can be deeply hurtful.
Against this background, how do people tend to see the promises of God in their lives?
God Never Works Behind Time
One of the widespread misconceptions about God is that, although He does not fail, He delays in fulfilling His promise. Contrary to this popular belief, God has consistently affirmed in His Word that He never works behind schedule. He’s always on time.
The Apostle Peter leaps to His defence in the third chapter of his second epistle: "The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Pet. 3:9 NIV).
In Hab. 2:2-3 He tells the prophet:
"And the LORD answered me: ‘Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.
"For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end–it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay”’ (ESV).
No hesitancy. God is absolutely sure about the fulfilment of His promise on time. In fact, He has the track record to show for His faithfulness when it comes to fulfilling His promises on time—the time He has set in exercise of His rights as the Promise-giver. In Gen. 18 He promised 90-year old, childless Sarah a son in a year’s time, and it happened accordingly:
Gen. 18:10, 14
"The LORD said, "I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son." And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him.
"Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son"(ESV).
"The LORD visited Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did to Sarah as He had promised.
"And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him.
"Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac" (ESV).
In Gen. 15 the promise would take a longer time to see fulfilment, but not that it would fail:
"And He said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years;
"And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.
"Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years.
"And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt".
And it was not an exodus easily accomplished. Humanly speaking, it was an absolute impossibility to free the Israelites from the grip of then superpower Egypt and her Pharaoh, probably the world’s most powerful king at the time. But then, the scheduled fulfilment of the promise could not be jeopardized. God would deploy His mighty power to effectuate His promise of delivering Israel from bondage in Egypt:
"Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments" (Ex. 6:6).
The ensuing rescue operation would witness a hard-fought battle between the God of Israel and the might of Egypt, spiritual and physical. But in the end, Pharaoh and his army lay submerged under the Red Sea, while the bondmen and women of Israel sang songs of victory. Yahweh had brought Israel out of the "iron furnace"—a place of extreme suffering and oppression—that He might fulfill His promise on schedule:
"And the LORD brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders" (Deut. 26:8).
"But the LORD hath taken you, and brought you forth out of the iron furnace, even out of Egypt, to be unto Him a people of inheritance, as ye are this day" (Deut. 4:20, see also 1 Kings 8:51; Jer. 11:4).
When God gives a promise, expect a timely fulfilment. Nothing will stop His hand of power stretched out for the purpose of fulfilling His promise on time:
"For the LORD of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?" (Isa. 14:27, also v. 24 ESV).
However, the problem is that, more often than not, we mistake our feelings and desires for God’s promises, and when they fail to come to pass we feel God has disappointed us. For example, a brother may be dying to marry a sister about whom God has not given any concrete promise in answer to his prayer, and yet feel disappointed with God when another marries her. He may even claim to have seen the sister in a dream, but was it a true vision from God or the imagination of his own mind (having saturated his mind with thoughts of the sister)?
We read in James chapter 4:
"What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?
"You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.
"[In anticipation of the reaction, ‘but we ask’, he says] You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions" (vv. 1-3 ESV).
Otherwise, God never fails. The Psalmist asks in Ps 77:8: "Is His mercy clean gone for ever? doth His promise fail for evermore?"
The only credible answer is that His promise stands forever:
"He hath remembered His covenant for ever, the word which He commanded to a thousand generations.
"Which covenant He made with Abraham, and His oath unto Isaac;
"And confirmed the same unto Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant".
"And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers,
"God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that He hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, ‘Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten thee’".
So, how do we differentiate between the promises of God and our wishes which might not necessarily reflect the will of God for our lives?
What we need to understand is that although God desires good for all His people, He also has specific plans for specific children of His. The task then is to discern what those plans are in order that we might be ready for God as He works in our lives to bring them to fruition. While the Lord may choose to disclose some of these plans as specific promises to you by vision or prophecy, in many instances the promises are found in the scriptures. Although impersonal, it’s perfectly proper to sometimes appropriate some of these promises as your own—but only if they speak to your peculiar situation.
Perhaps, you have been called as an evangelist. Will you say because promises made to some evangelists in the Bible were not made originally to you, they don’t apply to you? Or perhaps you have come to the Lord Jesus as a sick person. Will you say His command to His anointed ministers to heal the sick is of no relevance to you, because they were mandated to heal the sick of their time and, in fact, those original ministers are long gone?
Be assured that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever" (Heb. 13:8). His promises stand as long as He remains, and when He comes to fulfilling them He won’t delay, though to you it might seem that He has delayed.
Our recent history is fresh in our minds. We were dismembered as a church, scattered, disorganized and confused. But like the mythical Phoenix, in just a little over two years, we have risen from the ashes of disintegration and confusion, and the impact of our ministry is being felt in this country and around the world. I attribute that phenomenal ‘resurrection’ wholly to the fulfilment of God’s specific promises concerning this ministry. At a time I was alone and felt somewhat abandoned and downcast, the Lord told me clearly in a vision that masses would flock to me, and the work would get going again in a mighty way. Other brethren also had similar divine revelations, and now we are eye-witnesses of the fulfilled promises of God. And more are on the way!
Let this rekindle your faith. God will never hesitate in fulfilling His promises to you. Not only is He willing, but also no power can stop Him from making good His promises to you at the time He has appointed. He’s a faithful promise-giver, and He will do it (1 Thess. 5:24). He tells us in Heb. 10:35-36:
"Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward.
"For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise".
So don’t despair, don’t let the devil confuse you into thinking that God has abandoned you. You need to have patience as you wait on the Lord in prayer as part of doing His will till you receive His promise. No obstacle can stop Him from fulfilling His promise when the time of His own choosing is up for Him to do so. God is never late in fulfilling His promise. Halleluiah!
"Blessed be the LORD who has given rest to His people Israel, according to all that He promised. Not one word has failed of all His good promise, which he spoke by Moses His servant” (1 Kings 8:56 ESV).