Trusting God’s promises isn’t always easy. It takes us into new territory. And we need to grow in faith. However, none of the difficulties involved need to tarnish our faith.
God has opened his heart up to us. He’s calling us to discover his faithful love. And he wants us to live in this hope while we wait for his time of fulfilment. By promising us a future, God is enabling us to live in his eternal plan—now. But we need some perseverance.
Many of us have lived through very pleasant times. This has made us think God’s promises only relate to having more nice times. But God wants us to live in what the future will be—even while the present is proving to be difficult.
The letter of Hebrews has much to say about living by God’s promises—particularly towards its end (Hebrews 10:32—12:3). You may find it helpful to read this passage first. There’s five points that it makes clear. This makes my article longer than usual—but I hope, worthwhile.
First, our fathers in the faith faced the same difficulties that we do in living by God’s promises.
There are enemies opposing those who first get this letter (Hebrews 10:36-39). They have an option to live comfortably, but at the risk of giving up their faith in Christ. They need some help to live by what is unseen rather than what would be culturally safe. They, and we, are warned not to ‘shrink back’ from waiting for what God promises.
Israel’s founding father, Abraham, and his wife Sarah, wait for decades for the child God promises to them. Then, they live among enemies in the land God has promised (11:12-13). And there’s delay for everyone in the Old Testament, waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled (11:39-40).
God is painting on a large canvas and he needs us to step back—with him—and appreciate that more is going on than we may understand while we wait.
Second, hoping for things we can’t see (or control) is no problem to faith.
In fact, faith is being assured and persuaded that what we hope for and cannot see is substantial (11:1). God himself gives us this faith and when he does, we can ‘see’ what is invisible and experience what can’t be measured.
We need to think about the world we can see. Why is there something and not nothing? Why do we have consciousness and not just instincts? The world can’t answer these questions. But the answer is that everything we see and experience has come from something unseen—from God speaking (11:3, 27).
It’s always God’s word that makes things happen. And faith is being assured and persuaded that this is why there is a world, and a universe, and us.
If we insist that there’s no God to make everything, we exist without ever having started. We try to proceed without understanding who we are or what we are for. And we certainly have nothing to give us hope. We lack assurance and persuasion.
On the other hand, understanding that God creates everything by his word speaks to us deeply because we are made by God, and for him.
This sets the pattern for all that the writer then tells us.
Noah builds an ark in the light of things not yet visible—a flood (11:7). Then, Abraham leaves his cosy life for one promised by God. He is looking for something God builds. Something solid (11:8-10).
Paul says that seen things pass away. It’s the unseen things that are durable (2 Cor. 4:18). This idea is strange to someone who doesn’t know God. But it’s natural to faith. Everything God does starts from what we can’t see.
Third, God is setting up a world where everything will be as he intends it to be. Hebrews calls it ‘a better country’, ‘a heavenly one’ (11:16). It’s a kingdom that can’t be shaken (12:26-28).
If we believe God can’t make anything better than what we see at the moment, he wouldn’t want to be known as our God—expecting so little of him. Do we think he is satisfied with injustice, suffering and death? Are we happy for everything—including ourselves—to be no better than they are at the moment? Is a shaky world good enough?
God’s promises point to something amazing, complete, without danger or pollution.
We said earlier that all God’s promises find their ‘Yes’ in Christ. And this ‘Yes’ includes what he has done in his first coming and what he will complete in his second coming.
That’s why people who please God with their faith are people who are looking for a city that has foundations (11:10)—not like the shaky things we tend to trust at the moment.
Scoffers think the promise of Christ’s return is a fiction. But Peter tells us the reason for his delay is not incompetence or carelessness but patience with our race (2 Pet. 3:2-4, 8-13). As we noted before, God paints on a large canvas. And he longs for us to be in the picture!
Fourth, all the people who are waiting are, in fact, busy.
The catalogue of accomplishments attributed to faith is impressive. Abraham didn’t sit and meditate. He leaves everything to take up what God is going to do with him and his family. Moses prefers trouble with God’s people to safety as a celebrity in Egypt.
Sometimes, God’s people seem to succeed, and other times, seem to fail. But it’s God who knows what will last. Being assured there will be a good outcome gives us energy, and a readiness to endure hardship.
If God’s promises are ringing in our ears and warming our hearts, we’ll do things that fit God’s eternal plan. We’re headed for a new creation, but we are already a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)—part of the future God is making.
Everything we now do through faith and love is eternal. Nothing is lost. Think of Jesus commending someone on judgement day for giving a cup of water to one of his servants (Matthew 10:42). Think of the clothes we’ll wear when the church is married to Christ. What we do now is what we’ll wear then (Revelation 19:8).
If you are a politician, you have to do things that fit the immediate situation. But if you are building what is eternal, you’ll make sure you’re doing something that Jesus will acknowledge.
In fact, what is eternal is what is best for the world now. It’s just that the world doesn’t see it that way.
Fifth, we look to Jesus who is the author and finisher of our faith (12:2).
Jesus believed God’s promise, that he would have many brothers and sisters to share with him in knowing his Father’s love. Because he believed this promise, he endured the sufferings of death—for us. That’s where we need to be looking if we are going to carry on, and then receive what God has promised.
It’s love—his love—that keeps hope alive. The Holy Spirit comes as an outpouring of God’s love to us, and in us. This is why we don’t get disappointed or ashamed (Romans 5:5).
God takes pleasure in faith like this (11:2, 4, 5, 39)! And his pleasure is not about us being good but us discovering that he is good! We discover he can be trusted. And he says, ‘You’re mine!’
So, we have seen that when God makes promises, he takes the initiative in what goes on in his world. And he opens up his plans so we can share with him in building and enjoying what is eternal. More particularly, we discover him!
This takes us well out of our depth! We’ll need to swim. But then, sharing with God is what we are made for! Our thinking and affections need more to feed on than what we can see.
We are to live by every word that God speaks. And a lot of what he has said has said hasn’t happened yet. So, we need to hear his promises, and persist. And then, when Christ returns, we will see that everything God promised has happened.