How we love to claim the promises of God in Scripture! They give us hope, comfort, and renewed strength.
Yet sometimes we get the Bible’s principles mixed up with its promises and that can lead to disappointment and even disillusionment with God.
While Scripture contains specific promises, it’s important to understand that it also contains general principles for life. Sometimes we take a principle, consider it a promise, and then feel that God disappointed us when He didn’t grant that “promise.” Or, we take a promise out of context or read only a portion of it and we wonder why God didn’t come through for us.
To keep you from experiencing that disappointment, and to help you look forward to what God did commit Himself to, here are 10 Things God Never Promised:
1. A Trouble-Free Life
“Get God and you’ll get good,” I once heard someone say, with the intention of drawing that person to Jesus. The trouble with that line of thinking is that Jesus never promised a trouble-free life. To the contrary, He warned those who wanted to commit to Him that if they did, it wouldn’t be an easy road to travel. In Matthew 16:24, Jesus told His disciples: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” The cross was Rome’s gruesome form of execution during Jesus’ day – the most horrific way to die. So, whenever there is a cross involved as a condition or consequence, it means suffering lies ahead.
Jesus also told His followers in John 15:20: “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” Life involves struggles. A life following Jesus might invite more struggles. But instead of preventing or promising to relieve you of those struggles, God promised to walk alongside you through them when He said in Hebrews 13:5 “Never will I leave you, nor will I ever forsake you.”
2. Personal Success
There are principles throughout the Bible that suggest if we do a certain thing then another thing is likely to happen. For example, Psalm 1 tells us we are “blessed” if we don’t walk in step with the wicked, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the company of mockers. Rather, if we delight in God’s law and meditate on it day and night then whatever we do prospers. Yet we all know God-fearing people who love and meditate on Scripture who don’t necessarily find that every investment is a great one, every plan is fail proof, and every attempt in life is successful.
God’s rewards many times are eternal, not temporary while we’re here on earth. If you’re looking for a promise from God that if you obey Him you’ll be successful at everything, you won’t find it. Rest, instead, in Psalm 37:5 which assures us: “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.”
3. A Happily Ever After Here on Earth
Here’s where we tend to mix the fairy tales with Scripture. While Jesus came to give us life more abundantly (John 10:10), He didn’t necessarily promise it while here on earth. Our eternal life is in heaven. On earth we live with the consequences of sin, aging, disease, addictions, death, poor choices, betrayal from others, and so on. And thus, we experience pain, loss, illness, death, disappointment, divorce, abuse, and other heartbreaking situations.
God’s Word does tell us, however that “in [God’s] presence there is fullness of joy; at [His] right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). And His Word tells us that when we delight ourselves in Him, He gives us the desires of our hearts (Psalm 37:4). I believe that means He places in our hearts His desires and then He delights in granting them. The happily ever after is coming… just not this side of heaven.
4. A Husband or Wife for Life
I know you’ve heard it said, “Trust God and He’ll bring the one He created just for you.” But what if God didn’t create a spouse just for you? And perhaps you married the one you clearly believed God brought to you and that person betrayed your union and you found yourself separated or divorced. People make choices every day that are outside our control and grieve the heart of God. Some of those choices (by you or someone else) might be the reason you are single today. While God is gracious and forgiving in spite of our mistakes, He is also wise and knows what is ultimately best for us spiritually, emotionally, and relationally, which means He may decide it’s best for you NOT to have the complication or sometimes heartache of marriage.
Trust Him with what He might be choosing to withhold from you. He promises, “No good thing will he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). But remember, His idea of what is good for you may not necessarily be the same as your idea of what is good for you.
5. A “Fulfilling” Ministry
My husband and I have been in ministry for 30 years. And I can honestly tell you from personal experience as well as the experience of countless other pastors, musicians, lay ministers, missionaries, and so on that you can follow God’s will, but it doesn’t always mean it will be personally fulfilling. What we find fulfilling and what God determines is His best for us can be two different things.
Look at the Old Testament stories of obedient prophets like Isaiah (who asked “How long, Lord?”) and Jeremiah (who is known as the “weeping prophet” – who of us wants our life purpose and ministry to involve much weeping?). If your ministry is truly for God and not you, surrender to what He decides that ministry will look like. And rest in His promise to do “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” (Ephesians 3:20).
6. The Answers to Your Questions
God is not obligated to answer our questions or give us reasons that we find acceptable. And He may choose to leave us entirely without answers to certain questions of ours. Why? He is a faith-building God. And Hebrews 11:1 tells us very clearly that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Later in Hebrews we are told it is impossible to please God without faith. Faith is not having to have the answers, but resting in the assurance that Jesus IS the Answer, even when we can’t see or understand what He’s doing.
Please don’t dismiss this one by saying that the first thing you’ll do when you get to heaven is ask Him your burning questions. My friend, I believe when you and I get to heaven we will be so grateful that we are in the eternal presence of God by His grace alone that all our questions about why He allowed what He did on earth won’t matter anymore. You and I would be best to still those questions with Paul’s conclusion in Romans 8:18: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
7. Wealth and Prosperity
I might step on some toes here, but then so did Jesus when He addressed the topic of riches, wealth, and success. Jesus never promised health and wealth to those who followed Him. If Jesus said it is harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:24), why on earth would He give us what would make us much less likely to surrender to Him?
Don’t hold your breath on those lotto numbers or that opportunity turning into a million-dollar venture. Jesus wants to be our wealth, our prosperity, our portion. David sang in Psalm 16:8 “Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” That’s Biblespeak for “I’m rich in Christ. He is all I will ever need.” When Christ is our inheritance and portion, our salary, success, and notoriety won’t be nearly as important to us.
8. Children Who Follow the Lead
I’ve heard many parents grab onto Proverbs 22:6 (“Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it” NASB) and claim it as their promise or guarantee that if they raise their kids in Sunday School or teach them biblical principles when they’re young, their children will never turn their backs on their faith. But this verse in Proverbs is not a promise, but a principle or guideline, like many of the wise sayings of Solomon, that “if you do this, chances are this other thing will happen.”
I know of many parents who start their children in the ways and Word of God who never see their children return. That is where we trust God’s work in their lives, and that God sees what we cannot see.
The wording in that verse “even when he is old he will not depart from it” could mean that when your child is old he will return to his childhood faith. It could mean that you won’t see it in your lifetime. It could mean a deathbed conversion for your son or daughter, or a repentance and coming back to the faith of their childhood when their lives are nearly over. That certainly is not what any of us desires.
But there is peace when we trust the wisdom, goodness, and timing of God to guide our children with what we have given them. Trust God’s sovereignty. Don’t stop praying for that child. And rest in 1 John 5:14-15 which promises that “if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him.”
9. All Things Work Out for the Best
This is probably the most misquoted promise in the Bible. Romans 8:28 (“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”) is not a blanket promise to all individuals that God will turn all their mistakes and unfortunate circumstances into “good.” It is a promise to those who have been called according to His purpose.
And the good God promises those in relationship with Him is not what we necessarily consider good, but what God has determined is eternally good, which the writer of Romans clarifies for us in the very next verse (Romans 8:29): “those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.”
In other words, as you are loving God and seeking His purposes for your life, He will allow all circumstances – good and bad – to make you more like Jesus. That is the good that God works out of all our circumstances as we surrender them to Him and seek to be more like Christ.
10. To Give Us Only What We Can Handle
I, too, have heard many believers say “God won’t give you more than you can handle” as an assurance that things won’t get worse. But that promise or assurance is not in the Bible. We are told God will not “tempt us beyond what we are able, but with the temptation will provide an escape so that we may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13). But when it comes to struggles, there is no such assurance in the Bible that God will only give us what we’re strong enough for. To the contrary, God will often give us more than we can handle so that we will depend on Him to carry it for us (Matthew 11:28-30).
That is how we come to understand the beauty of His strength in us. That is how we learn dependence on a God who can do through us what we cannot do alone. And that is how we learn to hide ourselves in Him (Psalm 32:7) and rest in His ability to shelter and protect us (Psalm 91:1-2).
Like its sister pseudo verse (that God helps those who help themselves), God helps those who admit they can’t help themselves. Any time God allows something difficult to come your way, instead of telling yourself you’re strong enough to handle it or you don’t have to worry that God will give you something more than you can bear, look to His loving, capable arms to help you bear it. You will come to know Him in a closer way.
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