I Beg Your Pardon, I Never Promised You a Pumpkin Garden
So Fall is here, technically it arrived about a week ago, but for those of us who don’t have an alarm on our phones alerting us to its arrival on September 22, the season doesn’t arrive until the calendar flips to the month with the orange lettering. There are some things you should just wait for. Like Fall. And Christmas. And God’s promises to be fulfilled when it seems like maybe He has forgotten you, and you are sitting in the waiting room, and you begin to wonder if God left the building with a friend for a round of golf and a craft beer.
Psalm 27:13-14 has become a poignant verse for my husband and me over this year and last. It talks about waiting:
“I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”
The verse was quoted to my husband and I when we met with the senior pastor of a large church in California following the announcement of my affair and the firing of my husband from his ministerial position. We went to the home of this pastor seeking advice and encouragement at one of the scariest times in our marriage. (Not, THE scariest time in our marriage…just one of them. Trust me, affairs may be bad news but, now that we are a little further away from it, my husband and I would both contest that burying our 19-month-old little girl was far more frightening).
When Pastor Chuck first said the verse I had images congruent with the TV show, The Walking Dead. My mind didn’t capture “the land of the living” without also imagining “the land of the no longer living”. My eyes rose from my sweaty glass of ice water, and looked across the sunny patio with a quizzical grimace. Pastor Chuck responded to the unspoken inquiry explaining that to see God’s goodness in the land of the living meant that we wouldn’t have to wait until we arrived in Heaven to see how God would use our terrible situation for good. We didn’t have to wait until the afterlife to have an understanding that everything was going to be okay. If we could be strong, wait for the Lord, and trust in His promises, we would see the hand of God and witness the unfolding of His plans while we were still alive on planet Earth.
This morning I happened across another verse that spoke of God’s promises:
“And because of His glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises.” 2 Peter 1:4
He has given us precious promises. Wow. That lovely truth started my mind spinning to the variety of places claiming God’s promises. I remember hearing a hymn instructing me to stand on the promises of God. I’ve read where Corrie Ten Boom said “Let God’s promises shine on your problems”. And I once saw a really pretty meme with a sunset and a barn that said “God’s promises are like the stars; the darker the night the brighter they shine.” It has to be true if it has a sunset and barn, right?
But aside from accepting that God’s promises are true, my real question was, “What are His promises?” Because if I am waiting for something, I want to know what it looks like.
As I began to pray, one thing became clear. I could see with clarity all the promises that are not from God. He never promised a lot of things that I hope for. God never promised that my vitamins would absorb, that the dog’s vet bill would be less than I made in tips last night, or that my hair color would last. He never promised that I wouldn’t need two new tires when it’s most inconvenient, or that Bank of America would wave their policies for loan approval. God didn’t promise that that your child’s self esteem would be high, or your interest rates low. He didn’t promise that your Mother-in-Law would be kind, that your neighbors would be friendly, or that you would conceive a child. He didn’t promise that our jobs would be fulfilling, that we would be cancer free, or that babies wouldn’t die. God never promised that there wouldn’t continue to be wrongful executions. He didn’t promise that slavery would end. He didn’t promise that we would no longer see injustice in our homes, our work places, our country and our world. He didn’t promise a lot of things I hope for.
So what did he promise?
God promised that on our very worst day, He would be at His very best to conquer the demons who work to depress and diminish our spirits. God promised power to the weak and rest for the weary. He promised we would soar like eagles, not because our situation would change, but because our souls could be free.
And why should I care?
Because ultimately our desires sit on two different lists. The first set is the list of things that will show me and others that I’ve lived a righteous life. It can look material for some, but it’s not just about accumulating cars and houses. This is the list where you have a purpose in your job. It’s the list where you make a difference because you are using your gift; where the free will of others is significantly impacted by your influence. It’s the list where justice wins, sickness vanishes, and evil is revealed. It’s a good list, desirable indeed. The second list is what God does when those things don’t happen. It’s repetitive, but here goes: it’s finding peace and allowing things to be well with your soul when none of the things on the first list are happening.
We are dependent on the second list because that is God’s promise. While the first list is glorious and certainly full of things I wouldn’t turn away, do you realize what happens when we have the first list without the second? If we were to receive all the things that we think we want, and not be clinging to God’s promise to sustain us when problems come knocking, do you know what we’d be? We would be a bunch of middle class Americans whining about all the other promises that were not fulfilled. In other words, to have the first set of promises fulfilled takes us exactly where we are today.
But why can’t I have both?
Because you’d stop caring about the second list. God knows us. And He knows what we can handle and what we cannot. And in as much as we believe that we were made to do great things, God knows that there are greater things than the achievements of man. The peace you find in Him pleases Him. Oh, you’ll still do great things, it just might be measured differently than you imagined. That’s a promise.