Today, Marian Green and I are each posting our perspective on God's promises (I'll link to hers at the end of this post.) Be stretched. Be encouraged. Theology (is) for Girls!
Six years ago, on a Wednesday, Rob and I lost our first child through a miscarriage. The next Sunday, in God’s mysterious providence, Rob was scheduled to preach Psalm 128.
I sat listening in the pew as he picked up his Bible: “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.”
I was brokenhearted. The promises which had seemed crystal clear last time I read them were growing blurry. Had I misunderstood the Lord’s word? Or, worse, had His promises failed?
Any Christian knows the Scriptures are full of hopeful verses about home and family life:
Psalm 113:9: “[God] gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children.” Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Ephesians 6:2 (quoting Exodus 20:12): “’Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise) ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’”
And several more come readily to mind besides. But—even in the church community—we see real-life families that don’t seem to match up:
Friends who desire children but are battling infertility. A son who has quit six different rehab programs and is back on the streets. A daughter who has converted to Islam. A forty-year-old brother who longs for a godly wife. A child who has an abusive father.
What do God’s promises give to God’s people? Or, put another way: I found a promise! Now what?
It would be easy to be angry with God when, newly un-pregnant, I heard the words of Psalm 128. Inward reflection is in order.
If I read all the way to the end, the verse says, “thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.” And if I’m honest with myself, I’m not the God-fearer that I should be. Nor, now that the Lord has given me children, do I faithfully train them every step of the way. Nor can I claim perfection in the duty to honor my mother and father. I never uphold my side of the promises.
If I take the perspective that God owes me something promised, then I have an inflated view of my own holiness. The only reason I may receive a gift from God is because He is holy!
An honest look inward at my sinful failings drives me to look upward, believing that God is exactly who He says He is.
He is a gracious God who delights to give good gifts to his children. As Jesus explained in Matthew 7: “Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or, if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him?”
God says that His word does not fail (Joshua 21:45), that He is unchangingly generous (James 1:17), and that His ways are good for His children (Romans 8:28).
I must cultivate trust in Him even in the midst of puzzling circumstances.
My great-aunt once gave me an antique “promise box.” Hundreds of verses are written on tiny sheets of paper and rolled up inside the box. It even came with a miniature wooden stick to insert and remove the promises. This box screams: pick one, any one! A verse just for you, Megan!
This box is cute. But it causes problems.
For one thing, the random scraps of Scripture don’t encourage me to look closely at meaning and context.
Also, this personal-sized box with its verse for my day is misleading: the promises in Scripture are for me. But they aren’t just for me.
God’s word is given to His people—all of them. He has spoken to his covenant community in all ages and all places. And I am bound up with these people in an inseparable, every-part-useful way. (I Corinthians 12:21-26) Together, we are His body.
So that means that when the body is blessed, I am blessed.
And, it means the definition of “family” extends far beyond me and my genes. Jesus himself said to his genealogy-focused hearers: “’Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’” (Matthew 12:50)
Like Naomi holding Obed, I can cuddle my friend’s baby or mentor her Christ-loving teenager or pray with her godly grandmother—and praise the Lord. I receive the fulfilled promise of family because I am part of the body.
In our longing for godly family, we may not have to look very far ahead to see His good way revealed. The Muslim daughter may yet flee to Christ. The single brother may find a wife. The barren woman may get pregnant.
And we can pray and work to that end because we know those are things which please the Lord. He may even be pleased to grant them tomorrow.
But we may need to look for fulfillment further ahead than that. We need to think like Christ in Mark 10:29-30: “‘There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.’”
Some days, I’m tempted to skim right over the “with persecutions” part. But, ultimately, any earthly reward is going to be unsatisfactory, blemished, breakable. Those baby olive shoots around my table will inevitably cry, and spill their milk, and get the flu.
Only in eternity will we see all things (people, relationships) made new. I must set my heart’s eyes on what is ahead.
And there my promised treasure will be also.
Please read Marian Green's perpective on this topic at Uprooted and Undone. We invite you girl theologians everywhere to read mine, read hers, leave a comment, and even write your own post about the promises of our God!