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Beware of a Pernicious Promise

Promises are a powerful tool. They can be used as a form of motivation and they are often seen as an expression of love. However, promises can also be harmful, especially when we make them without thinking about their consequences.

The problem is that we often make promises without thinking about the consequences. We may say “yes” to something because it’s easy or because someone is pressuring us to do it. It’s important that we think carefully about our promises before making them so that we don’t end up regretting them later on.

8 At her mother’s urging, the girl said, “I want the head of John the Baptist on a tray!” 9 Then the king regretted what he had said; but because of the vow he had made in front of his guests, he issued the necessary orders. 10 So John was beheaded in the prison, 11 and his head was brought on a tray and given to the girl, who took it to her mother.

Matthew 14:8–11

Promises Aren’t Forgotten

It is so easy to make a promise. It’s like buying a car with no payments for three months. It’s so much fun until that first payment comes due. All too often, we will make a promise, and then afterward, we forget the promise or find it to be a heavy burden that Jesus never expected to place on us.

Have you ever attended your local church when a missionary spoke? He or she likely asked the congregation to pray for them and God’s work through them. They may have asked for a show of hands from everyone that committed to pray for them. Guess what? God still remembers that promise and still expects us to honor that prayer.

I’m not picking on anyone. Many years ago, a young man in our church had enlisted in the army. For his last Sunday before heading to boot camp, our pastor asked the church to pray for him and then asked for a show of hands for people that would continue to hold this young man up in prayer. I raised my hand; it was the right thing to do.

I prayed for him for several months, and then my promise slipped into my archive, where I keep my prayers for people and their needs. But God didn’t let me off the hook. Even today, the Holy Spirit will prod me to pray for this young (well, middle-aged) man. God never forgets.

Pernicious Promises

When looking back to the Old Testament, we find that God holds us to whatever promise we make. When God was teaching the Israelites in the desert, He said they were never to make a covenant (promise) with false gods or the people who worshipped them. (Exodus 23:32)

Sadly, they trusted their wisdom instead of asking for God’s wisdom. So, the Israelites were tricked into making a vow to a tribe that purposely misled them. It was a pernicious promise because it was harmful in a gradual, subtle way. Still, God required the Israelites to keep that vow. (Joshua 9:3) When the Israelites became angry at the leaders because they chose to honor their vow, here’s what they said:

19 But all the leaders said to all the congregation, “We have sworn to them by the Lord, the God of Israel, and now we may not touch them.

Joshua 9:19

Be Sure When You Promise

So, you see, God doesn’t let us off the hook if we make a silly promise. Instead, He holds us to it. I once watched my pastor eat lunch on the roof of our church! He promised us that he’d eat his lunch on the roof if we broke the attendance record. We did, so he did.

Be careful when you speak; our tongue can get us in all kinds of trouble!

You may like: Why is God Hard to See?


God is a covenant-making God. God’s covenants are not agreements between equals, but arrangements offered by God which contain promises based on conditions [a]. We correctly focus on the New Covenant and keep in mind that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Heb. 9:22) The shed blood of Jesus was the sacrifice for sins to make the way for our salvation.

What we may not be aware of is that God also makes covenants not concerning sin. We read right over many available covenants (i.e., promise/condition) such as “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Ps. 37:4) Individuals can choose to enter into these covenants that have been made available by God. 
In our personal relationship with Jesus, He also may speak to us a promise with conditions. If it doesn’t align with the Bible, then you didn’t hear it correctly. 

Jesus did this with me. I had newly recommitted my life to Jesus when I got a job as an electronics technician (ET). Before that, I worked as a parts guy in a Chevy dealership. I’d never had an actual job as an ET, and I was now the only one for the whole company. My boss, a salesperson, led to the back of their building, showed me the workbench, and a pile of stuff that needed to be repaired, then he walked away. I was sweating bullets.

Most of the items had broken wires or apparent problems. Then I came to this device that had an 8″ x 16″ circuit board full of components and no schematic and it only partly worked. I knew I was in big trouble. I had never tackled anything like that and didn’t have a clue how to start. So, I bowed my head and prayed. I didn’t really understand what happened then, but God made a covenant with me. If I gave Him the credit, He would show me how to fix stuff. He led me, and I fixed that device.

I’ll give you one more example, though there are many more, just to drive the point home. There was a time when I was an ET for Columbia Records/CBS, yes, that one. As a courtesy to the local public library, some manager offered to fix a broken device they had. I was told to go pick it up and fix it. I brought it back, opened it up, and the other ET’s openly laughed. They knew I was a Christian and they thought I was now in deep trouble. They didn’t know I was in covenant with Jesus. A few minutes later I had it fixed and ready to return.

I’m not special, and God doesn’t love me more than anyone else. I have also seen these covenants with God in many other people’s lives.

“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” So, ask, if this is something you desire.

[a] paraphrase from Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers

Photo by Thomas Jensen on Unsplash

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