Summary: We find it difficult to keep promises because we are focused on dealing with today’s issues. We back off our commitments to God because they are hard, but we can receive help from accountability partners, and can know joy and fulfillment.
To be a saint is not to be perfect; to be a saint is to be someone who makes promises and keeps them. Sainthood is not some magic status, conferred by the church for merit or miracles; sainthood is ordinary people living in extraordinary faithfulness, making promises and keeping them.
Did you read Robert Frost’s poignant words on our bulletin?
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have miles to go before I sleep, And promises to keep, And promises to keep.” Saints keep promises before they sleep; but not without struggle. It is never easy to keep promises.
One evening we had had confirmed replies from eleven people that they would be at our home for a cookout. We set up extra chairs and tables, we pulled out extra dishes, to make sure we could accommodate that crowd. Guess what? Only six showed up! Five neither called nor came. We had thought that a promise made would be a promise kept; but not so for nearly half our guests. I wondered how those who failed to show up justified that? At least all was not lost: I ate bountifully of leftovers for a week!
We make promises. Yet we do not always keep promises. Why not? May I test a theory on you? May I suggest that we do not always keep our promises because the shouts of today are so loud that we do not hear the echoes of yesterday, nor do we listen to the faint whispers of tomorrow. All we really know is what clamors for attention right here, right now. We cannot deal with anything but these demands, this moment. But saints keep promises, though not without struggle.
Let me run my premise past you again: the shouts of today are so loud that we do not hear the echoes of yesterday, nor do we listen to the faint whispers of tomorrow. We drop our promises because we are trying to handle immediate issues. Saints, however, are those who learn how to keep their promises before they sleep.
King David was about to sleep with his fathers. He did not have long to live, and he knew it. But David was about to be reminded that he had promises to keep before he would sleep. One of David’s sons, Adonijah, was ambitious, and wanted to become king. Never mind that his father David had not yet died. Never mind that it was by no means clear in this kingdom that the crown would be passed from father to son – after all, David did not get his that way. And never mind, most of all, that David had not promised the throne to Adonijah; David had promised the kingdom to another son, Solomon. None of that mattered to the ambitious Adonijah. He wanted to be king and went about gathering support. The Kingdom of Israel went into full-scale crisis. Would the old king keep his promise? Or would he waffle and abandon his word? Would David hear only the shouts of today and thus forget the echoes of yesterday and ignore the faint whispers of tomorrow?
But, as Yogi Berra taught us, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over”. David’s wife Bathsheba and her son, Solomon, along with Nathan the prophet, intervened, and got David back on course with his promise-keeping. Let’s look more closely at this.
First, is it not true that many of us make overly-optimistic promises when we are young? Don’t we set out on courses that are not realistic? When we are young and confident, we think we can do it all. We make huge promises to ourselves and sometimes to God.
But then things happen. Things change. We get older, and our early promises are set aside by the demands of what we call the “real world”. Our wide-open promises are shut down because the distractions of everyday living get to us. Sainthood is shelved. The promises of youth seem too optimistic.
When I was about twelve years old, in a burst of spiritual enthusiasm, I promised the Lord that I would read the Bible all the way through, cover to cover. I set the goal of reading four chapters a day, and launched into my program. Genesis was fine; I had read most of that in Sunday School anyway. And Exodus was quite exciting. But next came Leviticus, which was a real drag, and then Numbers, which droned on and on. I never even got to Deuteronomy, much less everything else! A youthful promise to God foundered on reality – too optimistic, too immature. I let it drop. The promises of youth are often unlikely.
What did we once promise to God? And have we given it up? The promises we made at our baptism, to live like Jesus; were they dropped by the wayside? The promises we made when we were received into the church – to worship and study, to tithe and serve – have they been abandoned? Too hard? Too demanding?