Summary: As young people we make many naive promises, which are diluted by the demands of the day. But God sends people to intervene with the truth, so that at the end we are able to praise Him for the grace that helps us feel some degree of fulfillment.
The shouts of today are so loud that I do not hear the echoes of yesterday, nor do I listen to the faint whispers of tomorrow. All I really know is what is clamoring in my ear right here, right now. That makes me lose perspective. The shouts of today are so insistently loud that I do not hear the dwindling echoes of yesterday, nor do I listen to the faint and distant whispers of tomorrow. I forget what I have promised, just because I am trying to handle right now.
Sometimes it takes a crisis to focus me on the commitments I have made, for the truth is that I have miles to go before I sleep, and promises to keep. And promises to keep.
Poet Robert Frost’s poignant words:
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have miles to go before I sleep,
And promises to keep,
And promises to keep.”
Beneath the apparent tranquility of the poet’s lines there lingers a restiveness, because he knows he is nearing the end of his life, and there are things he has promised to do, but has not done. There are commitments he has made, but has not kept.
Haven’t we all made promises? Which promises do we keep and which ones do we set aside? Which promises are sacred, never to be broken, and which ones are ho-hum, if it’s convenient? I don’t know about you, but I find in my own life that the promises I make to other people I do my best to keep. But the promises I make to God and to myself are not so sacred. The promises I make to God and to myself are easily broken. What’s that all about?
About two weeks ago George Clanton asked me to offer a prayer in his father’s funeral. Of course I promised to do that. That was the least I could do. I intended to keep that promise. I set out from home the morning of the service, having worked on something else until the last minute, one of my more dangerous habits, and I drove to Mt. Horeb Baptist Church, carefully calculating the swiftest route. But I had not counted on a couple of things. I had not counted on missing the correct turn off Kenilworth Avenue; and I had not counted on having to park a couple of blocks away. By the time I entered the place, the service had already begun, the usher could not seem to help me, and I was just about to panic. But thank you, Lord, as I staggered down an aisle I heard my name called, and I got that prayer in on time! Whew! Now what was my anxiety about? Why was I so hurried? Because I had made a promise to George, and it matters to me that I keep my promises to people. That I had promised myself the last time something like this happened that I would give myself an extra fifteen minutes of driving time – that didn’t enter in. That I had promised God that I would not rush into His presence breathless and bothered -- that didn’t even come to mind. All that mattered was that I keep a promise to a friend. Do you see? The promises we make to others we keep; the promises that we make to God and to ourselves are often forgotten.
Another example: I mentioned to you last week that I had spent much of the previous afternoon visiting a prisoner at the DC Jail. What I did not tell you was how much trouble it is to visit anyone there. The inmate I am working with had called me and asked me come; the only times you can visit there are Wednesday evenings and Saturday afternoons. Wednesday evening is out, because I have to be the Priest and the Levite here and cannot stop for those on the side of the road! But I promised I would visit him that Saturday. Well, you have to call at least twenty-four hours ahead of time, and I tried. I really did. They gave me three numbers to call; on one of them I got nothing; on the second I got a message, “This number is not in service”; and on the third I got a recording, asking me to state my name and the purpose for which I was calling. I did that, but no one ever called back, and so when Saturday came, I had no permission to visit. So I stayed home. Well, on Tuesday I got a stinger of a letter you have ever read – obviously I did not care, I was more interested in the people that pay my salary, and so on and so on. That hurt! So that week I put our secretary on the phone – it took her an hour to get through – and I moved heaven and earth to get to that jail. I was not going to disappoint this man again. I was not going to break this promise again. That I had promised myself to do certain other things that Saturday no longer mattered. That I had promised the Lord that I would get the sermon done early that weekend never really entered into it. I could not break my promise to someone who was counting on me.