How do you respond to the promises of God? “Uh, I don’t give them much thought,” someone admits. “I try to be responsible and take care of my own needs; when I get backed into a corner, I pray and hope God answers me.” “Well, if I’m being honest, I sometimes doubt them,” another responds with some shame. Still another says, “I believe they’re absolutely true and rest completely in them.”
We all recognize the abject absence of faith in the first response. If we are honest, most of us, like the second person, must admit to experiencing some doubt at one time or another and acknowledge the sin of unbelief. But what about the third answer? That may be a proper and adequate response if we understand the definition of “resting” to mean something more than sitting back and doing nothing. We must realize that a fundamental purpose of promises is to provoke us to pray. Does God ever act on our behalf and does He fulfill His promises if we do not pray? Without doubt, constantly. We could not survive for a moment were our lives dependent on our praying about everything that impacts us. But we should never ignore the reality that the Bible that offers this promise—“And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19)—is the same Bible that declares—”You do not have because you do not ask” (Jam. 4:2). Clearly, a promise from God is not intended to preclude prayer but to promote it.
A single verse in Ezekiel’s prophecy illustrates that truth. Prophesying concerning the future millennial kingdom, Ezekiel quotes a promise from the Lord: “I will increase their men like a flock” (36:37). So are God’s people to rest in that promise and simply wait for God to fulfill it? Is that the evidence of strong faith and rest in the promise of God? Apparently not, because in the same sentence we read: “Thus says the Lord God, ‘This also I will let the house of Israel ask Me to do for them.” God said, in effect, “I’ve given you a promise that will not fail; I will perform it. Now, pray that I will perform it.”
Consider Gideon. Though he is far from demonstrating strong faith, it is the promise of God to use Gideon to deliver Israel from the Midianites that provokes the judge-to-be to ask for a sign that he is understanding the promise properly and that God is truly going to deliver His people through the instrumentality of Gideon. God’s promise provoked Gideon’s prayer (which his face-to-face conversation with the preincarnate Christ may properly be called).
And what of David? God gave him an incredible promise: “Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever” (2 Sam. 7:16). David was a man of great faith. Did that mean he took God’s promise for granted? Did he “rest” in that promise? Absolutely. But how was that rest manifested? He prayed the promise back to God. “For You, O Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, have made a revelation to Your servant, saying, ‘I will build you a house’; therefore Your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you. Now, O Lord God, You are God, and Your words are truth, and You have promised this good thing to Your servant. Now therefore, may it please You to bless the house of Your servant, that it may continue forever before You. For You, O Lord God have spoken; and with Your blessing may the house of Your servant be blessed forever” (vv. 27-29).
Necessity and emergency are not better “praying ground” than are the promises of God. Importunity is not more effectual than quoting back to God the promises He has made to His children. We must not pray with presumption; nor should we ever “command” God (note the mixture of humility and confident faith in David’s prayer), but God delights when we petition Him meekly on the basis of what He has promised. To do so is the essence of faith: “Lord, I truly believe this promise you have given me . . .” It honors Him when in faith and meekness we petition Him on the firm ground of His promises.
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