I Need Something to Hold On To
For no matter how many promises God has made, they are
"Yes" in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is spoken
by us to the glory of God.
—2 Corinthians 1:20
When you think of promises, you don't want to think of what's
broken, of brokenness. It's human nature to want a sure thing
and for someone to back up the certainties, guaranteed, no questions
asked. But it's just like God to think of the unthinkable, to show us
that the impossible is possible, that there is one kind of brokenness
that holds everything together and in which promises are kept.
But I am jumping ahead of myself.
For me, choosing to study the promises of God in depth began with
a letter. I get very few actual delivered-to-my-mailbox letters these
days. Most of my friends communicate via e-mail or text message, so a
handwritten envelope on my desk was something of a novelty. I picked
it up and tore at its seams with curiosity. Then I began to read.
I have never met the woman who wrote to me, but apparently
she heard me speak at an event and sensed a connection with me. She
wrote about some of the struggles she had been through in the past
few years. These were not small things: illness, financial hardship,
and the breakup of her marriage. Amid all these hardships, one line
arrested my attention because of its profound simplicity:
"I would not have made it this far without the promises of God."
I read her letter again. On one hand, there was enormous human
pain. On the other, words on paper from a God we can't see and the
invisible help of the Holy Spirit. To some, the scales might have seemed
imbalanced; the tangible hardships of her life left her body, heart, and
soul stripped bare. Yet her confidence was compelling—beautifully and
almost heartbreakingly compelling. Her words didn't read like wishful
thinking but as a proclamation that has been lived out in an I know that
I know, tear-bathed way.
I thought of friends and others I've met in my thirty years of
speaking to women around the world. I remembered people who
have faced similar, difficult circumstances and struggled to find hope
in the middle of their messes. I've read through notes left on my
Facebook page, notes slipped into my hand at the end of a speaking
event. From the darkened caves of countless hearts, I have heard the
same primal cry, the same questions over and again:
Has God forgotten me?
Does my life matter?
Is there a plan somewhere in all of this mess?
How am I going to make it?
How do I know God cares about my family?
What will happen to me when I die?
Will I die alone?
What if I outlive my children?
Why won't God heal my depression?
Why hasn't God healed my marriage?
How do I know that God even heard my prayer?
We want to believe that God sees everything, our comings and
our goings, our slumber and our days, as Psalm 121 says. And we
desperately need to know and feel that His promises hold true in the
darkest of nights. We believe that God loves us, but bad things happen
anyway. There are aftereffects and consequences, damage and
wounds—pain that runs so deep that its presence, a reminder of the
storms, invades our lives over and over.
The failures, disappointments, and regrets keep us questioning: Do
God's promises hold fast when everything else is falling apart? What
exactly does He promise us? Can we trust Him to keep His promises?
The Promise for Keeps
Our deep, soul-level need for a "yes" to those questions hit home
for me during the time my father-in-law, William, lived with us.
Although we never verbalized it, my husband, Barry, and I assumed
his mom would outlive his dad since William was twelve years older
That's not what happened. Eleanor was diagnosed at sixty-seven
with cancer, and she lived just two more years.
I have a vivid picture in my mind of William on the day of her
funeral. Barry had taken our son, Christian, to the car, and William
asked for a few minutes alone at the grave site after everyone else had
left. I sat down under a tree covered in moss, its leaf-covered branches
spreading in every direction like a divinely designed umbrella. I wanted
to rest a moment and savor not only the peace there, the quiet, but the
beauty after the hard-hitting emotions and unmooring of death and
uncertainty in previous weeks. When I looked up, William was standing
in his dark suit, silver hair all in place, hands crossed in front of
him, like a little boy who was lost and didn't know what to do next.
We settled it that day: William would move from his home in
Charleston, South Carolina, to live with us in Nashville, Tennessee.
"What if you get tired of me being here?" he asked one morning
"Pop, we're not going to get tired of you," I said. "You belong
here. We were a family of three. Now we are a family of four."
"What are the house rules?" he asked.
"Oh, we have a very long list," I said with a smile. "Be kind to
each other, and if you fall down, roll over, laugh a lot, and get back
Barry, Christian, and I loved having William in our home. He
was funny and sweet and a great cook. His okra soup became a thing
of legend! We were so glad that we could watch over him and simply
enjoy him. Then one day something happened that caused him to—mentally,
at least—pack his suitcases. We were discussing something
at dinner. I don't even remember what it was now, but whatever I
was saying, William disagreed with me and said so. I was a little
surprised by the edge in his voice, as this was not like him, but I
supposed maybe he was irritable because his knees were bothering
him and causing him enough pain to lose sleep. We were all quiet
for a moment, then he pushed back his seat from the table and went
upstairs to his room.
When he didn't come down after an hour, I decided to see if
he was feeling okay. I knocked on his bedroom door, and William
invited me in. Sitting on the edge of his bed, with his hands folded on
his lap, he looked like that same lost little boy who stood by the grave
site not sure what to do next. I sat down beside him.
"So, what now?" he asked.
"What do you mean?"
"So, do I leave now?"
I was stunned. "Of course not. Why would you ask that?"
"Well, I know you said I could stay forever." He paused. "But I
broke the rules."
I thought back to his comment at dinner, and I guess to him,
his leaving the table registered as unkindness toward me. Watching
his hopelessness, my heart ached for him, and I needed to help him
understand. "Pop, rules might give us some order, but love and grace
make life worth living. You belong here now. You are allowed to
mess up just like any one of us. You are family, and we're not going
anywhere without you. We threw away the sales receipt when we
brought you home. We're keeping you."
The Promise Older than Moses
Keeping is what we long for and what God promises us. We hope, we
wish, we pray for promises that we can count on, come rain or shine,
to shelter our hearts and our being, our dreams and our doings. We
want these promises to be kept whether we mess up (or think we did)
or someone else does.
It's an age-old longing, older than Moses, this yearning for promises
made and promises kept. In fact, it is Moses I think of when I think
about promises: Moses, who was called to lead God's people out of slavery
and to the promised land. Moses, who was called a friend of God.
Moses, who would talk with God as a man talks with a friend (Exodus
33:11). But there's also Moses the doubter (Exodus 3:10–4:13) and
murderer (Exodus 2:11–14), the very human Moses who got angry and
afraid, felt disappointment and discouragement. I think of the Moses
who experienced—just as William found in our home, and I discovered
one stormy night in the Cairngorm Mountains—that God makes
and keeps His promises to us, regardless of our faithfulness to Him.
The moment of Moses' story that stands out to me is when he
pleaded with God to remember His promises (Exodus 33:12–17).
Moses had been given God's Ten Commandments and had brought
them down from Mount Sinai only to find that the people were not
ready to receive them.
Tired of waiting in the wilderness on God and Moses, the people
had made a golden calf from their bit jewelry—rings and earrings. They
were worshipping their own creation, looking for promises they could
control themselves or make and break as they saw fit instead of trusting
in the promises of God, the promise to be led to a promised land.
Moses came upon the scene and, enraged at seeing the golden
calf, threw down the Commandments written on tablets of stone.
How could the people not wait on God? How could they not see that even
now God was bringing about all He'd offered? Pebbles and dust, shards and
splinters of stone were strewn like broken promises at Moses' feet.
Having just come from the glorious presence of God, he was heartbroken
God was devastated, too, so shattered that He told Moses that
maybe He should leave His people.
Oh no, no, Moses begs. If You don't go with me, with us, how can I
lead? Where will we go? Let me know Your ways. Let me see Your glory so
I can know You. "Then Moses said to him, 'If your Presence does not
go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that
you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with
us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other
people on the face of the earth?'" (Exodus 33:15–16).
God, moved by Moses and unable to leave those He loved or resist
their cries, had already planned a way to stay and to keep them. In the
dust and the rubble of the broken tablets, His Word remained true, His
promises would be kept. God looked on Moses as he begged not only
to stay in God's presence but to see all of God's glory. God, whose heart
was broken like those tablets of stone, began picking up all the pieces.
Imagine God, after having witnessed the rejection of the people
He just rescued, saying to Moses, "I will have mercy ... I will have
compassion" (Exodus 33:19). It is as if God, having watched the people
desecrate and decimate the shelter of His covering, was willing
to offer those pieces of Himself again, collecting them, repositioning
them. Then, in an act of great mercy, He told Moses to get new stones
for new tablets on which the Word would be written for the people.
Even when they had proven to be totally faithless, He remained willing
to start all over again.
The shelter God made for Moses was the cleft of Horeb, a cleft
meant not only for protection from the storms but for the chance to
see His glory. What we learn from Moses, though, extends beyond
the scene with the Ten Commandments. There was a greater theme
of God's promise and provision happening in that moment. Bible
commentator Matthew Henry explains it this way:
A full discovery of the glory of God would overwhelm even Moses
himself. Man is mean and unworthy of it; weak and could not bear
it; guilty and could not but dread it. The merciful display which is
made in Christ Jesus alone can be borne by us. The Lord granted
that which would abundantly satisfy. God's goodness is his glory;
and he will have us to know him by the glory of his majesty. Upon
the rock there was a fit place for Moses to view the goodness and
glory of God. The rock in Horeb was typical of Christ the Rock;
the refuge, salvation, and strength. Happy are they who stand upon
this Rock. The cleft is an emblem of Christ as smitten, crucified,
wounded, and slain.
The cleft in Horeb for Moses is a symbol and pointer to Christ,
who is the ultimate cleft, the Rock of Ages, cleft for us. As Henry
explains, for Moses, the cleft was not just for his protection. It was
also the sanctified place whereby God could let him see a glimpse of
His glory, His majesty. And so it is with Christ, the One in whom
God poured His glory and majesty so we could catch a glimpse of the
Almighty and be kept safe by the abundance of His provision.
Christ Is the Cleft, the Keep
This is the shelter of all God's promises: God not only keeps His promises
but He longs to keep us in them. As it was in those castles long ago,
made of rock and stone, the very center tower was called the "keep"
and provided shelter, a place of habitation, an operating station from
which defense, under siege, was centered. Usually a well was built at
the center of the keep so those sustained there could not only endure
In God's kingdom, there is a keep, too, and it is Christ. How
beautiful that God designed a way to provide such strength for us
through the Person we crushed through our sin. How fitting that
the rebellion of the Israelites, which brought about the destruction of
God's tablets, is a ref lection of the wounding we would cause to His
Son. But light-years beyond these failures, our loving and promise-keeping
Father would find a way to keep us, to say yes to us when
we asked for forgiveness, protection, and a glimpse of His glory. That
eternal Yes, that Shelter of the promise, is Christ.
In the face of some disappointments and discouragements, the
apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians of this:
For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes"
in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the
glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand
firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and
put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to
come. (2 Corinthians 1:20–22)
Just rest for a moment in the beauty that comes with the phrase
"He set his seal of ownership on us." God claimed us through
Christ—He has made an eternity-long commitment to us that He
cannot break. But He didn't just put a seal on us and set us aside like a
near-empty jar stuffed way back in the cupboard. No, God has made
many promises to His people, and they all come back to Christ. Here's
how another Bible commentator explains it:
These promises are all "in" Christ; with and in whom could they
be but in him, since he only existed when they were made, which
was from everlasting? with and in whom should they be of right,
but in him with whom the covenant, which contains these promises,
were made, and who undertook the accomplishment of them?
where could they be safe and secure but in him, in whose hands
are the persons, grace, and glory of his people? not in Adam, nor
in angels, nor in themselves, only in him ... by whose blood, the
covenant, and all the promises of it, are ratified and confirmed, and
in whom, who is the truth of them, they are all fulfilled.
But why would God do this? Why, when we break so many promises
to Him? We build our own golden calves and break our word to
God, our vows, our promises. We say we trust Him and believe in His
promises when we need them or want something. But when things
don't work out the way we think they should, or something bad happens,
a storm comes, or we're left waiting for answers like an Israelite
in the wilderness, we can be so unfaithful. Sometimes in our pain or
in our panic we forget God, we forget His promises.
Why would God want to keep us and His promises to us when
we mess up so badly?
The Bible reminds us of a truth we too often forget, a truth that
shines as clear as daylight: because God cannot help Himself. The force of
His righteousness and mercy, which were from everlasting and formed
the covenant with us, are the unchanging foundation upon which His
promises are built. God does not change, nor do the glories of His
person and the salvation He engineered for us. God's promises are as
dependable as He is. Because they are Him.
God's Promises Are Not Like Ours
There is a story in the Old Testament of a prophet named Balaam
whose donkey talks back to him (Numbers 22:22–35). Balaam may
be a prophet, but he is a heathen one and not looking after the interests
of God, not counting on God's promises or commending them.
He's only after his own purposes and gain. Even Balaam's donkey sees
he's in trouble, so when Balaam sets off on a road for his own agenda,
the donkey stops, turns into a field, presses Balaam's foot against a
wall in a narrow place, and even lies down, refusing to go forward.
Excerpted from "The Shelter of God's Promises" by Sheila Walsh. Copyright © 0 by Sheila Walsh. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.