Standing on the Promises
One of the greatest antidotes to fear, discouragement, and failing faith is the knowledge of and confidence in the promises of God, and their liberal use in our prayers and thought life. If you were to list all the promise of God you can think of, how many would you be able to name? Which ones mean the most to you in your daily life?
Many of us would probably list: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age”; “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you”; “I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you” (Mt. 28:20; Heb. 13:5; John 14:18). Yes, for a believer, the presence of God in our lives is of vital importance. That is why I read with dismay a chapter in a book on prayer by a well-known pastor where he said if he could end one thing that people pray it would be, “God be with so-and-so.” It’s not the first time I’ve heard this sentiment stated, but it irks me every time. I’d like to make a defense of this prayer as one to incorporate as we pray the promises of God for ourselves and for others.
First, we should look a bit at the objections to this “God be with you” prayer. The aforementioned author said it was unnecessary because God has promised to be with us, so he and others have intimated that praying it is either redundant, meaningless, or shows a lack of faith in or knowledge of God. While I can concede that it is too often prayed as a throw-away phrase (like may others we pray), I disagree wholeheartedly that we should not pray about something that God has promised or prominently stated in His word. On the contrary! The Scriptures are FULL of examples of His saints bathing their prayers in the promises of God, and beseeching Him to remember His promises and covenants. Imagine having the temerity to tell the omniscient Sovereign Lord of the universe to “remember,” yet many of His biblical saints have done so, and He has honored their prayers.
When I was a child, the old-timers of the faith used to talk about “pleading the promises.” That has been denigrated a bit by those who started “claiming the promises” in ways that were more demanding and less than humble. But God likes us to show that we know His Word well enough to be aware of what He has promised, and that we have the faith in Him, His faithfulness, and the truth and trustworthiness of His Word to believe He will fulfill each of His promises, in His way and in His timing.
Some examples of praying what God has promised comes from Jesus Himself. In what we call The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus prayed and told us to pray, “Thy kingdom come.” Does God intend, and has He promised, that His kingdom will come? Certainly. So why are we instructed by Jesus to pray for something He has promised and has willed already? Because that’s how God works. In His high priestly prayer (John 17) Jesus prays that we would be with Him someday to see His glory. Hasn’t He already promised that? Yet, He is praying that, as well. If Jesus prays God’s promises, it’s a pattern that we should follow.
The author uses another example, the one of Daniel praying for the exiles to return to Jerusalem, stating that Daniel did not pray for God to be with them. Yet this very passage in Daniel is one I have used for many years to illustrate the power and purpose of praying the promises of God. In this passage, Daniel has been reading in Jeremiah where it says that after 70 years God would bring back a remnant to Israel. Daniel does the math, realizes that the 70 years is up, and starts doing some major hard-core spiritual warfare promise-pleading. God has promised the remnant would return in 70 years. If the author is correct, and we have no business praying what God has promised, then why is Daniel putting such effort into praying over the promise? And why are the spiritual battles in the heavenlies so intense against it?
No, my friends, God’s promises are there precisely to be prayed! One need only look to the Scripture’s prayer book, the Psalms, to see how filled with models of this it is. God has declared Himself to be merciful, yet there are countless prayers for mercy. He says He is a God who hears, yet He is constantly asked to hear and listen. He has promised that His love is everlasting, yet He is asked to continue His love to them, and to let it rest on them. There are many more examples, but far from that being seen by God as lacking in faith, these promise-pleading prayers are answered with great compassion.
There are a couple of places in Psalms where David says something to the effect, “Be my rock of refuge, as strong fortress to save me. Since You are my rock and fortress…guide me” (Ps. 31:1-3; 71:3). Essentially, what David is saying is, “This is what You are, so be that to me.” You are near, be that to me. You are loving, be that to me. You are merciful, be that to me. Help me experience what You are, who You are in all Your fullness.”
We also see in Psalms a plethora of pleas for God to be near, return, don’t hide, don’t forsake, don’t be far, or complaining that He seems to be far away. What are these but pleas that He would be with them? Just because God has promised never to leave nor forsake us doesn’t mean that is what we experience every moment, especially in times of trial. And when do we need to know and experience the presence, the with-ness, of God more that when we, or those we are praying for, are in dire circumstances?
That author rightly focused on Paul’s prayers and the kinds of things for which Paul asked, and it is very appropriate for us to spend more time in prayer concentrating on the spiritual things that Paul and other biblical prayers emphasize. But what the author missed was that Paul himself prayed, “The Lord be with your spirit” (2 Tim 4:4). In fact, Paul ended several of his letters similarly, asking that God’s grace be with your spirit (Gal. 5:18; Phil. 4:23), and the very Trinitarian, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all,” (2 Cor. 13:5). Other letters ended, “The grace of the Lord Jesus (Christ) be with you” (1 Cor. 16:23; 1 Thes. 5:28; 2 Thes. 3:6; Phile. 25).
These are not just throwaway salutations, but prayers that we would experience what has been promised us in Christ. Just as he prayed that we would experience the love that is already ours in deeper ways, may we know that Immanuel presence, that God-with-us-ness, in ways that carry us through whatever we, or those for whom we pray, will face. Pray those promises, my friends, plead them, stand on them! All of them!