Together Series – Promise Making and Keeping

Readings for this week April 18 – 22.
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

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Day 1 – A Promise is a Promise

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Deuteronomy 23:21-23
We make all sorts of promises, to all sorts of people. We make trivial, promises (“I won’t leave my clothes on the floor”), life-changing promises (“I do”), and all promises in between. We make promises to ourselves, our children, parents, friends, co-workers, strangers – even promises to God.

But we so readily devalue promises today. The status of the promise in our society seems like it has never been at lower ebb. Either we are no longer making promises out of a fear of being tied down to a position we may be held accountable to; or we have such a low opinion of keeping our promises that we make them with no intention of ever keeping them no matter how trivial (“I like my clothes there”) or life-changing (“I don’t any more”) they are. We are quick to make them and quick to break them.

But if people don’t actually make and keep promises, uphold their oaths, or act with integrity and faithfulness, what would happen? Promises may seem cheap and unimportant but without them things would very quickly fall apart. Trust is such a fundamental element in our society that without trustworthy people keeping their word, we would all be in serious trouble very quickly. What if people couldn’t be trusted to do as they say they will? The mechanic fixing your car properly and safely. The boss promising to pay you. The cook handling your food. We promise, sometimes implicitly, sometimes explicitly, to be good citizens, spouses, employees, friends, and we hope that others do too – and that they will keep their promises.

Questions to Consider
How is our society built on trust? Who are all the people that your daily life depends on keeping their promises? What if they don’t?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, teach me how to be a faithful, honest person of my word in your community of your people and in the world, In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – Keeping it Simple

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 5:33-37
Promises must be made. They’re a part of life. There isn’t any way around this, not if we wish to grow in our relationships with others, God included.

Jesus isn’t saying we should never make an oath. Life isn’t like that. We should let a simple yes mean yes, and a simple no mean no. There is no need to say anything more than that. The future is ultimately in God’s hands, not ours. It is the height of presumption to think that our oaths and promises can influence God’s hand in this way, that the bigger or more elaborate our oaths, the better chance God might take notice. But even more than this, promises are an essential part of life, a necessary element in the healthy functioning and growth of a community, whether small, like a marriage, or large, like a nation, or anywhere in between. A willingness to make a deep commitment to others remains at the very heart of what it means to have relationships. Promises open us up to influence, dialogue, new relational intimacies, deeper relationships. We allow others to speak into our lives, and we speak into theirs.

But this must be done in honesty. Promises reveal character, integrity and faithfulness of those involved. It is not about flowery language or extravagant oaths (“I swear on my mother’s grave” etc.). The proof of our integrity and faithfulness comes in the keeping of the oath or promise, not the ‘swearing’ of it. Keep it simple, and let our actions speak as well.

Questions to Consider
What is the problem with flowery oaths? Why does Jesus emphasise a simple yes or no? How does doing this reflect on us as disciples?

Prayer
Almighty Father, I know how wayward my tongue can be. Help me keep my word and keep my word simple, to only say what I mean and to always mean what I say, so that others may know you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – A Promise Broken

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 26:31-35
Being on the receiving end of a broken promise can be quite painful. Sometimes it is merely inconvenient, for instance when you are left alone and waiting because someone has failed to keep a lunch date with you. But at other times, it can be devastating, and not just for the person on the receiving end either. Betrayal is often difficult for both parties.

At the Passover celebration, Jesus told his disciples that they would betray him. Peter in particular was indignant that he would never – could never – betray Jesus. And yet later that evening, during Jesus’ time of greatest need, Peter abandoned and betrayed him, denying three times that he knew him – each time with elaborate justifications and denials. On the third crow of the rooster, Peter wept bitterly over what had happened. Though he was the betrayer, Peter was immensely upset when he realised what he had done.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. The betrayal didn’t mean that Peter had completely failed, that he was now beyond redemption and could never be trusted again. Peter’s story did not end there. Even though Peter’s faithfulness had come up short and been found wanting, the faithfulness of Jesus meant that there was more to come, more still to occur between them. As we shall see Jesus did not abandon Peter.

Questions to Consider
How does being on the receiving end of a promise make you feel? What about when you are the one who has broken a promise? How has God dealt with your broken promises to him in the past?

Prayer
Lord God, forgive me for the times when I have betrayed you and broken my promise to follow and obey you. Thank you for never giving up on me even when I fail you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – A Relationship Restored

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – John 21:15-19
Despite the seriousness of what Peter had done in denying Jesus, despite his betrayal and the promise he had emphatically made and then just as emphatically broken, Jesus did not abandon Peter. He understood. After all, Jesus had originally made the prediction of what Peter would do so, though disappointed and betrayed, Peter’s actions would have come as very little surprise to him.

But perhaps Jesus’ actions came as a surprise to Peter. Jesus comes to Peter (and the other disciples) on the lake front and prepares a nice cooked breakfast for them. They had all deserted him, but here he is serving them and offering them a meal, something that had no doubt happened fairly often throughout his time with them. After the meal, Jesus has a talk with Peter, a talk loaded with love, healing and forgiveness. Jesus met Peter where he was, in the midst of his (Peter’s) pain and brokenness, and slowly and lovingly coaxed Peter back into a relationship with him, restoring the breach that had occurred between them. Peter had broken a promise, and yet Jesus shows his renewed love and trust for Peter by eliciting more promises from him to “feed my sheep”.

When we are betrayed – or when we betray – we should remember that the model of the faithfulness and forgiveness of Jesus is the one that shapes us and gives us hope for the future, no matter what the past.

Question to Consider
How have your relationships that have been damaged by broken promises in the past been restored?

Prayer
Loving Father, may I be as open to restoring broken relationships as you were with Peter, no matter how hard it may be. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – The Ultimate Promise Keeper

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Exodus 6:6-8
God promised to be with his people, he promised to look after them and always be their God – they would always be his people. And they promised to love, worship and obey him in all things. And they didn’t. The Hebrew Bible is full of stories and instances of his people turning away from him, disobeying him, scorning his love and protection, and striking out on their own sinful path.

And yet God does not break his promise. He keeps his side of the covenant with Israel intact. Each story of Israel’s apostasy and disobedience is matched by the story of God’s faithfulness and love for his recalcitrant people. This doesn’t mean there wasn’t heartache and tragedy for the Israelites, that their actions didn’t lead to dire consequences for them (destruction and exile at the top of the list). But always God was there waiting for his people to repent and return to him. Following hard on the heels of each prophetic utterance heralding the consequences of the Israel’s sin is an equally forceful expression of God’s love for his people, further reminding them of his vow to never forsake them. God is the ultimate in faithfulness, the promise keeper par excellence. His oath is always heartfelt and true. He doesn’t abandon those he loves, not going back on his word even when we go back on ours.

And we are to imitate God in this. As Lewis Smedes said, “If you have a ship you will not desert, if you have people you will not forsake, if you have causes you will not abandon, then you are like God.”

Questions to Consider
Who are the people you are deeply faithful to? Why?

Prayer
Lord God, thank you for your faithfulness to us. Thank you that we can trust you and the promises you make above all other things. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)