~ Earth-bound Promises ~
Speaking of Lazarus, Jesus told Martha, "Your brother will live again! Martha answered, "I know he will be raised to life on the last day, when all the dead are raised." (John 11:23-24) There are many instances when scripture is interpreted only on a spiritual level, when it applies also the the earthly realm. Martha thought Jesus was speaking on just a spiritual level about Lazarus when he was actually speaking in both spiritual and earthly terms.
When Jesus proclaims, "Blessed are those who are pure in heart, for they shall see God," or "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted," is He talking about promises reserved for the hereafter or ones to be realized while we still inhabit this earth? While promises to be delivered in the heavenly realm are comforting, we humans long for fulfillment of promises while still in the body. This was obviously understood and accepted by Christ. When someone approached Him with his or her hope of being free from blindness or paralysis, Jesus didn't give them promises of glorified bodies and heavenly relief in the hereafter, He healed them. When He looked upon the more than 5,000 people, and on another occasion the 4,000, who had been listening to His teachings, which were "down-to-earth," scripture notes that Jesus was moved by compassion. He didn't then give the people an inspiring talk on the blessings of hunger and the spiritual meaning of fasting. Instead, Jesus fed them! A biblical review reveals God's constant attentiveness to our physical and emotional needs while inhabiting these bodies. James writes, "If you know someone who doesn't have any clothes or food, you shouldn't just say, 'I hope all goes well for you... Faith that doesn't lead us to do good deeds is all alone and dead!'" (James 2:15, 17) God, of course, is like that too. Upon hearing, "Lord, I need your healing, please help," unlike many people, God does not and Jesus did not respond with, "Hang in there and just think of how wonderful heaven will be." Instead, God acts in response according to His purpose and our faith.
The Psalms are a wonderful example of concrete, practical prayers being fulfilled in the earthly realm. Let's review excerpts from Psalm 37 in this light.
"Don't be annoyed by anyone who does wrong, and don't envy them. They will soon disappear like grass without rain." (verses 1-2)
Many promises are addressed to specific people (like Israel) at certain times, and would be incorrectly taken out of context to be applied personally to a person in the 21st century. However, since the Psalms were written to the public for public use, you can be assured their promises and prayers can be claimed by you, personally. So take heart in verses 1-2.
"Trust the Lord and live right! The land will be yours and you will be safe. Do what the Lord wants (His will), and He will give you your hearts desire." (verses 3-4)
Of course, the desire of God's child is to live with and in Him forever, and so that will be. But in the heavenly forever, you don't need encouragement of our present scriptures to do God's will. I also believe the "land" and safety refers to territory in this life, this side of heaven; territory taken and dangers introduced possibly during spiritual warfare, which occurs this side of heaven. So we need to "trust the Lord and live right" to claim the promise of our heart's desire. We know this promise isn't about receiving a heavenly abode because that cannot be achieved by living right.
"If you do what the Lord wants, he will make certain each step you take is sure. The Lord will hold your hand, and if you stumble, you won't fall." (verses 23-24)
This is certainly an earth-bound promise, based again on our obedience to Him. Given that, we don't need to fret and worry if our steps are the right ones; God "will make certain" they are. That's comforting. And note the difference between stumble and fall, so let's not confuse them. We may stumble, but God's hand will keep us from falling.
"I've seen brutal people abuse others and grow strong like trees in rich soil. Suddenly, they disappeared! I looked, but they were gone and no longer there." (verses 35-36)
Former Soviet Union comes to my mind. For almost three quarters of a century, communist Russia grew and dominated the world as a fearful presence, then, in under two years, we "looked, but they were gone!" Perhaps you can think of a brutal person in your life that "suddenly disappeared," as King David did. And perhaps there are brutal people in your life who have not disappeared. In the previous verses, David reminds us again, "Trust the Lord and follow him..." (verse 34a) "But I do trust and follow him" you may assert. However, remember that David was the kid who confidently took on the great and fearful warrior Goliath with only a shepherd's sling and five stones. I think of him when I assess my own trust level. And keep something else in mind. David didn't carry five stones in case he missed. He had four more because Goliath had four brothers, just in case they decided to replace him.
"The Lord protects his people, and they can come to him in times of trouble. The Lord helps them and saves the from the wicked because they run to him." (verses 39-40)
David, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, isn't speaking of people in heaven. This is a declaration you and me can rely upon, in faith, with boldness, humility and gratitude, today, right now. Let us run, not walk, with sure steps, to hold our heavenly Father's hand.
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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Weekly Reflections © March 10, 2001
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