Sometimes when my husband is away on business, I help him by preaching short sermons. This is one of them.
When I found out that I will have to talk to you this Sabbath, I had to think long: What am I going to talk about? What serious and important questions can we discuss and study? Many topics came to my mind, but I decided against them. Problems in our church urged me to find something appropriate and timely. I wouldn't want to waste your time. I wanted my talk to be useful and supportive. Then I remembered something that we definitely should talk about. And not just talk about, but also study, discuss, and work on it together. The lesson that we had three weeks ago made me think of that. The lesson helped us discover how poor we are and why. How many trials we have in our lives. Why we lose our way in life's troubles, retreat, and fall. I am going to talk about it again, because we are indeed poor. And you know what we lack the most? God's promises. It's not that there aren't enough. The Bible is full of them, but we are too lazy to discover them.
One brother told me once: "Show them to me, and I'll recognize them." As sad as it may sound, he won't! And you know why? Let me tell you a story, and you make the conclusion. There is a great book by John Bunyan, Pilgrim's Progress, which contains a number of wonderful stories. I will tell you one of them. The pilgrim's trip to the Celestial City was nearing the end. He had to endure many trials, but he overcame them with God's help. However, he was losing his strength and getting tired. He looked ahead of him, and all he could see was the same old road: the same stone that made his feet bleed. Suddenly he saw another path paralleling his path covered with soft green grass. The Pilgrim thought to himself, "Why don't I use the grassy path? My feet will rest a little. I will regain my strength, and the hard stony road will still be there—it's so close, and it isn't going anywhere." So as he stepped off the straight path onto the grassy path. The day finished and the night covered everything with darkness, and he lost sight of the trail. When the sun came up, the pilgrim saw something he didn't like too much. Ahead of him was an enormous castle. In front of it there was a huge tree with a giant resting underneath it, surrounded by a field covered with human remains. The pilgrim was terrified and was ready to run as the giant woke up. He grabbed the traveler and took him to his castle. The castle was called Doubting Castle and the giant, Despair, lived there with his wife, Diffidence. They had killed many poor the pilgrims that didn't make it to the Celestial City. And now our pilgrim was there. The giant threw him in a dark, damp dungeon and locked the door.
The giant's wife was a wicked woman. Every day she sent her husband to the pilgrim to beat him, in order to make him commit suicide, as others did. Seeing that their efforts didn't pay off, they decided to kill the pilgrim. They told him he would be dead in the morning.
The pilgrim tried everything to get out of his prison, but all his efforts were in vain. He was especially afraid of the huge lock on the door, that he never thought he could open. He was about to give up. He fell on his knees and prayed until dawn. When the sun was coming up, in joyous astonishment, he realized that he had the key named "promise," which would certainly open every door in Doubting Castle.
Christian took the key out and tried it. The door opened immediately. Then he walked to the door leading out into the courtyard, and that door opened as well. Finally, he approached the iron gate. It took a little effort, but the key opened the gate as well. He got out and ran away as fast as he could. When he reached the end of the giant's land, he set up a pillar with an engraving saying, "Over that stile is the way to the Doubting Castle, which is kept by Giant Despair, who despiseth the King of the Celestial Country, and seeks to destroy his holy pilgrims." Many people passed that place, read the sign, and escaped danger.
How many of us have found ourselves in a Doubting Castle? How many of us have been beaten by Giant Despair and discouraged by Diffidence? Perhaps some of us are still facing that kind of a situation. And if that happens, we should have our keys ready. So today I am not offering you a sermon, I want to find these keys, acquire them together with you through the study of God's word. Of course we won't be able to find all 5,700 keys (that's how many promises there are in the Bible). But we can begin something you can continue at home.
The essence of the promises is that God promises to always be with us. His presence, His strength, His courage are the guarantee of our success in this struggle. And every time God calls us to be strong as we struggle with temptations, as we fight the enemy. With the call, He includes the words of promise. What is a promise? It is a promise to help. God doesn't call us to show courage through our positive thinking. Our courage, and later our victory, will come not from our strength, but because we accept God's promises.
If we are struck by sadness, we always can ask Him and be comforted by Him. Our faith in a personal God plants peace in our hearts and helps us become physically strong. Notice how children, who are afraid of darkness, sleep peacefully if they know that their parents are near. It doesn't make the room any less dark, but the very presence of their parents shatters the fear and comforts the child.
Speaking of courage, Ellen White always ties it with faith in God's promises: "I am telling you again: be courageous! Depend on the Lord, don't let the enemy take God's promises away."
So, what are God's promises?
2 Peter 1:3, 4 says: "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires."
His promises can fulfill our every need—spiritual and physical. Not one of His promises is in vain. Everything that God promised, He will do, because He is faithful. But we should know that the enemy won't just sit there idly and watch you grow stronger in God. His efforts will be aimed at leading you off the straight path. You will begin to have doubts about God's love; you might think His promises belong to someone else, but not to you. Satan will try to place you in Job's situation. But read the pages of the Bible and listen carefully. In His promises, God speaks to us directly as if we were to hear His voice. Every promise given by the Lord belongs to us. They are yours and mine today. And you know why? Let's look at another promise:
Matthew 10:30, "And even the very hairs on your head are all numbered."
Jesus knows all of us by name. He knows the town we live in, the street, the house, and all our problems become His problems if we trust Him. He knows every one of us because He died for every one of us and paid with His blood for every one of us. Let's look at Acts 10:5, 6. Here Luke describes the angel's instructions given to Cornelius. Note how close God was with Peter, how well he knew him. He called him by his nickname, Simon Peter. Our Heavenly Father also gave the map of his journey. He knew that at the time Peter was in Joppa. God, who takes care of all the needs of humanity, didn't lose sight of any of his children. In fact, he gave Cornelius the address of Peter: "Simon, the tanner, whose house is by the sea." Even more impressive is His knowledge of our characters and His caring, when we remember the words "the very hairs of your head are all numbered." There is nothing about our lives He doesn't know.
Nancy, an old Scottish woman, was terminally ill in bed. Next to her laid a worn out copy of the Bible. One day a visitor came to see Nancy and asked, "What if after all your reading and prayers God won't keep His promises and you will die?" What would you say? Astonished by such a thought, she put her hand on the precious book and replied, "My dear, it would be a great loss to God too. Poor Nancy would lose her soul, and that would be awful, but God also would lose His honor. Didn't I trust His promises completely? If He broke them, He would become a liar . . ." She continued after a short pause, "But you have no need to worry, because God can't let me down. All his promises are true. He will keep them all."
An apostle says, that we can trust every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. He gave His only son to the world for the people to talk to and communicate with. Numerous times Christ demonstrated His strength as He performed miracles, as He helped people physically and spiritually. People saw that as the display of His godliness. Based on that Paul says that Christ, whom people saw and heard, is faithful, and He will fulfill all the promises given to us by His Father.
The next promise that we'll look at is written in Romans 8:32, "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things. And His other promise is in Ephesians 3:20, 21. It says that God will fulfill His promises in ways that we can't even imagine. Jesus Christ came to this world to serve humanity as its Savior. He had to fulfill every need of the people. He not only had to die for our sins, but he also had to take on all of our weaknesses and sicknesses. Let's go to Matthew 8:16, 17. During his time on earth, Jesus helped people in various circumstances. People were healed individually and by thousands. In every city, town, or village that He visited, He laid His hands on people and healed them. The Savior came to this world to bring abundant life. But His mission wasn't completed on earth. He still takes over our burdens and sicknesses and gives us strength.
In 3 John 2, we can see how God is interested in physical as well as spiritual well-being of His people. Through His word and the voice of prophecy, the Lord gave us the main principles, that will help us feel good when we are healthy, and get better faster when we are sick. That's where the right diet plays an important role.
And of course, the Bible demonstrates a close connection between physical and spiritual well-being. It is shown in Exodus 15:26. "1) If you listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God, and 2) do that what is right in his eyes, 3) if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you." And of course all of you know the wonderful power of prayer. Our church has special prayers for those who are sick, for those who are in need, for those who are in the hospital. And the Bible encourages us to do that.
Nowadays many people are sick because their hearts aren't at peace. There are three types of questions that they ask: 1) What are we going to eat? 2) What are we going to drink? 3) What are we going to wear? Too bad they don't have the promise given in Matthew 6:30-32. God knows our every need and takes care of it. But He reminds us that taking care of those needs shouldn't be our primary goal. He calls us, "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matt. 6:33).
Do you want to be certain about your future? Then take the promise from Psalms Of course, God does not always reward His children with material gifts, but God will be with His people when they are in need and will help them. I want to quote from Isaiah 33:16, "This is the man who will dwell on the heights, whose refuge will be the mountain fortress. His bread will be supplied, and water will not fail him."
Now I want to tell you about a promise that we cannot ignore because I know how often people complain about their financial problems and blame God for not providing visible support. Often I ask them a question that uncovers their problem: "How are you doing with tithe?" Listen to this promise. It promises to open windows in heaven but it has one condition (Malachi 3:10). It's up to us to bring all tithe and test the Lord. It's up to Him to open the floodgates of heaven. Test the Lord today! But make sure that you brought all tithe to Him. Then, as we read further, the crops in your garden will be safe.
Look how many promises assuring God's love we've heard! Do you still have questions? Do you still wonder: "I am not sure if God hears me." This could become quite a problem but I want to assure you, based on the Bible, that God does hear you. I don't want you to even have thoughts of doubt. God has been helping people since the time of patriarchs and prophets. I want the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to be your personal God. His ear hears you, and His hand takes away all your problems. Read Isaiah 59:1.
And I am saying with certainty that God will not leave you alone on the battlefield facing your enemy. God sends angels to make every one of us so they can serve us. And what do we do? Why do we cry and moan when temptations come? Why don't we use that strength? If we only asked, the whole army of angels will be there ready to support us. But we don't.
I realize that the struggle we have entered isn't easy. Every one of us has experienced the feeling of loss and betrayal. That's why every one of us seeks a fortress where we can find the guarantee of protection and safety. We want to be protected from war, fear, danger, persecution. Only God can give us that guarantee. Look at David. A man betrayed him. He was betrayed by his son, had to escape, and the man he respected was after him. My dear sisters, this could very easily be our situation. What are we going to do then? Fall down? Evil has no limit. Today people in the world rely on nuclear weapons, rockets, airplanes, armies, and money. But I want to join David in saying that the freedom will come. The Bible is not just a historical record about this, that and the other. It is a record of experiences of the people who relied on God's promises. You all remember the three young men in Babylon. It took amazing courage to talk like that to the king. They stood in front of him as foreigners and as prisoners. But their eyes looked above the throne, they only saw the King that they served, that's why their response to the king was quite blunt. They didn't compromise and they didn't show any doubt (Dan. 3:16, 17).
When I sat down to get ready for this sermon, I opened the book of Psalms and realized how limited our time would be. I can't share even a small part of God's promises. The Psalms are wonderful. Every one of them strengthens the soul. Turn to them, whatever your need, God's word has a promise; it will fulfill your need. The Lord promised to take care of all your needs according to His riches. Are you asking for forgiveness? "I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more" (Isa. 43:25). Perhaps there is doubt in your heart whether the Lord will accept you with your sinful past. Then think about these words of the Savior: "... whoever comes to me I will never drive away" (John 6:37). God has accepted us through His beloved son, for Christ came to seek and save the lost. We should never doubt His promises. Are you asking for peace and happiness? They will certainly come to all of us. Read this again, "And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:7). The problem is, the promises aren't yours until you make an effort to get them out of the Bible. If you don't use them, they won't help your spiritual growth and they won't strengthen you. Seek them for yourselves, like treasures in a cave.
I am remembering a story of a woman, whose life was nearing the end. She told about her hard life, how she found Christ, how she got the Bible, about the troubles in her life and how God was always with her to help, and she learned to trust Him. She decided to test every promise of God. As it proved to be true, she placed a little cross next to the text in her Bible. What do you think her Bible looked like? When her children opened her Bible, they saw the whole book covered with crosses. This woman had collected great riches in heaven. Her face expressed peace, calm, and great joy.
We all have a need for that. It's up to you, where you find it. Jesus tells us about one great promise that the whole humanity has longed for for centuries, the promise of eternal life. But not everybody understands that it's all found only in God alone.
A missionary came to India where he preached about life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. An elderly woman attended every one of his sermons. At every meeting, every time the preacher said that Jesus had risen, she stood up, raised her hands, and shouted, "Hallelujah!" First the preacher regarded it with patience, but as she kept doing it throughout all of his sermons, it started to bother him. He decided to talk to her in private and ask her to restrict herself in her emotions. The woman promised not to do that anymore, but the next time the preacher said, "Jesus has risen," she again shouted "Hallelujah!" Then the missionary decided to visit her at home. When he saw how poor her house was, he asked her what it was that she needed the most. She replied: "I have to sleep on a straw mat. I don't even have a blanket." The preacher decided to make an agreement with her: he would give her a nice warm blanket if she stopped shouting during his sermons. The woman agreed. Happy, the preacher went home. At his next sermon, he talked about how Jesus lived and what he did for the people, and how cruel the people were to him. He talked about the redemption of all humans on the cross, and about the sacrifice that God gave. He told how God didn't leave Jesus lying in His grave but resurrected Him on the third day. At this moment, the elderly woman, excited and with tears in her eyes, got up and exclaimed: "Forget the blanket! Hallelujah! Amen!"
Texts in this article are from NIV