John Bradshaw - The Promise You Can Never Keep
This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. Well, it's about that time, the time when people are thinking about New Year's resolutions. Now, if you don't make New Year's resolutions, that's okay. There's still plenty for you to be thinking about, as we are going to find out together. If you do, then you're among the 60% of people who do. And how do they do? Well, it is said that 48% of New Year's resolutions are kept for six months, which I find quite surprising. Evidently, 25% of New Year's resolutions make it as long as...one week. By the time January the 7th rolls around, no more. It's over.
If I were to ask you what the most common New Year's resolutions are, well, I'm pretty sure you'd be able to guess. Most common New Year's Resolutions have people resolving to get in shape, eat healthier, lose weight, get more exercise, enjoy life to the fullest, whatever that means, spend less, save more, spend more time with family and friends, get organized, learn something new or try something new, travel more, drink less, stop smoking, get more sleep, floss regularly, read more, make new friends, be happier, have less stress, and go to church. That's 20 or so common New Year's resolutions. And together we'll look at some important resolutions and how you can actually achieve them. And I'm going to share with you the one resolution you should never make, the promise you can never keep. And it's going to surprise you because it's the one thing that you might not expect me to say here on It Is Written.
But there's one resolution you should never, ever make, and if you don't know what it is, you absolutely have to know. I'm dead serious about that. It's said that the first New Year's resolutions were made 4,000 years ago by the Babylonians. They made promises to their gods to pay their debts and return items that they'd borrowed, which sounds like a good idea. Evidently the Babylonians believed that if they kept their word, the gods would favor them. But if they didn't, the coming year would not be good. And no one wanted that. The Romans evidently did much the same sort of thing. Julius Caesar established the first day of January as the first day of the year. January was named after Janus, the god of new beginnings, who was typically depicted as having two faces, the one looking to the past and the other looking to the future. The Romans offered sacrifices to Janus, hopeful of experiencing good fortune in the year to come.
So starting the New Year with a bang isn't a new thing at all. And really, an opportunity to turn the page and start over is a good thing. Many of us need that. Let's look at some areas where we might actually want to reboot our lives. Let's look at some of those common New Year's resolutions. What about this one?: To look after your health. Many people in the Western world are profoundly unhealthy. Now, I'm not referring to a condition you were born with or some terrible thing that came at you from out of nowhere. More than 42% of Americans are obese. Mississippi wins that contest, with Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, and Michigan all straining the scales. All of those states have obesity rates above 35%. In 2012, no state had an obesity rate higher than 35%.
In 2000, there wasn't a single state in the union that had an obesity rate above 25%. Obesity costs the country about $180 billion a year. So could we think about looking after our health? Absolutely. Eat better. Drink more water. Drink less alcohol, better yet, drink no alcohol. Exercise. And if you don't know where to start, start right where you are and do what you can. And build up to where you can exercise more. It's profoundly good for you. Taking a walk around the block just isn't hard, for the vast majority of people. But instead, we're spending all kinds of time and tons of money looking for cures for sicknesses which, in a lot of cases, could be treated with a pair of walking shoes. What about this New Year's resolution? As well as looking after your health, what about looking after your finances? Instead of spending $4 on a coffee five or six times a week, drink water. Keep that money in your pocket. Twenty or more dollars a week on coffee, you're easily spending $1,000 a year!
You know, the average monthly car payment for a new car is around $560 a month. Buy a reliable used car; you just saved thousands of dollars. Now, you might not need to if your finances aren't under any pressure. Okay. But many publications have reported that nearly 80% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. A Nielsen study said that 1 in 4 families earning $150,000 a year are living paycheck to paycheck. And you can do something about that by curbing your spending. If Emily and Noah didn't earn scholarships, you tell them they're gonna have to go to a state college rather than to a private one that you can't afford. If you can't afford a vacation to Europe, go to a state park. They're fantastic! And if you're all concerned that you can't afford to buy a pile of toys for your kids at Christmas, or you're going to have to go into debt in order to do so, then make the very responsible decision to not spend money you don't have for things you don't need.
"But what will we tell the children"? Well, we'll tell the children that we don't have the money for all that, so we're going to give you what we can afford, and we're going to have a happy time, and we're still all going to be grateful, because that's not what Christmas is all about anyway. Easy. Financial challenges are very real. And they're not any fun. But a marvelous thing happens when you live within your means and you don't spend money that you don't have. So you resolve to look after your health and your finances. You might resolve to look after each other, to see more of your family, to spend more time around the dining room table, less time on computer games, more time with Grandma and Grandpa, more time with friends. Those are good things to do. You might choose to waste less time, to read more books, to spend less time on social media, to make more time for God, to go to church more, to go to church, to pray, to read the Bible.
You know, there are 1,189 chapters in the Bible, 365 days in a year. If we do the math, we discover that 1,189 chapters divided by 365 days equals about 3 1/4 chapters a day. You can do that. You could easily read through the Bible in a year. If you never have, you really should. But think about this with me. These are your typical New Year's resolutions. And what do we know already? A quarter of people only make it as far as a week, and about a half of those who make New Year's resolutions make it six months. Although, honestly, I kind of doubt that number. You start the year meaning to improve your health. That's a laudable goal. You're going to be more careful with your money, do the family thing, all of that. And we know people try and fail all the time, which brings me to what I said we'd look at: the promise you should never make, ever. And it has everything to do with God. I'll tell you what it is in just a moment.
Thanks for joining me on It Is Written. New Year's resolutions. Now, I'm about to tell you about the one resolution you should never make because it's the one promise you can never keep. And it's serious. It has major repercussions for your experience as a believer in God. There's one promise that no person of faith should ever make. Now, let's think about common promises we make. You go to a wedding, and the happy couple make vows to each other, and traditionally the vows go something like this: "I, A, take you, B, to be my lawfully wedded husband or wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, for as long as we both shall live".
Now, the vast majority of people who get married mean it. Like, they really mean it. They are happy. They're invested. They've got family and friends there with them, some of whom have traveled from other time zones, other countries, even sometimes other continents to be there for the happy day. The couple, and the families, have spent real money on the occasion. They've gone through the trouble of organizing a wedding. And yet the divorce rate in virtually every Western country is frightening. Now, the truth is it's challenging to really interpret those statistics correctly. But, you'll find that most statistics say 40-50% of all marriages in the United States end in divorce, 42% in the United Kingdom, slightly over 50% in France, almost 40% in Canada.
So in spite of best intentions and financial commitments, promises made in front of parents and grandparents, the "resolution" to get married often falls flat. I'm not blaming anyone. But what we see is that even the most exciting, meaningful, important promises often don't get kept. Which leads me to this... There's a promise, a resolution you should never make because it's the one that you can never, ever keep. And we find a spectacular demonstration of this in the Bible. Spectacular. In Exodus 14, the children of Israel leave Egypt under truly miraculous circumstances. Miracle after miracle, plagues were poured out. They were given great wealth by the Egyptians. Darkness walled off Israel from their Egyptian pursuers. Then the Red Sea opened up. God's people walked across the sea to freedom. The Egyptians pursued, but their chariots got bogged down on the seafloor.
And then, the sea folded back together, and the Egyptians perished. Two chapters later, God feeds the people with manna, which miraculously appeared on the ground. Chapter 17, water came out of a rock. Who ever heard of such a thing? Chapter 18, Jethro advises Moses so that Israel can function more smoothly, and then in chapter 19, we see this, starting in verse 3: "And Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, 'Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: "You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to me above all people; for all the earth is mine. And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation".'"
And you'll notice these words are repeated in the book of 1 Peter, where Peter applies these words to the Christian church. God continues: "'These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.' So Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words which the Lord commanded him". And here's where it gets...tricky. It's Exodus 19 and verse 8: "Then all the people answered together and said, 'All that the Lord has spoken we will do.' So Moses brought back the words of the people to the Lord".
Now, you might listen to that and say, "Well, that's a great idea. They're wanting to obey God". And for sure, it is a great idea. We'll give them an A for intent. But we'll give them an F for methodology. This is a disastrous mistake; it's one that too many people make. And you might have even made it yourself. "You just say the word, Lord, and I'll do it". No! You've just set yourself up for failure. I know a lot of people approach their faith that way, but it's not good. It's not healthy. It can't be successful. If you do this, you are doomed to defeat. The solemnity of the whole situation was strongly impressed upon Israel. They were told to wash their clothes, to consecrate themselves to God. God was communicating to them the need to be pure, to put sin away. They weren't to touch the mountain, Mt. Sinai. God came down. The mountain quaked. There were thunderings and lightnings. A thick cloud descended.
There was a sound like that of a trumpet, and it was so loud the people trembled. Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice. Then in Exodus 20, God gave them the Ten Commandments. Just think of how impressive that scene had to have been. Hebrews 12:21 says, "And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, 'I exceedingly fear and quake.'" The people said, "You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die". The Bible says, "The people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was". God gave judgments to the people, comprehensive judgments that would guide their lives and keep them in the path of God. Moses went up into the mountain into the presence of God. But Moses was in that mountain with God for a while, and it was during that time that...things went bad. Remember what they'd said? "All that the Lord has spoken we will do". They were sincere. They had resolved, they'd made a resolution to serve God.
And now we read this, Exodus 32, verse 1: "Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, 'Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.' And Aaron said to them, 'Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, nd your daughters, and bring them to me.' So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, 'This is your god, O Israel, that brought you [up] out of the land of Egypt!'" The same people who said that they would do whatever God asked had just made a golden calf. And they worshiped it naked. So what happened to "everything the Lord says we will do"? I'll be right back.
One day the children of Israel assured God that they would do whatever He said. A few short weeks later, they've built a golden calf. "So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, 'Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord.' Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play". This was idolatry, the kind of thing they'd witnessed in Egypt. Their good intentions just all fell apart. They had heard God say, "You shall have no other gods before me," and yet here they are. God said to Moses, "Let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them". In fact, God referred to them as "your people" when He spoke to Moses. So Moses interceded for the people, and God was merciful.
Now, you might look at that and ask yourself how a group of believers could see and hear and experience all that they did and then revert backwards so quickly, so, so radically, so destructively, back to their old ways. The key is found in how they approached God's call on their lives. And my guess is you can relate to this. This is the promise you should never make: "All that the Lord has spoken we will do". No. That just doesn't work. You've tried to hold your temper, and you've failed. You've tried not to do this thing or that thing, and you've failed. You've tried to be more like Jesus, and you've failed. And that's because when you think for even a moment that you can do it, you're bound for disaster. It's the same with New Year's resolutions.
If you think that you have the strength to give up smoking or lose weight or stick with a Bible reading plan or whatever it might be, well, there's a chance you might be able to do it on willpower, but more than likely, in fact, almost certainly, you won't. But let's talk about what really matters. What about how you treat people? What about how you react to the way people treat you? What about the words you use? What about the thoughts you think? I'll share a verse of the Bible with you that will make some people quake in their boots. Paul wrote these words: "Casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ".
That's 2 Corinthians 10 in verse 5. That seems like a lot. And it seems, quite honestly, impossible. But unlike a New Year's resolution, faith in God isn't about what you can do. It's about what God can do in your life. Faith in God is faith in God. Too many people make it faith in themselves, and that can only fail. It can't possibly succeed. Now, look at what Paul wrote just before that: "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds". So this is about what God wants to do in us, not what we can do in our own strength. God said back in Leviticus, "You shall be holy; for I am holy". And Peter quoted that verse in 1 Peter 1:16, "Because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy.'"
Who can do that? So when you say to God, "Okay, I'll do better; I'll obey; I'll get it right; I won't do that anymore," you know what you're doing: You're setting yourself up to fail, because you failed to realize that faith in God is not what you can do for God, but it's about what God can do in you. God gives the Holy Spirit so the presence of Jesus can come into your life. This is what all those New Testament promises are about. "Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ". That's Philippians 1, verse 6. Look at Galatians 2:20. "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me".
You see that? God doesn't ask us to make Him promises. We're simply called to believe the promises that He makes to us. We learn from Exodus 19 that promises to God of that nature are simply doomed to fail. But when we learn to surrender to the presence of Jesus in our lives, to welcome the Holy Spirit into our lives, then you've got the same power who called light out of darkness working in your life. And now your New Year's resolutions aren't so big that they cannot be accomplished. You were going to quit coffee. Well, if you've got the person living His life in you who brought water out of a rock, who opened up the Red Sea, who calmed a storm, then you've got more than enough power in your life to give you success in your daily spiritual battles.
It's a matter of connecting with that power. Workers dredging a harbor in September of 2019 in the northwest of Poland found a massive unexploded bomb. It was a "Tallboy," an "earthquake" bomb weighing six tons, dropped by the Royal Air Force in a raid that sank a German cruiser, the Lützow. For 75 years all that power had sat on a harbor floor, which of course was a good thing. When it was detonated in October 2020, the explosion was impressive. You know, many people have in their living room or bedroom or on their phone something far more powerful than a Tallboy bomb. The Bible is the Word of God. Hebrews says it "is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword". Unleash the power of God in your life and you'll meet with success, not failure, as you grow in your faith, as God's power becomes the foundation of your life. You'll experience a New Year's revolution as God's power takes you places that you've never been and allows you victories and successes that you've never thought possible.
Let's pray together, shall we? Let's pray that God would give us the victories that we need, that God in this New Year would lead us to rely on Him and trust in His power in our lives, rather than trusting in our own power, which just doesn't get us far at all. Come on, let's pray and believe that God will work wonderfully in our lives. Let's pray.
Our Father in heaven, we thank You that in spite of the fact that our resolutions are like "ropes of sand," Your promises are certain and sure, and that Your power and presence in our lives is exactly and all that we need. So in this New Year, turn us to Yourself, give us grace to lean on You, to trust in You, to expect You to do in our lives what we could never do ourselves.
Friend, are you willing to ask God right now, "Take my heart; make it Your fortress; defend me; give me Your strength"? Would you pray that prayer?
Lord, hear the prayer of our hearts, and we thank You for doing what for us is impossible. And we pray in Jesus' name, amen.