God is very serious about the promises He has made to us. The Bible says He “cannot lie” (Titus 1:2) and that He is faithful to keep His Word (Philippians 1:6; I Thessalonians 5:24).
He is just as serious about the promises we make to Him. The Old Testament equivalent term was a “vow”. When one makes a vow to God He expects it to be kept. Please read the following few verses carefully.
“When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay. Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands?” (Ecclesiastes 5:4-6)
The warning continues – “Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.” (Ecclesiastes 5:2)
Because God takes our promises to Him so serious He warns us to be careful with our words and to let them “be few”. In other words, be quiet if you have no intention about making it happen.
The above verses state that we are to be quiet when we are about to make a rash promise! The focus of this post is not about empty promises that a person has no intention of keeping. That is blatant lying.
I am not talking about being deceitful. I don’t think any decent parent deceives their children. Parents want to do what is good for their children (and their spouse), but life gets busy and commitments that were made in sincerity are tested.
Jesus gives a very simple guideline for our conversation – “But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil”. (Matthew 5:37)
This means our “yes” or “no” ought to be sufficient without a lot of explanation or persuasion. Words mean things. It’s the old adage, “say what you mean and mean what you say”. We shouldn’t commit to something we cannot keep. This happens frequently between parents and children, especially when they are young.
One reason we make promises too quickly is that we haven’t counted the cost. Jesus warns against the failure to pause first and evaluate whether you have sufficient resources (time, money, energy) to finish what you begin.
“For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.” (Luke 14:28-30)
We need to learn to say “no” more often or, at least, “Let me consider it and I’ll get back with you”. Good business practice includes under promising and over delivering on products and services; this would be an excellent way to build trust and good will with your family and others.
Some are called “people pleasers” because of their reticence to disappoint others. The result is making too many commitments and then getting angry about having to keep them! This is the opposite of building trust. This is over promising and under delivering. When this is done on a consistent basis it is destructive to a close relationship.
We ought to keep our word to our family; to fail to do so has severe consequences. I had to learn to watch my vocabulary when my children were younger about my intentions. Paula taught me that young children do not comprehend words like “one day”, “maybe”, “real soon” and other expressions that made perfect sense to me. A child banks that as a promise and it means today or at the latest, this afternoon!
So, I had to begin to be more careful with how I declared my intentions and even spend extra time making sure the kids understood the time frame of which I was speaking. This helped me to reduce “promises” that I never considered to be immediate, but as possibilities or future events. (It still was a tricky matter!)
Our family has always placed a high value on taking trips together and going places. If at all possible a family vacation was a part of every year. However, I never made a promise or dangled the possibility in front of them without knowing we could pull it off. Sometimes we weren’t able to go on vacation, but I didn’t have to deal with the backwash of losing the trust of my children because I hadn’t promised it without counting the cost.
As a pastor I have taught our church the value of such trips. They not only bring some rest and diversion, but also create lifetime memories. I think in my emphasis on their importance to the family I may have left out a crucial ingredient – don’t make a promise you cannot deliver on.
I have known folks that have made promises to their children and raised their hopes – “One day we’re going camping at Guntersville Lake”….”Sometime soon we’re all going to go to Disney World”….”This summer we’ve got to go to Six Flags over Georgia”….”I think a trip to go see the Braves play would be a lot of fun”. And then nothing happens. The kids wait – and nag – and remind. Sometimes for years a hope is raised only to have it crash to the ground again and again.
These are not bad or neglectful parents. In fact, they are very sincere and loving parents. They want to do these things and know the value of getting away to invest in their children. But as the years pass by and the same old dribble is given from Dad, the children grow from being hurt to being cynical and a distance of coolness begins to develop.
Though they would never call their Mom or Dad a liar, in their hearts they have lost respect for them. They feel disappointed, hurt, and become bitter.
I am not pretending to say that I have never had to back out of a planned trip because of an emergency or a lack of funds; it has happened to all of us. But I will say that it hasn’t happened often. I want my kids to trust me. I have even planned surprise trips (under promise and over deliver) to build good will and make it fun.
Recently my son, Jake, had a basketball game in Birmingham (100 miles from Huntsville) and it was just he and I on the trip. As we were driving home after the game we were both hungry and looking for a fast food place to get a quick bite.
I saw an exit with a number of restaurants and took it. As we were discussing possibilities I noticed an Outback Steakhouse just ahead. Without a word to Jake I pulled into the parking lot and turned the car off. “Dad, are we going to eat here?” I said, “Yes sir! You played a great game and we’re both hungry. Let’s go!”
Understand that this is not common. This is the kind of place that Paula and I go for anniversary dinners. It’s just too much money for us to take the kids to regularly. After we ordered Jake looked across the table and smiled and said, “Dad, it’s been a long time since we have been on a date, just me and you, hasn’t it?”
I enjoyed my meal that night, but far more was the surprise I gave to my son that made him know he was special. It was worth every dollar to me – and, I think, to Jake, too.
Occasionally when I was with one of my children alone I would ask them an important question, “Has Daddy made any promises to you that I have not kept?” Many times they would mention something that I had forgotten about, but they had remembered. I would make it right with them. (This is another one of those questions I need to ask them again).
When we disappoint our children from unkept promises the seeds of bitterness are sown and we gradually lose degrees of intimacy until we wonder, what happened to my relationship with my child? Perhaps it was the compounding effect of making promises that were never fulfilled and they closed their spirit to us.
I read where that the great Southern General, Stonewall Jackson, of the Civil War signed his correspondence with the words, “Yours to count on”, and under that was his signature.
My heart’s desire is that my children (and my wife) would feel that way when I make a promise – that I was “yours to count on”.