How often does your doctor get the diagnosis right the first time? When my wife started dealing with fatigue, aches and other assorted symptoms many years ago, she was diagnosed with Behcet’s syndrome. After a year or so of living with that diagnosis, which is a little scary since its so rare and can lead to some rather debilitating effects upon the body, a specialist ruled it out. We are now working with a less daunting diagnosis.
I don’t mean to pick on the medical field. For many years I took always took my cars to the same mechanic not because he always got the job done right, but because he always made good on his mistakes. My point is that we may not like gross incompetence, but we are generally satisfied with far less than absolute perfection from the people who serve us.
That is what makes Joshua’s words so striking. “You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed” (Joshua 23:14). Joshua is not saying that God had made their lives easy. These people grew living in tents in a desert. They had spent the last 25 or 30 years fighting a series of battles for control of the land God had given them. My life has been very soft and easy compared to theirs.
And yet, Joshua can make this statement that not one of God’s promises has failed. And notice that he doesn’t state this as his own take on the situation. He doesn’t make the assertion like it was some abstract or theoretical principle. He appeals to their own personal experience. God’s promise had been fulfilled so faithfully and so obviously that everyone had to admit it. Manna fed them every day in the wilderness. When they followed God’s instructions, they had a perfect record in battle. Everyone had to admit that it was true.
Sometimes it’s hard for us to admit that this is true, not because we have seen any of God’s promises fail. Sometimes we re-interpret God’s promises to mean that life will be easy. We may not say so much, but we think that way. Just because Jesus says that the gates of Hell will not prevail against his Church, that doesn’t mean that there won’t be a fierce battle. Just because he promises that all things work for the good of those who love him doesn’t mean that all things will always feel good. We are tempted to forget that Jesus also promised things like, “In this world you will have trouble.”
But Jesus immediately follows with, “But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). There is nothing like God’s promises to pick us up when our confidence in God is lagging. We may not always feel forgiven, but our Savior promises that we are. We may not always feel very immortal as these bodies age and, like an old used car, require more and more maintenance to keep them running. But Jesus promises, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).
There is nothing like God’s promises to inspire our service and change the way that we live right now. We are all spiritually near-sighted, and we don’t see what’s going on very clearly. But when we look at our lives and the situations God puts us in through the lenses of God’s promises, we don’t see contradictions. We see opportunities for God to stretch our faith and demonstrate his grace and power. So Paul encourages us at the end of his great exposition of the promise of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians, “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” How can it be, when “not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled.”