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Unpopular Promises

Various counts have been given for the number of promises found in the Bible. Depending on who's counting (and what they count as a promise), there are anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand of them. You will find a good listing of many of the encouraging ones in this article, but for balance we must also look at a few "unpopular promises."

"In the world ye shall have tribulation" (John 16:33). When you're going through tough times, what kind of promise do you want from God? A promise of better circumstances or freedom from difficulty? Those would seem nice, but the reality is that God has promised us tough times. Now, that may not sound like an exciting promise, but surely we all can testify to the truth of it. Sometimes life is hard! The real beauty of this promise, however, isn't just how well it mirrors our experience; its true splendor shines out in the rest of the verse: "Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."

No matter how many trials and tribulations we endure in this world, the One who has overcome it all stands with us, holds our hand, and comforts us. He weeps with the mourning (John 11:35), has compassion on the fainting (Matthew 9:36), identifies with the imprisoned (Matthew 25:43-45), and lays down His life for sinners (Romans 5:8). Yes, Christ has overcome the world, and we who have trusted Him as our Saviour will one day be set free from all of its troubles. Until then we can be of good cheer, "Casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you" (1 Peter 5:7).

"All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12). Here is another "unpopular promise." We may not wake up in the morning and pray, "Lord, please allow me to be persecuted today!" but if we live according to His pattern and leading, we are guaranteed to face persecution of one kind or another. Jesus said, "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake" (Matthew 5:11).

As with the previous "unpopular promise," the real blessing comes from the context. If you read the whole chapter you will see that even though things are getting worse and worse in this world, there is a limit to what God will allow. Not only that, but Paul encouraged Timothy (and us) to not give up: "Continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of." Also, by reading and studying God's Word "The man of God may be perfect [complete], throughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Timothy 3:14,17).

"The trying of your faith worketh patience" (James 1:3). Some people wonder if they should pray for patience. Well, if you do, be forewarned by this promise: patience is learned through hardships (see also Romans 5:3). Some people say I'm not the most patient person—which is exactly why God needs to hurry up and give me patience already! Does it ever seem that God isn't working fast enough, or things in your life are progressing too slowly?

God's desire for Christians is that they be mature, and reaching spiritual maturity is a process which takes time. Sometimes that process includes joys which bring us to our feet in praise, and sometimes we encounter trials which bring us to our knees in prayer. Both are needed, and James encourages us to "Let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire" (James 1:4).

Christians can often act like children at an all-you-can-eat buffet. We want big helpings of candy and ice cream and completely ignore the meat and vegetables! It's times like these that our loving Father has to come and remind us that a healthy Christian life is not merely sweet, but sometimes sour, bitter, or tough. If our view of life is that Christians don't suffer, and that God will prevent us from experiencing trials, then we'd better open our eyes, because that's not what God's Word promises.

God's "unpopular promises" are really blessings in disguise, because while Christians face trials like everyone else in the world (and sometimes more!), God's promise is that He will use those trials to strengthen our dependence upon Him, deepen our faith, increase our patience, and make us more like Jesus Christ (Romans 8:28,29).

—T. Don Johnson