You Can't Claim a Promise
(Published September 2, 2016 by Barnabas Piper in Promises of God)
Do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be afraid, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you; I will help you;
I will hold on to you with My righteous right hand.
In 1964 my grandfather shared this verse with my father as he was preparing to move away to college. Throughout my growing up years my father shared it with me often – when I started at a new junior high, when I left for missions trips, and when I too left for college. Recently I helped my daughter memorize this legacy promise. Isaiah 41:10 holds special significance to me because of how it has blessed my family for decades. I look to it, I hold on to it, I am encouraged by it. But I don’t claim it.
To claim something is to take ownership, to say “it’s mine.” When we lay claim to property we gain certain rights and privileges. Litigants are awarded claims or denied them, claims of monetary value. Promises don’t work like that.
Often people “claim” a promise when life is hard or they’re afraid. They might even claim a promise for someone else, a child who has walked away from the Lord perhaps. When people do this, though, they are taking the Word of God and attempting to “own” it a talisman or mantra. They’re treating an utterance breathed out by God as a silver bullet or a security blanket, a quick solution or a comfort to carry around. Some preachers even express these ideas from the pulpit.
This misses the very nature of a promise, though. A promise isn’t a thing; it’s an expression of something greater. When God uttered promises in scripture He wasn’t giving us a buffet of blankies, Band-Aids, and silver bullets. He was showing us His character. A promise tells a little of who God is and what He will do. It is anchored in His holiness, goodness, power, and sovereignty. It is based on his omnipotence and omniscience. And it will come to pass in a way only God knows and ordains.
When we claim a promise we are attempting to take control of it. We come to it with a presupposed notion of how it should play out. But when we realize that a promise is not a thing for us to have and use , only then do we realize it is bigger and better than we imagined. It may not come to pass as we imagined, but it will come to pass. We know this because it’s from God.
When I remember Isaiah 41:10 I am remembering big things about God, too big for me to claim as my own. Too big for me to completely understand and definitely too big for me to dictate or apply to my own life. Instead these things are so big that I can rest on them and find peace. It is a promise from the mouth of God, and He has claimed me. That is why I believe it.