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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “A Flurry of Emotion”

Twilight Sparkle ran into the problem that everyone eventually encounters when they try to “do it all”: she made a promise she couldn’t keep. In her attempt to show herself as not only being great at charity work but also great at being the “best aunt”, she made the mistake of agreeing to babysit her niece Flurry Heart while already scheduled to perform a major book-reading event for a class worth of sick foals in the hospital. In spite of Spike warning her that she’d wear herself too thin, she continued on with it, determined to keep her promises to both the foals as well as to her brother and sister-in-law. Yet in the end, it turned out to be a promise she couldn’t keep. Flurry Heart eventually lost patience with the lack of attention, especially when Twilight failed to notice that she lost her favorite toy, and when, doing what a baby would be expected to do, she made a mess trying to find it herself and ended up being yelled at, she broke down and cried; causing Twilight to learn the hard way how foolish it was for her to make a vow she couldn’t keep.

The Bible tends to have a singular view of promises, “oaths”, and “pledges”–namely don’t make them. “One who has no sense shakes hands in pledge and puts up security for a neighbor.” (Proverbs 17:18); “Do not be one who shakes hands in pledge or puts up security for debts; if you lack the means to pay, your very bed will be snatched from under you.” (Proverbs 22:26-27) When it comes to promises toward others, the Old Testament has very stern warnings. It says to never do them, likening such to setting a trap for yourself, and to, if one does mistakenly make one, resolve it as quickly as possible. “My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor, if you have shaken hands in pledge for a stranger, you have been trapped by what you said, ensnared by the words of your mouth. So do this, my son, to free yourself, since you have fallen into your neighbor’s hands: Go—to the point of exhaustion—and give your neighbor no rest! Allow no sleep to your eyes, no slumber to your eyelids. Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, like a bird from the snare of the fowler.” (Proverbs 6:1-5).

When one makes a promise to God, on the other hand, the Bible stresses the sanctity and importance behind it and the grave seriousness of keeping it. “If a man makes a vow to the LORD, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” (Numbers 30:2) “When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow.  It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it.” (Ecclesiastes 5:4-5) This is done not so much as to stress the importance of a promise to God (although it is quite important) as to dissuade people from making such a rash oath in the first place. Essentially, what it does is turn something normal or commonplace into another occasion for sin when you violate your promise.

While some of the great figures of the Bible were renown for their promises to God, such as Jacob’s vow to worship the Lord (Genesis 28:20-22) and the dedication of Samuel (1 Samuel 1:10-11), some of the greatest tragedies and blunders in the Bible also were a result of rash vows. The Israelite Judge Jephthah vowed to sacrifice the first person who came out of his house to meet him if God would grant him victory against the Ammonites. Not only was that an abomination to begin with, but it became even worse when his own daughter ended up being the one who greeted him (Judges 11:30-40). King Saul uttered another rash vow when, after a successful battle, he cursed every soldier who had any food before evening so that he could keep after his fleeing enemies. Not only did this leave the army too weak to enact the vengeance he planned effectively, but eventually his own son Jonathan paid the price when he violated the ban (1 Samuel 14:23-46). The bottom line: promises, oaths, vows, and pledges might sound all well and good, but they’re also easy ways to shoot yourself in the foot before God and man.

And yet, in spite of these Biblical warnings, I have found myself setting these same traps. Over the years I’ve made a few promises to God: pledging to not sin, pledging to do some great ministry service, pledging to treat a loved one very dearly…I don’t want to go into the specifics of each one, but suffice to say they weren’t “generalized” like I’m making them out here but had specific conditions. Do you know how many of those promises I ended up keeping? Zero. Every last one has been violated. I’m trying to work on keeping one for right now but the others are pretty much lost causes. So what does that make me and what does that mean? I was warned by the Bible not to make rash vows and I did it none the less. Why?

The fact of the matter is most of those were made getting caught up in the moment, and when I wasn’t feeling very “spiritually close” to God. I felt inadequate and like I wasn’t doing much; like my commitments weren’t really commitments. I felt I needed to say or do something to really stand out and affirm my belief in God. In some cases, I was even encouraged by a church sermon, challenged to show proof of my devotion to God and the Gospel. And so I made these rash vows, and rather than feeling closer to God as a result I only felt more shame and a sense of failure when I didn’t keep them.

People do promise things to God all the time, and not all of them are “bad” promises. If it’s in tune with one’s calling, then maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe it’s a sign of resolve and a reminder to go for something greater than yourself. But when I made my own vows, it was either out of compulsion or out of a desire to feel better about myself. In other words, it was either for a feeling or out of personal selfishness. Those weren’t good times to make promises, and when oaths are sworn out of sheer passion that’s never a virtue.

Most of all, if the whole reason for making the promise was simply to “prove myself holy” or “worthy” to God, then I wasted my time all along. I’m a sinner the same as everyone else. All worth I have now comes from the power of Christ’s Sacrifice, and His Gift already makes me perfect in the eyes of God. To think I needed to prove myself was both meaningless and vanity. While I should try to improve myself and I shouldn’t look for excuses for my sins, I also have to realize I’m human. I will make mistakes inevitably as part of my human condition, and, as with all mistakes, they’ll occur when I didn’t plan for or expect them. Therefore, it’s madness to compound them by making rash vows and tempt myself not to keep them.

As Lord Jesus Himself cautioned: “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:33-37)

My suggestion for this devotional is if you feel like making a change for the better, just go ahead and do it. Give yourself reminders and set it as a written-down goal if need be, but don’t be as vain as I was and think you can flawlessly keep it if you promise it. Like the Bible says, you have no idea what will come up tomorrow (James 4:14).

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you that while we may be dismayed or disappointed by human oaths and promises, you are God and your word is always true and reliable. Please forgive me for the sin of making rash oaths and vows myself, and grant me the wisdom and prudence not to hastily and thoughtlessly tie myself up in them; so that I neither create an opportunity to sin against you nor set myself up for disappointment. Rather, grant me the faith to depend on the Sacrifice of Lord Jesus and rely on His saving power to change me. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”