If there were a Museum of Faith, and artifacts from earliest times still existed, the heroes of Hebrews 11:4-12 would surely be represented. On display we might find:
- Rocks from Abel’s altar, where God proclaimed him a righteous man.
- Enoch’s walking stick, left behind when he strolled with God one day and ended up in heaven.
- Part of Noah’s ark, which he spent at least 100 years building before God’s promise of rain (and protection for Noah’s family) was fulfilled.
- Abraham’s tent, in which he lived while traveling to a place God had chosen, though Abraham did not know where he was going.
- Isaac’s swaddling clothes, reminders of his miraculous birth to elderly parents, twenty-five years after God first promised his arrival.
Then we come to verse 13.
“All these people were still living by faith when they died.
They did not receive the things promised;
they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance,
admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth”
(NIV, italics added).
What was the writer of Hebrews referring to? What things did these heroes of faith not receive that God had promised?
They did not see fulfillment of the most important promises: the arrival of Jesus the Messiah, his glorious resurrection, and all the blessings and privileges he provides. (All the way back in the Garden of Eden, God foretold that One would come to defeat Satan—Genesis 3:15).
If the great heroes of faith listed in Hebrews did not receive things promised, I’d be wise to prepare myself for the same.
What should I do when promises are not being fulfilled? Below are five possibilities:
- Consider that the roadblock might be me.
Many promises come with conditions. If I’m not willing to comply, how can I expect the promise to be fulfilled? Philippians 4:6-7 offers a good example. If I want to receive God’s promise of peace, I need to be praying with a grateful heart.
- Consider that the time is not right.
More than a few biblical heroes endured long waits for their promises to come to pass: Abraham for his son, Joseph for his position of leadership, the Israelites for their promised land, David for his kingship, and devout Jews like Simeon and Anna for their Messiah—to name a few.
I must remember that God is always at work carrying out his plan (Isaiah 46:11b). My work is to trust, pray, and wait.
- While trusting, praying, and waiting for one promise, I can celebrate those already kept.
Dozens of promises have been fulfilled in my life already. At the appropriate time God has provided:
- Wisdom for difficult decisions (James 1:5)
- Peace in the midst of challenging circumstances (Philippians 4:6-7)
- Provision in miraculous ways (Philippians 4:19)
- Purpose (Ephesians 2:10)
- Strength to push through weariness (1 Peter 4:10-11)
- Help in all sorts of situations (Isaiah 41:13)
Praise for what God has already done is a powerful weapon against discouragement.
- God’s ways aren’t my ways.
If God has not fulfilled a particular promise, he has good reason. What I desire may not be for my ultimate good or for the good of others.
Surely Paul had to wonder sometimes why God allowed him to be imprisoned in Rome for two years. Perhaps he recited from the psalms:
“’Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name…
…I will deliver him and honor him.”’
–Psalm 91:14-15 NIV
Paul had every right to claim this promise. His love for Jesus was passionate, and he acknowledged his Savior’s name everywhere he went. But God did not rescue Paul. No angel came to deliver Paul, as had happened to Peter.
As a result, we are beneficiaries of Paul’s letters, containing priceless teaching from the heart of God: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon–all written from his prison cell in Rome.
- Fulfillment may come after I’m gone.
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did not see their descendants become as numerous as the stars (Genesis 15:5). But the promise was kept centuries later, because there is no stopping the perfectly wise, precisely timed will of God.
“From him and through him and for him are all things”
(including the fulfillment or unfulfillment of his promises).
“To him be the glory forever!”
–Romans 11:36 NIV (parenthetical comment added)
What helps you cope with unfulfilled promises from God? Please share in the comment section below.